Art and influences

Early last year, I published a post contrasting two views on art:

Seth Godin:

Art is what we call…the thing an artist does. […] Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.


I’ve learnt from experience that a painting isn’t finished when you put down your brush – that’s when it starts. The public reaction is what supplies meaning and value.

As I’ve said before, meaning is inherent to the act of creation, but it is manifested in the act of sharing. The artist creates meaning and value in his own way by creating, yet the audience supplies their own meaning and derives their own value. The two need not agree, but that does not make them incompatible (the two above quotes complement each other). Art is entirely subjective, and this subjectivity is integral to both its creation and acceptance (“acceptance” that could include a rejection of meaning and value).

Steven Pressfield has an interesting way of defining this symbiotic dichotomy, with a focus on commercial response:

Track #1, the Muse Track, represents our work in its most authentic, true-to-itself and true-to-our-own-heart expression.

Track #2, the Commercial Track, represents the response our work gets in the marketplace.

With art, there is:
1. the art itself,
2. the artist’s relationship to her art (Pressfield’s Track #1), and
3. everyone else’s relationship to her art (Pressfield’s Track #2).

The latter two are accompanied by judgements of meaning and value, and the third one involves a commercial value judgement, which often seeps into the second one, the artist’s relationship to her art. There’s also attention, recognition, and other non-monetary currency.

Pressfield advises that an artist not let the third layer of judgements overwhelm her own, that one remains grounded on Track #1, and finds balance between the two tracks. And when we’re lucky they overlap: “When an artist’s voice is true enough to his own heart and authentic enough to his own vision, Track #1 pulls Track #2 to it. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Hunter S. Thompson.”

Creation cannot exist in a vacuum devoid of any relationship beyond the artist and his art, but both must nonetheless be separated — protected — from misguided or greedy influences. The artist guides the art, and the world guides the artist. It’s up to each artist to decide by how much.

Read more on Creativity and Creation, Media, Writing.