Wringing in Another Year

Though I can’t confirm the story, John Berryman supposedly shrugged when asked that age-old question, “When did you know you were good?”  He said he still didn’t know—no artist ever really knows.

I hate to think his answer is right but suspect it is.  I envy creative people who take no stock in others’ opinions… but mostly for their conviction, not always for their work.  The art they produce is sometimes good, sometimes not.  At least part of art’s worth will always rest with perceivers.  What is good?  Who decides?  No artist ever has the final word, “I’m good.”

Artists aren’t allowed to see their work as others do.

Maybe Berryman thought an artist shouldn’t know his or her value because knowing would kill the creative drive altogether.  Desiring something better—the masterpiece halfway over the horizon—keeps you going. Yet those confident artists must feel they’re onto something or they wouldn’t labor as they do despite nay-sayers or the silence their work sometimes meets.

Next weekend marks my one-year anniversary on this blog and my haiku blog, and, despite having added no new posts to my old pseudononymous blog, it often draws more readers in a day than this one does in a week and more in a week than this one ever has in a month.  My haiku site averages about five readers a day, which is about as many people as my old blog averages per hour.  Plenty of variables might account for the difference: I used to be more active reading blogs, and, as WordPress advises, once cultivated a readership. Unlike this blog, my old site has pictures people regularly rob and includes more content on more variable topics. Perhaps my old blog simply offers more free fodder for student essays.

However, it’s not just this blog that has me down. I’ve sold none of my art on Zatista since posting it six months ago. I haven’t received a single inquiry, not one message. Explaining that cyberfailure is harder, but I guess it’s possible. Who, after all, is buying art in these troubled economic times, and how many people even know about Zatista, which is still relatively new?

I could be a bad marketer rather than a bad artist.

It’s depressing, though. I’ve sworn off seething over being unpublished—I’m conflicted about “putting myself out there” and haven’t worked at all hard to be published—but as this année malheureuse comes to close, I’m wringing my hands again. If I’m not any good, why go on?  I don’t need another thing to do on Sundays and can’t deny the urge rising in me.  I want to harrumph, say “Well then…” and walk away.

It’s the blogger’s dilemma again—what am I doing here?

Please understand—I don’t mean to ask for the audience’s applause to release Prospero or show its belief in Tinkerbell.  Five readers is more than zero. Art is its own reward, satisfying even when it disappears into a dark portfolio.  And people have been so nice about letting me know when I’ve said or done something resonant. I appreciate every compliment. I should content myself with a few good readers, a few fans.  I know that, and, besides, accolades are not the artist’s true purpose anyway.

Except… the other half of not creating art for a response is not being able to persist without feeling it matters. This year of blogging leaves me so far behind my former pseudononymous self.

And Berryman’s shrug is no answer.


Filed under Art, Blogging, Doubt, Envy, Essays, Laments, life, Thoughts, Visual Art, Writing

2 responses to “Wringing in Another Year

  1. I went back to see what else you’d written on “Writing,” and noted that you are a Libra.


    I haven’t known many Libras who don’t question everything nearly as much as Virgos do. The difference is that Virgo people like to mull for fun; Libras mine for dissatisfaction. My Morning Boss is a Libra woman and provides my daily source for conclusions on this point.

    How are art-sale websites doing in general these days? I would guess not well. For me, it’s a difficult thing to buy art I haven’t personally seen, particularly if the art, like yours, appears to be full of impact. If I had a few unearmarked hundreds of dollars, which I don’t, what with not being sure if I’ll be able to buy milk and bread in a month, never mind paying next year’s taxes, I’m not sure I’d take a flyer on something that looks beautiful (as your work absolutely does) on my laptop but might perhaps necessitate redecorating the room in which I might hang it.

    The reason I went looking in your “Writing” category was to find the post in which you wrote (I think) something like “one writes because one must write.” I get into a funk every now and then too, wondering what the hell I’ll come up with for a blog post, but feeling as if I have made this commitment that must be honored. The question is: To whom has the commitment been made? My answer, once I begin to write, is “to myself.”

    What are you doing here? I dunno. What I’m doing on my blog is figuring out what I’m thinking about, and the exercise of word-polishing helps me do that. Of all the tasks that compose my weekly round of chores, blogging is the one that is My Own, For My Own Pleasure. Feedback is nice. And welcome. But the setting down of my own words is my reason for blogging.

    Your blog posts are very thought-provoking. Many of them I read and go away to think over. Sometimes I can formulate a response and often I do not. You often wrap up the whole tangle of yarn in a neat ball which leaves no end for me to snag and run off elsewhere. Even those smoothly rounded spheres of thought, however, do lend inspiration to think in directions where I might naturally not extend myself.

    You may harrumph here, and frequently do, but please don’t walk away.

    I don’t really believe at all in astrology–I don’t like to think anyone fits any system–but I fulfill Libra characteristics pretty well.

    Your motives are mine too–I only want to do some “word polishing” really. I just get caught up in being read and like knowing that I’ve been heard. I can’t write exclusively for myself. If I could, I wouldn’t be here. Writing to someone is a big part of my motive too.

    An interviewer once asked William Stafford, who wrote a poem a day for most of his life, what he did when he had nothing to say or was dissatisfied with what he’d produced that day. He said, “I lower my standards.” I like his answer because his commitment was to himself. He seemed to be saying he never worried about disappointing himself. On one level, I wish I could take his perspective, but I do sometimes wonder if writing for myself might make me lazy and lower my standards without my being aware of it.

    In my classes, I sometimes talk about habit writers (people who write as exercise) and performance writers (people who write when an occasion calls them). I’d like to be the former, but suspect I’m really the latter.

    Walking away isn’t in my immediate future–visitors like you are inspiring. In my heart of hearts, I know I’d rather have a few good readers than crowds of careless ones.

    As always, thanks for visiting. —D

    • Oh, standards. They lower, then they rise again. Sometimes things flow and sometimes the words seem to knock against each other like stones in a canvas bag instead of polished perfect globes on velvet. It’s surprising, sometimes, what will strike an unperceived reader as eloquent, and some of those times, it is precisely the sound of the stones in rough cloth.
      One can edit oneself into oblivion.

      True–as an artist, I am always trying to be less neat and invite the accidental in, yet the editor won’t be quiet and insists on straightening up.

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