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 I’ve sworn off seething over being unpublished—I’m conflicted about “putting myself out there” and haven’t worked at all hard to be published—but as this année malheureuse comes to close, I’m wringing my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.