Recently three people close to me were going through crises of faith. I believe crises of faith are intrinsic to artistic (and human) growth. Usually, a crisis is brought on when something is not the way we expected it to be. Your friend or partner shows her/himself to be completely different from who you expected her/him to be. Response to your work does not fit into your projection of how you thought the public would react to your opus. Something you’ve been working on for a loooooooong time finally gets its opportunity to shine publicly, and not only does the audience not burst into spontaneous orgasmic clapping, but they ALL want to pull you to the side and tell you what’s wrong with your piece.
It can be easy to assume you need to run back to your studio/shelter/quiet space and lick your wounds. Keep your art to yourself. Only share it with loved ones who are certain to “get” your work. But any attempt to retreat in reaction to a less than favorable response to your work confuses the intent of the artistic impulse. When you get that urge, that niggling little desire to draw, paint, write, dance, sing, play, act, scream, is it born of a desire for response or a desire to play with an idea, explore a concept, dance with your thoughts?
For me, the work is the result of internal unrest or inquisitiveness or delight. Rarely is it an attempt for praise or honor. Yet as it gets closer and closer to finality, the artistic heart that has pumped the process and spurred the artist to completion quiets its certainty, and suddenly the ego emerges, writhing and screaming. The artist’s ego isn’t gratified by the art itself. “Who cares if it’s done?” the artist’s ego asks, “Is it good?”
Suddenly it’s not enough that you completed the work. The mere conception of it is no reward. Suddenly it’s all about praise—the artist wants to be understood, accepted, stroked, proclaimed a genius. And the possibility of not measuring up to some external notion of good art is maddening.
When my friends did not get the ecstatic applause they had hoped for in response to the project they had been fervently working on for a year, they experienced a deep and profound crisis of faith. Why make this stuff if no one sees it? Why make this stuff if no one likes it? If everyone wants a cute little ironic comedy, I’m in the wrong business. Am I responsible for the world’s short attention span? I’m tired of not making it. I’m tired of no one getting it. There’s no point. I’m going to keep my art at home and go make music videos. “What’s the point?” the anguished artist asks. “Why even do this.”
Specifically my friend asked:
“Who is art for?”
“What is art?”
“Should I even be thinking about art at this point? Should I just make the formula shit that people love?”
“People historically don’t buy art and geniuses are rarely recognized in their time.”
And that’s just it, after the artist exhales and creates art—s/he inhales hoping to breathe in recognition. But art and recognition are not natural bedfellows and they don’t necessarily sleep well together.
Art is a process. Art is creation. The shit that no one sees, that’s art. The shit that everyone sees, and no one gets, that’s still art. The shit that everyone sees and everyone gets, that’s art too. Art is in the making. Art is in the process. When you start to ask—is it good? Do you get it? Do you like it?, you’ve moved on to a different process.
When you’re faced with the question “Why?” in regards to your work (be it art or academics or carpentry or bubblegum popping), when you’re facing judgment, disapproval, and disregard—the answer will never be found outside of you.
Why make sculptures out of paper clips? Why does your character talk like that? Why is your movie so long? Why don’t you smile? Why am I mounting these workshops if no one comes to hear me speak? Why don’t you have a job?
The answer is written in our hearts, minds, and impulses. Each of us brings something unique and different to this world. Each of us is a manifestation of god—the original creative force. The whisperings of our hearts tell us do, live, be, create—and when we listen to those urgings, we make art. The reasons behind why we do what we do is embedded deep within us. If we are true to life, true to ourselves, then we will free that which is gurgling up within us. Our attempts to do that may be good or bad, on point or misguided, lofty or faltering. We could fail or succeed or be middle-of-the-road, but if we are answering the demand that comes from within, then we are doing our job.
Each of us expresses an idea a little differently, each of us carries a slightly different obsession with concepts or forms. We are each here to forward an issue, concept, or sensation. Because you are here, there are conversations generated about love. Because you tell stories, there is laughter. Because you dance there are questions about form. We are here to create—thought, conversation, awareness, acceptance, space. We are here to create. And no matter what the response, once we have created, we have done our job.
Be well. Be love(d).
Kiini Ibura Salaam
==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
: : : September 2002 – present : : :
==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
I got two rejections this month. The first was from Ontario Review. The editor wrote: Very unusual—seems, finally, rather far-fetched. To me, this meant I did not research the market. The first thing I thought is: this is not a reader of speculative fiction. Not that a reader of speculative fiction would not have rejected the story, but I doubt they would have found it “very unusual” and rejected it on the basis of it being “far-fetched.” I should be aware of the type of genre the publication is interested in before I submit a story.
I sent my parenting column to a parenting magazine. They wrote that they had no space for columns in their magazine. The trick now is for me to continue looking for places to submit the column.
My erotic story—”The Orange Grove”—has been accepted in the Big Book of Hot Women’s Erotica. It’s a story I’ve been trying to get published for a while now. I’m happy someone finally embraced it.
These two rejections bring my rejection total to 4. My acceptances rise up to 4, making it a perfect balance between rejection and acceptance.
A writer friend of mine just chided me that with my rejections and acceptances so balanced, I am clearly not sending out enough submissions. Normally, a writer has way more rejections than acceptances. He’s right, of course. With his encouragement, I’m going to try to get more stories out there.
Kiini’s Rate of Acceptance/Rejection
August 2001 – August 2002
Publications: Acceptances = 6; Rejections = 6
Grants/Fellowships: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 1
Residencies/Workshops: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 4