Stop Making Art for the Whole World to See



This is a brief followup vlog to last week’s piece in which I made a case against constantly posting content online. In addition to advocating that you do the deep thing, rather than the constant-and-compromised form of content production… there is a case to be made that the world never needs to see what you’ve made at all, and you might be all the better for it.

Share… with but a few.

At any moment, I can post a clip of my guitar playing and within minutes, thousands of people will see it.

If it’s a particularly good clip, within hours, tens of thousands of people will see it.

And if it’s one of my best clips, within days, it’ll get more than 100,000 views. I’ve even had the occasional video get over a million views.

But what’s relevant is that I have the option to have my creative work be seen by thousands of people within mere moments… and yet I prefer otherwise.

I’ve come to find the act of sharing what I’ve created with a handful of close friends, family, and even intentionally chosen fans, to be a far more rewarding experience.

Last night, I unveiled my most recent composition––one that I have worked on during my weekends for approximately three months––to three of my best friends––more like bros from another mo––via Houseparty (live face-to-face group call app). I emailed each of them the song. They loaded it up and put on headphones.

They had me count down 3… 2… 1… and they all started playing it. As they listened, I got so see their reactions. I got to hear their exclamations, watch them bob their heads. It wasn’t quite like performing live, but it was close enough to it to be a wonderful experience.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making something with the aim of sharing it with the world as soon as possible and hoping or even ensuring that is spreads (I emphasize this because it can sometimes seem like just because I’m advocating a different option doesn’t mean that I’m demonizing the alternative; they both have their purpose and place and pros and cons depending on your goals).

And you don’t avoid sharing widely so as to secure the praise or approval that comes from sharing it with people who are clearly biased, since they already know you, and they know you on a level that few do.

It’s true that when you post something to the wider world, you are more likely to experience criticism. That’s just part of the game. Narrowing the audience in which you share what you create will reduce the amount of criticism you receive and insulate you from trolls. This is an added perk, depending on what you are going for.

But what you really get is this:

A moment of real connection with people you care about and who care about you.

You collide with the raw facts of your life, instead of the unreality that can be found online… where something is shared for the sake of capturing attention and being evaluated, rated, and judged by a mass of unseen others in a manner in which the communication exchange that can take place is low-resolution, stripped of the painstakingly evolved social signals that make us human, and deposited in a context designed to manipulate, ensnare, and addict us.

It’s much more akin to performing live for others at a bar or small club. Where you get to connect face-to-face and eye-to-eye with those who are present. You get to banter with them in between songs. You get to chat with them at the merch table after the show.

You aren’t obsessing over the numbers. Or the fame, fortune, or acclaim. You aren’t playing a game of attempting to capture and keep as much attention as you possibly can in order to sustain the effort.

Instead, you do something else with your life to pay for the freedom to work on your art as often as you are able, and you are consistent about taking advantage of that time, however scarcely available it may be. And you use the constraints of your schedule and conditions of your life as fodder for informing and shaping your art. And you realize that the art wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the tension that is created because of these conditions.

When you have to make a buck from your art, you necessarily treat the whole effort differently.

Unless you are one of the incredibly lucky ones who happened to create exactly what you wanted on your own terms and your timing was such that your art took on a life of its own and resonated so perfectly with the zeitgeist that it connected with a huge mass of people and spread all on its own… you have to play the game.

You have to make compromises.

You always have to consider the finances behind the effort…

  • How are you going to make money with it?
  • How likely is your music to connect and spread and become relatively popular?
  • What merchandise can you offer?
  • How much will you have to tour in order to recoup what you invested in producing the album, based on your previous revenue performance?
  • What magazines or online publications might be interested in your new release?
  • Who would be willing to interview you to help you gain exposure to their audience?
  • What record label might you be able to attract or pitch or please or hope to get signed or promoted by?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of these questions or aims. If you want to play the game of making your art a commodity, and make this a full-time profession… go for it.

But consider what it’s like to make something without having to consider any of these questions or concerns. 

Without having to create something for anyone else.

It’s all for you, in some sense, or it’s all in service of the idea itself.

You are engaging in the act of making that which you wish existed a reality. That act alone is intrinsically rewarding.

But then, as you do it, you start think of other people that you know and love and care for that you’d like to share it with.

You think of them because perhaps you reckon they would like what you’ve made. Or you think of them because perhaps you are deeply curious about what their raw reaction to what you’ve made would be.

You think of them because you are connected to them in a personal manner, and there’s a connection that can bloom between you when you share it with them.

You aren’t making something for the amorphous blob that is everyone in the world who you can reach online. It’s so much more specific and personal. 

A long-time friend of my wife recently stepped away from using social media for a while. She’s the artist who painted both of my band Bloom’s album covers. Her artwork is beautiful. And she’s still painting. But for the time being, she’s not taking what she paints and plastering it online for the world to see.

Instead, she recently painted something and she texted my wife photos of the paintings. She thought of my wife, and wanted to share the paintings with her.

There is something so sweet and intimate about this:

During the precious spare time that we have in which we aren’t working and doing what we have to do to adapt or die, she spent her time and creative energy and skills on making something that mattered to her, that she wanted to see exist, and she thought to share what she made with my wife, specifically, and perhaps a handful of others. 

The quality of the interaction that can occur here is hard to overstate. Contrast this with the low-quality (yet loaded with psychologically higher stakes) pseudo-interaction that takes place when you share what you’ve made with the whole world that you can reach online. It’s a night and day thing. 

And this is the key:

The personal sharing is much more rewarding. It’s almost impossible to describe the difference unless you’ve felt it. And it’s so rewarding that it might utterly erase the desire to go beyond that. And that rewarding feeling can exist even when the alternative option is present.  

As I said at the beginning of the post: at any moment, I can share a clip and thousands will see it. I am lucky enough to have that option.

Many might tell the story that they would rather live a quiet life because it makes them feel better about not having any influence. And that’s fine. Do what you gotta do to feel better about your lot for the sake of your psychological well-being, by all means.

But there are some who secretly wish that they had it different. They have bought the myth that we’re being bombarded with: that if you don’t exist in the data stream, then in some sense, you don’t exist at all (at least not in a way that’s relevant or valuable or worth paying attention to).

This is hogwash. It’s a bankrupt, empty, meretricious thing to pursue.

And I know it because I’ve lived it. On top of the sort of attention my guitar playing might attract, in other business settings, I’ve been able to post something that’ll reach even more people within an even shorter period of time. And the same feeling persists:

I’d so much rather share what I make with a handful of friends in an intimate setting, instead. And it precludes the need to share it elsewhere. I got what I wanted out of it. I got to make the thing in the first place, and then I got to share it with the people I care about and see their raw reaction in real-time, talk about it together, and move on with our lives, feeling more connected than we were before.

And here’s what’s even sweeter:

I feel just as rewarded––or more––when they share what they make with me. And I’ve got a nice pool of these little “Meta” (to use a term from the Skill Acceleration Methodology) circles going on.

Nothing pleases me more than when my wife writes something and wants to share it with me. And she rarely takes what she writes and shares it elsewhere, so I feel even more honored about it.

My friend and formidable artist, Sean Allum, has been sharing with me some of his works in progress, and just getting to see his artistic and creative process unfold in real-time is a treat of immeasurable value.

My brother has been working on his newest album and showing me the songs as they evolve over time. I put them on when I’m working and tell him what I experience afterward.

I’ve got friends who share with me the metal music they’re making, or their pop or hip hop, or their paintings, or their digital visual art… and so on. And they show me their works in progress.

And I show them mine. And if that’s all that ever happens with what we are working on in our spare time… it’s an honor. It’s priceless.

And it’s not to say that if the friend also shared it on social media, or eventually shares it, that the moment of connection that we had is any less fulfilling or somehow diluted, cheapened, or diminished. 

You can certainly do both, if you are so inclined. You start with the personal sharing. And follow up with sharing it more widely.

This tends to be how I’ve done it throughout the years. My most popular guitar track, Heroes’ Bane, was created as a Christmas gift for my brother. I shared it with my family on Christmas day well before I decided to share it online with the world. 

And out of everything that has come from that song, the most emotionally rewarding experience I had was when I shared it with my dad and brother. Nothing that has come afterward––and much has, in influence, in money, in drama and otherwise––even compares to that moment I shared with them. 

The same can be said for the last Bloom album, Aftermath, where we hosted a listening party with the family and friends of the creators and collaborators of the album. That was closer to the whole point of making it than anything that has transpired online ever since. 

Give it a shot.

Make something that you care about and pour a significant amount of time, energy, and creative attention into.

Keep it to yourself, at least at first (80% of what I make no one ever sees, and I don’t imagine that will ever change).

And then, consider a handful of people that you would love to share it with. And arrange a way to do so.

Do it in a way in which the opportunity to connect and talk about it exists (I love it when people send me something and I share with them my raw reaction via a video walkie-talkie app called Marco Polo that––for now––doesn’t sell your data or manipulate your attention for advertisers). Make a miniature event out of it (this is perfectly doable even during lockdown).

And after you have those moments of sharing it with others, then decide if you want to share it with the wider world and open yourself to everything that that implies (and it’s no small thing, as you may well know). 

Try it on, and let me know how it goes.

And if you’re feeling it, invite me to the moment in which you share it. I’d love to be there 🙂

Here’s to art without commodification, art without an attention-seeking aim, art without a need for an audience, and art made for its own sake…

Cheers,

Joshua

P.S. I’ll say it one more time because it’s easy to misconstrue this thought experiment. I offer this perspective from a playful position, not as a rule or ideology or stand to take: 

There’s nothing wrong with making art for an audience, or with an aim for attention, or spreading a message, or convincing someone of your worldview––which makes the well-meaning presumption that yours is view that the world ought to have, which is typically the impulse behind attempting to persuade others through art or otherwise––or for making a living, etc.

Even if the audience is an audience of one (you), it seems inescapable.

But I am not of mind that art isn’t art until it makes a connection with someone else (this is something that Seth Godin once argued rather cogently and articulately, as he tends to do).

I think it runs way deeper than that (which is another post for another day).

Art made for its own sake is perfectly enough. And it’s also cool when it connects with others. 

I’m advocating that you test out the former, and decide on moving forward with the latter only after the fact 👍 I’ve found it to be a highly worthwhile experiment. 

2 Replies to “Stop Making Art for the Whole World to See”

  1. Josh,
    I signed up for your course about 1 year ago. Soon after I joined a band and became very busy with learning new material. I stopped working on the program at that time.
    I want to pick it back up. Please advise on how to restart from the beginning.
    Very Truly Yours,
    Mark

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