The Two Joys of Art

I believe we experience a work of art from one of two viewpoints. Either that of the artist or of the audience. We are either the creator or the consumer. I don't believe we can ever be both. This distinction means that, as the artist, we can never have the same experience with our own work as the viewer. We will never be afforded a first impression. We can never be truly objective. This taints our perception of our work. We are too familiar. Too close. Too invested. Which, in turn, can diminish our own ability to enjoy a work as much as a viewer.

I used to feel sorry for the actors, directors, and others who are intimately involved in the making of films because none of those individuals are ever able to experience the first time wonder of their creation with the same type of joy and expectation that we, the audience, can. Daniel Radcliffe was never be able to watch the first Harry Potter movie and know how great it was to see Hagrid burst down the door to rescue him from his horrid family. Film crews are robbed of the excitement and anticipation of not knowing the story. The same goes for writers, who never get to enjoy their own books. They can't turn the pages in anticipation of what happens next. They know all the spoilers. They know how it ends. They know chapter nine took three months and ten rewrites.

As artists, we have this same 'behind the scenes' viewpoint of our work. Intimate knowledge that robs us of our ability to enjoy our creations in the same way our audience might. This doesn't mean we don't know when the work is finished or if it is good. Just like the writer, we know when the story is over. But this tainted perception can lead to a distorted view of the value of our work. Because we can never experience the joy of seeing the work as others do, then we may underestimate its ability to bring joy or meaning to that audience. We have to trust some preconceived idea of how we think similar works have been received in the past. A trust based on comparison is misleading, because again, it casts doubts on the value of a work from the assumed response of the audience. The "Will they like it?" question.

This is a problem that we, as artists, must continually work to overcome.

But how do we work around this problem? The solution is to be aware of the bias. To understand that we can never be the viewer, and to stop judging and assigning value to our art based on what we believe others think or feel. Our joy has to come from another place. It comes from the act of creation, and not the act of consumption. Our joy is in the process. The doing. The sound of a paint brush tinkling against the edge of the water jar. The smell of oil paint. The potential of a blank canvas. The thrill of discovering a new technique. The beauty of watching new colors being born on our palettes. The mere thought of having three, four, five hours of uninterrupted time to create. The joy we find in our work must not be measured in the reception of the final product, but in the act of creating itself. And that joy can only be found when we are creating what 'we' want and not in creating something we believe some future audience might want.

I no longer feel sorry for those actors and film crews, because now I understand that, while they will never experience the joy of their creation from the audience's point of view, they have something even more valuable. The joy of creating something that never existed before. and sharing that with their audience.