Is Art For the Artist or the Consumer?

photo by Philip Nelson

photo by Philip Nelson

During a recent recording session, I had a conversation about creating music and art for yourself vs. creating it for others. In some ways you create art for yourself, because it is a fulfilling thing that expresses a part of you. In other ways, the moment you have created something, it is no longer yours and suddenly becomes the emotional property of someone else.

So which is it? How can art be both for ourselves and for others’ enjoyment?

Actually, I retract that question. It’s pretty obvious from my first paragraph how it can be—and is—both of these situations. Us and them, creator and consumer, in it together. My new question would address how much of a share each side gets. Where is that line drawn, and what is the ideal balance between the two?


A Case-By-Case Pursuit


As with all things creative, the answer is largely dependent on the situation. If I write a song that’s entirely for myself, a song that satisfies every personal indulgence to the point where it is entirely satisfying to me without any thought given to the potential enjoyment of others, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Of course, I should be well-prepared for the consequences of that, namely that this song very likely won’t be a smash commercial success. (Of course there’s always the possibility that it could be, but that’s not the point.)

If I write a song that completely panders to the audience I’d like to capture, I may have set myself up for a better chance at success among the masses. But I’ve also run the very real risk that this song will not be personally fulfilling at all, unless my only fulfillment comes from units sold. I’m sure for some people that’s the case, and all the power to ‘em.


The Line In The Sand


There is a definite split somewhere in any creative project, and where it’s made is up to each of us. It could be right in the middle, it could lean one way or the other, but as long as we understand what it means when we draw that line, it can be anywhere we want. Even if it’s not always an easy decision. But when are decisions easy when it comes to making art?