Do You Create for Yourself or For Others?
It's a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon as I sit down to write this week's post. I have
a fresh brewed cup of chamomile tea and a photo of a kayaker at sunset in the background
of PieceWorx Writing Studio.
I feel nostalgic, pensive and content.
My background photo reminds me of another time looking out at the sun over a large
body of water. Then it was not sunset, but rather sunrise.
My friend Jason and I had arrived at Olathe Lake on a cold, autumn morning while
the sky was still black as pitch. Within a few minutes it began to lighten and fill
up with fiery pinks and blues.
Unlike many early morning outings, this one was shaping up to make falling out of
bed at 4:30am worth it.
We captured some great photos that morning.
But even more than the photos, it is something Jason said to me that has stayed with
me for the past few years. It has rumbled around in my head and spawned more than
a few thoughts...and now, of course, this article.
As Jason and I photographed some of the extraordinary scenes nature presented for
us that morning, Jason asked me if I post my photos online for myself or for others.
I thought for a second and replied, "I post for myself."
But later I realized that my answer could have been different had I been in a different
mood. I'm not sure I answered the question honestly, or at least not at the level
It turns out that the simplicity of the question hides something deeper and more
complex than seen at first glance.
The question of whether art is created for oneself or for others is not only an issue
at the very core of the creative process, but at the very core of human existence.
One of the biggest challenges we humans face is figuring out where the line between
I and others begins and ends.
It is a complex and ever changing relationship.
When I create art, when I write, do I write for myself or for others?
My gut tells me that this question is important.
For many years I kept a journal. I'm sure I wrote over a million words. I wrote
mostly to process feelings, and I'm certain no one will ever read those journal entries.
With any luck they have already been relegated to the vacuous empty space where computer
bits go to die--never to be seen again.
There is no doubt that those journal entries were written for myself, never intended
Yet, on the occasions when I leafed through old entries, I was often deeply moved
by the poetry and sheer honesty of words I wrote from the heart.
As I write this article, it is my intention to publish it on the PieceWorx website
for others to read in the hope they might benefit from it. I write differently knowing
this. I think more about structure. I think about spelling and word choice. I take
more time to consider whether I'm making sense.
Writing for myself is different than writing for others.
If you are the curious type, you probably find yourself wondering more about what
I wrote in my journals than what I'm writing now. You may wonder why I would tease
you about reading old journal entries that moved me and yet not share with you.
Yes, sometimes I think the honesty of those journal entries is what the world really
wants to read. We want to see inside of others and by doing so, see ourselves.
We want to know and be known--more than anything else on Earth.
I am left with the conclusion that art, and writing in particular, is about both
writing for oneself and writing for others.
I admit this answer may seem like a cop-out, but I believe it is a truth that
every artist must understand to be at his best.
Most likely, you find yourself strongly in one camp or the other--self or others.
For example, your whole reason for doing art may be simply to explore what's inside
of you, to put it out into the world and to be validated, appreciated for who you
really are. On the other hand, you may be more practical about it. You may realize
that art is about creating something people want to see or read. What's the point
if no one will like it or read it?
But I want to share, very succinctly, why the act of creating is better when you
do it both for yourself and for others.
My journals would not be enjoyable to read. Yes, there are a few snippets here and
there that would move you, but you'd have to sift through a lot of junk to get to
it. In the end, it wouldn't be worth it. This is why, when I write for others,
I think about structure. I think about how to give value and pleasure to my readers.
This is not a capitulation or a manipulation, it is a gift that allows them to see
truth and beauty more easily. It is the same reason people don't give raw, uncut
diamonds as gifts. The true beauty of a Princess cut diamond becomes apparent when
skill and craft have coaxed it from its humble trappings to reveal the light within.
However, if one becomes too focused on creating for others, art becomes flat, boring
and uninspired--one long chain of imitation and sameness. Large corporations often
sacrifice the self to the preference of the masses and we end up with generic everything.
All store-bought spaghetti sauce tastes about the same because every company knows
how to optimize it for the most number of people. People will pay $4.89 for a jar,
but I wouldn't say it speaks to them or changes their life. (Who knows, maybe it
has changed your life.)
Great art originates inside a person, in her soul, and it cries to be released.
But it is the care, the experience and the technique of making it presentable and
palatable to others which allows its true glory to shine like the cut diamond.
I suppose if you wanted to, you could spend your life writing millions of words you
never plan to share with anyone. You can be free to indulge your muse and yourself
without any interference or expectations.
But I would also challenge you to consider that if you have been given such a gift,
that it is your obligation to use that to help and inspire others as well.
Write from the heart about what inspires you in your unique voice. But use your
head to shape and craft your work for others.
Use your heart and your head and you will find greater fulfillment and greater
You are the diamond. You know what you are. Now show us.