If you were to make a work of art, something you believe to be unique and important but nobody ever got to see it, what would its value be? Whether it’s a book, a painting or a piece of software code, if it’s not experienced by anyone, does it even have a value? I could spin this problem from the opposite position: if millions of people were affected or influenced by this creative work does its value then became markedly clear to you?
Consider two stories, of two artists with two very different paths.
One is of a child who at the tender age of twelve became a star, known to millions of people. He became a powerful voice in the Hollywood machine with a list of hit credits and was able to influence the influencers. His movies were followed by millions, his success monumental. He has changed, and still changes, the world we know.
The second boy, a talented storyteller and budding writer was dead before he was twenty years old. Murdered in a far-flung desert on a corner of the planet you probably wouldn’t even know the capital city of. The details are gruesome and tragic, beyond any words I could express here, but that is not why his story is so important. The point is that almost no-one ever experienced this young creative’s work. And his story is just one of tens of millions. How many lights have gone out before they even had the ability to set pen to paper, to turn notes into songs or ideas into architecture? Beyond imagining.
So let’s return to my first conundrum.
If you housed a work of art, but you were prevented from ever breathing life into it, what value would it carry? You probably have spotted that I am wilfully confusing the issue here. I am twisting the value of the work of art into the value of the life itself. Ah! You might say, they are different. But consider how we value human beings today. They are measured by their reach. Their impact. Their influence. Artistry is judged not just by merit, but much more fundamentally, by its ability to produce an audience. The corollary is that a story that is unnoticed, or perhaps untold, is doomed to be meaningless. Forgotten, unspoken, unseen. Worthless?
The myth is that the best or most important of stories will find an audience. That they will be told, and seen and heard. I have lived a life that subscribes to this belief. Often not knowingly or even consciously, but irrefutably. And then a year ago that changed.
My father died a year ago today. He had been, among other things, writing a book on radio for the past few years. It remains unfinished, a file on a folder on a laptop. His life, and his death, held a very important message for me. I couldn’t care less whether the book was published. I couldn’t care less if the book was even any good. His value was not hidden in that book. But, I also know how important that book was. That he devoted so much time and energy – of his life – into it. I have done the same with my own creative endeavours. I can see how clearly I have wrapped my own value in not merely the product, but in the question of how many people did I reach? I know that I have given years of health and sobriety into my attempts at artistry. For me, that struggle breathed meaning into my life. It seems that I ignored the one audience member who will be the only one present for the final show: me.
I am coming to believe that our magic resides not only in what we achieve, or attempt to create, but in its ability to reach a single human being. Even if it is just, and solely, you. The question is, do you value yourself enough as an audience to justify your own attempt to create, even if you fail?
Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, is for me a beautiful meditation on how we value our time here. If you were granted the ability to see the future and knew how long, or how short, your time might be on the planet; would you even choose this life?
So here is my message fellow traveller. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t feel fear that your work will go unseen. Allow it to touch just one person as deeply as you can. Yourself. There is a dense and undiscovered magic in giving into this. I don’t mean to belittle the power of the number of hits, likes or awards it might achieve. But begin with your work being simply enough for you.
There is magic in it.
Brett Lotriet Best is the Founder & Creative Director of EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Storytelling work at www.edenrage.tv. Image by David Marcu, courtesy of Unsplash.