Songs for the Struggling Artist


How to Congratulate an Artist
January 9, 2018, 10:45 pm
Filed under: advice, art, dreams | Tags: , , , , ,

When the New Yorker published my friend’s poem, I wasn’t surprised. I was thrilled and excited and proud but, as I’d fully expected such a thing since I first encountered my friend’s work, I was not surprised in the least. Frankly, I was surprised it took the New Yorker as long as it did. I congratulated the New Yorker on making a good choice rather than my friend for being chosen. This is because, in addition to being a fierce admirer of my friend, I am a fierce admirer of her work and always have been.

I have people who do the same for me – people who love me, yes, and want the best for me but also love my work, believe in it. They are the ones who are just waiting for others to come around to their opinions. I started to think about this recently after receiving some surprising good news regarding my work. I told one friend and she was excited and thrilled and also (and this is the important bit) wholly unsurprised. “It’s about time,” she said. “Oh yeah. Of course. I knew it.”

And there is something so powerfully affirming about this response. The belief is firm and unwavering – even when no one else seems to hold her opinion. And I feel precisely the same about her work and cannot believe the world at large has not beaten down her door for it.

Others I shared my good news with were actually stunned. In a way, I suspect, they’d slipped into questioning my art’s worth right along with me. It’s not that they don’t love me. They do – and that love is fierce and unwavering but it does not necessarily extend to my work. So when the world suddenly gives me approval, they have a readjustment period of looking at my work through the lens of the world’s approval. And you know – if you love me, you’re not actually required to love my work. It is not a pre-requisite . But those that hold space for both me AND my work are the ones I turn to in the darkest moments. And I rely on them in ways that I am still coming to appreciate.

Those of us who dedicate ourselves to the Arts and/or Entertainment are often asked questions like, “Why don’t you write for the movies? Why don’t you get on Saturday Night Live? Why don’t you publish a best seller? Why don’t you get on TV? Why don’t you get Oprah to produce your show? Why aren’t you on Broadway yet?”

These questions can all be reframed to be more helpful and supportive to the people who make things. Try: “Why haven’t the movies snapped you up to write for them yet? Why hasn’t Saturday Night Live recognized your comic genius? Why haven’t the publishing houses beat down your door? Haven’t they realized your work will make them pots of money? Why is TV blind to your radiance? How is it possible that Oprah hasn’t been informed of your work? Who is holding those Broadway producers hostage that they haven’t come calling?”

Sometimes it’s very weird to be congratulated for someone else’s decision about one’s work. The congratulations usually come in response to something that the artist had nothing to do with, that is, someone else’s approval. The fiercest supporters are the ones who congratulate an artist on the actual work before anyone else ever cares about it. I am exceptionally grateful to have such people in my corner.

My wish for my fellow artists this year is to have supporters as fierce and dedicated as mine are. I want everyone who makes things to hear congratulations on their actual work and “Oh yeah, of course” to any success it finds. If you love a struggling artist, don’t wait to give them your admiration or support. Give support to the work itself and not just the trophies. Anyone can be proud of an artist for winning awards but a top tier supporter is proud long before the awards ever appear.

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