Shhh … I have a secret for you: if you are truly crazy wicked talented, you will create works that not many people will love. Even your most loyal fans, your tribe, may not love it. (But some of them may give it a chance and come to see its good points.)
Creating “unpopular” art is a sign that you are a genius unfolding.
Stanley Kubrick & Eyes Wide Shut. Tori Amos & Strange Little Girls. Nabokov & Ada or Ardor. Virginia Woolf & Night and Day. Stuff John and Yoko did … you get the idea?
I read once that as Van Gogh prepared half of his yellow house in Arles for the imminent arrival of his new roommate Paul Gauguin, he decided to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom. He’d been painting sunflowers, canvases & canvases of them, and he decided it would look nice if he completely covered Gauguin’s walls in his sunflower canvases.
Van Gogh made the most gorgeous sunflowers, but if you look at them for too long they start to affect your mind in a funny way. They’re a little psychedelic, I think.
(Nobody bought of a one of them while he was alive).
(Gauguin hated his new room.)
The moral to that little story is in its paradox. Van Gogh painted the most fantastic sunflowers. Better yet, he relished painting them so much that he was moved to fill an entire room with them.
Gauguin, who had great taste to be sure, hated this decorating scheme. The sunflowers made him feel crazy.
For Van Gogh’s entire life, he couldn’t make the world recognize that his sunflower paintings were incredible. The masses weren’t ready to see sunflowers the way he saw them.
Nevertheless, his sunflowers are magnificent. They’ve gone down in history. People today pay unreal amounts of money for the sunflower canvases that remain.
Next time somebody (or everybody) doesn’t “get” your art, or says it sucks, or gives it a bad review, think of the sunflowers.
True artists create vast amounts of work. Creating a vast amount is how you get to the piece of it that’s sheer genius.
I have boxes of notebooks, dating from around 1989. Most of that writing won’t be published; it wasn’t meant to be. And most of it isn’t great. I also have a stack of cassette tapes of myself improvising at the piano. Three new, original songs might come from a stack of 90 minute tapes. If I’m lucky.
It’s all in the practicing. Whatever your art is, practice fearlessly and unstoppably, whether or not anybody thinks it’s good.
Trust that the practicing is taking you somewhere better, somewhere greater, somewhere sacred.
You are creating your life’s work. You’re doing it now.