Artistic Destiny

The concept of a personal destiny is unpopular in our culture. We like to think that people forge their own destiny, that you can be a self-made man. We also like to think that everyone has an equal chance of success based entirely on their best efforts. But psychology suggests that our conscious actions are over-determined by by our unconscious. Our fate is not entirely in our hands. In ancient cultures it was widely accepted that mysterious factors played a part in your destiny. These mysterious factors where personified as the gods. There are also mysterious factors at work within ourselves, in our mind, the unconscious forces.

I would argue that artistic destiny, the fate of the artist, is not determined by conscious effort and skill alone. Talent plays a huge role in artistic destiny. There has not been much intellectual study of talent because nobody wants to seem so presumptuous as to claim any special insight on the subject. Nobody wants to be so egotistical as to boldly proclaim their talent. But surely people with talent must have some awareness of its essential nature. For similar reasons, there is little discussion of inspiration or genius.

I think we can put egotism to rest by realizing that ego is not a factor in artistic destiny. If your actions are not entirely dictated by conscious decisions then it is not your ego which sets your course. I suspect that most artists are governed by their imagination. It is your imagination which enchants you with dreams of what you might accomplish. It is your imagination which motivates you to attempt great things.

The essential goal of the artist as a creator is to bring something into being which does not exist. This is the very definition of a creator, somebody who creates something new. But what motivates a creator to create something new? Obviously it is only the vision of something which has never existed which prompts the artist to attempt its creation.

Aesthetic appreciation is an underappreciated aspect of the creative process but I think it is absolutely vital. It is precisely your capacity to appreciate beauty and excellence which determines your steadfastness in its pursuit. Only people who value art highly and feel that it enriches life will make the intense effort to create art. And only the artist with the vision to imagine a greater beauty will make an effort to create highly original art. The enchantment of a mirage of greater beauty, a vision, is probably the most important factor which drives the true artist. The true artist is haunted by what he imagines he could create. This is what we mean when we talk of making our dreams come true. While an egotist may write a novel for the sake of acquiring literary fame, any lack of genuine appreciation for story will doom his efforts.

While it is easy to understand the pursuit of beauty, some consideration must be given to excellence as well. The serious artist will always be driven to pursue excellence in the arts. Although artistic excellence is highly subjective, it appears to depend on critical judgement. The serious artist will be impatient with frivolous works. But what makes something frivolous? Here is where we encounter a tendency to favor the profound and the ponderous. Often it is only dark or grim subject matter which demands to be taken seriously. But work which is too bleak can also cease be be enjoyable or beautiful. So there is some tension between beauty and excellence.

It is also worthwhile to consider how the artist’s actions factor into his artistic destiny. Besides the act of creation, I think there is one other major action which plays a big part in how things play out. The other important matter is what an artist chooses to seek out and ingest. It has been noted that artists tend to seek novelty. Part of the creative spirit is a desire to seek out new work. The artist is on a perpetual quest to find new work. Not only new work, but highly original work, like something that has never been seen before. This is a process of discovery. The true artist loves to discover new work. Even the idle artist will perform the action of seeking out highly unusual artwork. Although this may appear to be the idle past-time of an aesthete, seeking new artwork for inspiration actually reveals the creative process at work. Somebody who is too modest to call himself an artist, yet who always seeks out strange new artwork, is performing the actions dictated by his nature and is therefore an artist according to the actions he performs regardless of whether he self-identifies as an artist. In other words, I would argue that unconscious actions are more indicative of the creative spirit than self-identity. In creative writing, it is said that a writer is somebody who writes. The action performed is more important than the official title of the individual. This suggests that the true artist pursues a course dictated by unconscious actions regardless of his conscious intentions.

Everyone in the arts is concerned with the matter of their artistic destiny. People working in art institutions want to associate themselves with someone who clearly has a bright artistic destiny. They want to have been seen as somebody who was in the company of the best. This isn’t entirely a matter of egotism. They simply crave excellence and want to be seen as having met that standard based on the level of the talent they were able to associate with. Of course, this depends upon being able to recognize talent, preferably at an early stage, so you can hitch your wagon to a rising star. For this reason, the ability to recognize talent in others is vital to your own artistic destiny. Refusing to be discriminating in your tastes will not serve you well since it indicates that you cannot discern excellence. A lack of artistic judgment will not only be reflected in your poor work, it will also be reflected in the artwork you choose to give your attention to and the artists you choose to associate with.

Let’s consider how bad taste plays itself out in your artistic destiny. Let’s take poetry as an example. A lot of bad poetry is written. Most people feel no appreciation for poetry at all so they entirely avoid the art form. Obviously this completely eliminates poetry from their world. They don’t read poetry. They know nothing of poetry. They don’t write poetry. Poetry cannot be a factor in their artistic destiny. But now let’s say you have some appreciation for poetry as literature but no ability to discern its quality. Now you might occasionally do your cultural duty and read modern poetry even when you do not understand a word of it. But without a discriminating taste you will randomly encounter poetry, much of it incomprehensible, and probably won’t seek it out with any enthusiasm. Only a genuine appreciation for poetry as expressive language would lead you to read much poetry and guide you to reading the best poetry. And it is only this that would lead you to perform actions like attending poetry readings given by great poets where you might meet great poets. Everything follows from your capacity for aesthetic appreciation. It over-determines the process of discovery and the potential for participation. And it can even do so with little conscious thought or direction. It is all a matter of performing the actions which you are inclined to perform. If you can be moved by expressive language you will be inclined to value it and seek it out. If you are unaffected by expressive language then obviously it will not affect your actions and nothing will come of the nothing which you feel.

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