This title, How important is it for art to reach the masses?, came from a friend after we had gone to hear a talk by a famous artist. This was the question he would have asked the speaker, who spent much of the talk stating statistics on how many thousand people saw his various exhibits. The talk was largely about numbers, places his work was in, and where his work wasn't that he wished it was. The freshness of the moment was lost in looking back and wanting to capture an earlier time. It communicated more of a feeling of desperation than inspiration. It made me think about the nature of speaking on one's own "retrospective".
(This painting by Harriet Goode is titled: She was afraid all her birthdays would come at once.)
The artist speaking to us made some important social statements, and actions, especially in the early work. There was a paradox of being socially active, politically concerned, and yet not one reference to another artist who influenced his work– or anyone else's work. The puzzle was heightened by the artist describing the motivation of the work being to help other aspiring artists gain visibility– and when a young woman responded by asking for guidance on this subject, the response was essentially: Buy my book.
It made me ask myself again: Who am I making things for? What is the difference between being an artist and a social activist? Do I want my work to be grandiose? What is it that I have to offer?
But these questions answer themselves when I have forgotten all about myself and who I am making this work for, and am, as Sam said to Frodo, "inside the song".
It brought to mind this poem, Clearing, by Martha Postlewaite:
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
Who are you making things for?