Irregardless Magazine

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It’s Not the World’s Fault You Wanted to Be an Artist

One day while surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon a neat little story relayed by Elizabeth Gilbert. One of her indie filmmaker friends once wrote to his hero, director Werner Herzog, complaining about the struggles of getting audiences into his work. Herzog responded something like:

It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams.

Every time I get frustrated with the world, I try to remind myself that being a writer was not a destiny preordained for me. I write—not because I have to—but because I enjoy it, and it is no one’s obligation to “pay for my dreams”, as Herzog puts it. At any moment, I could go back to chopping onions and doing dishes at a restaurant instead of making up stories to entertain people.

Being an artist is a luxury. My parents worked hard doing unglamorous work so that I could get an education and give back to society. So if audiences aren’t interested in my work, then I need to change, not them.

As I’ve said before, all art is rhetoric. Being a skilled artist means knowing how to balance what your audiences want to hear and what you want to tell them.