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It's not about you
I read with delight this week’s blog post by Wait but Why called 7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook, and enjoyed reading people’s reactions to it as it got re-shared a bunch on social media. The writer’s premise, that a Facebook post is “insufferable” when it primarily serves it’s author rather than the people reading it (by being too braggy, vain, inside jokey, vague, etc) perhaps read a bit cynical to some, but to me there’s a lot I like about it (despite the fact I’ve made nearly all the “insufferable” mistakes myself). As I was thinking about it more, I realized it actually contains good guidelines for any piece of work you put out into a public sphere, whether it be a piece of writing, art work, performance or even speaking in public at a community meeting or event.
I think the article rubbed some people the wrong way because the writer was so irritated by people basically showing their humanness — showing a need for attention without saying something useful or entertaining. Social media is so strange because you’re connected with your family, close friends, acquaintances and also often people you don’t know very well at all. So while I may “like” it when I hear about the minute details of my sister’s day, I don’t care as much that some person I don’t know very well went for a five mile run. When one of my close friends indicates that they are feeling depressed, I might call them or try to connect, but when it’s someone I’ve never met it’s just more unsettling and I’m not sure how to react.
I think for artists and creative people, making sure that what you’re creating is for the benefit of the audience or viewer is a useful one. Not all art has to be shared- lots of people journal or make work just for themselves or their family and that’s just fine, but if you’re going to present work to people that don’t necessarily know you, it should be something that moves them in some way.
Lately I feel like there’s a trend toward honoring the artist’s process, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can go overboard. Process is obviously really important. If you’re so focused on the final product, you are less free to take risks or allow yourself to really explore a topic fully, because there’s this constant pressure of making something that’s consumable and entertaining.
In the Twin Cities, there’s a lot of support for process, where institutions take an artist-centric approach. Programs like Red Eye’s Works in Progress series, Pillsbury House’s Naked Stages, and 9X22 at the Bryant Lake Bowl, for example, all provide varying degrees of support, whether that be through rehearsal space or a venue to show an unfinished work in order to get feedback. Those types of programs are really helpful to be able to develop work without the pressure of having a final product, which may be a goal for after they’ve done that development work.
At the same time, as someone who goes to a lot of performance and arts events, sometimes I feel that the experience of the audience is neglected. After all, isn’t the whole objective to somehow affect the people to whom you are showing your work? At a certain point, it’s got to stop being about the artist and it has to be about a conversation between the work and whoever is experiencing in that work.
I’m cognizant of this for myself because I actually do so much writing about process here at TC Daily Planet, either on this column or else with a Reporter’s Notebook or other writing that isn’t the main article but about the process of reporting a topic. Ideally, this kind of writing isn’t just for the sake of writing it but because it’s of interest to readers, and also helps fuel a conversation.