This work requires we take the long view of things, and a humble one. It’s easy for the artist to inflate his importance to the world. Like any field, dominance in that field is quickly mistaken for dominance worldwide. We forget our niches. Even the greatest of songs will ultimately be relegated to the place of background music. Great art masterpieces will be used to dress up a living room. They will be forgotten, or at least under-utilized, or perhaps rightly utilized.
Think for a second of the shoe-maker (or cobbler). They make good, sturdy shoes that protect our feet and hopefully keep them comfortable. They provide humanity a great service, one that is completely taken for granted regularly. What if providing the world a great song or a great piece of visual art is really more like making a great shoe (not even so much in the fashion sense). Through artistry, integrity, and commitment we can provide great pieces that will be put in a closet. In other words however important a work may be at one time it will not remain that for long, especially in today’s world. The reality is that humans can only consume so much, and for so long. After we absorb something we have to move on.
The artist, fortunately, is the same. He or she must move on as well. He must find a new thing to say, a fresh reality to explore and articulate. Like the consumers, the artist can only live with and under a certain creation for so long before moving on.
Of course certain works make it into a category of “transcendent,” which means at its core that a work is timeless, or breaks normal cyclical rules about consumption. It has a sense of timelessness, or “staying power” - longevity in its connective power. But those are exceptions, and even those have cycles of use and re-use. The reality is that we are creating consumables, things enjoyed (consumed), and then forgotten, at least for the moment. Lasting impact, though, may have already happened.
That is the magic really of art (and all created things really): we will never totally know there intrinsic value. No matter our attempts to measure outcomes we will never accurately know how our pieces effected others, let alone ourselves.
How can we know the reality of a world without our works? Even the slightest influence of a background song my have changed the nature of reality for one big decision. Let’s be honest, it usually is the small things. Art may be one of those small things.
Ours is ultimately not to know the value of intangible things. Inner compelling may not be justification for some people, and certainly for some pieces, but it ultimately must play a part in the value of art, if not for the artist.
In our valuation of art we mustn't forget to measure its effect on the artist. What might life look like for the artist without his art? What would happen if an artist did not have a creative outlet? What would spoil and turn rotten within him?