But I’ve just gone through two seemingly unrelated but telling episodes, that have made me revisit this existential question (I apologize for this narcissistic post, but hey, what are blogs for?)
First of all, this summer, I came to the aid of someone who is near and dear to me, who urgently needed a design for a website she was having developed.
While I’m not a real website designer, I believe I do have my moments. I first told her I couldn’t do it, but then came up with a basic idea, that I fleshed out, and that satisfied me on so many levels that I feel embarrassed by just how proud I was of the result. I thought it was a near-total success, both graphically, ergonomically, in terms of usability and clarity and fitness to the purpose and to the target demographics.
The developer, on the other hand, begged to differ. He was appalled, even horrified, and said that it was his duty as a professional to warn against using such a non-standard, off-putting, design.
The parallel with typical reactions to my music is obvious to me now. The design was, in my view, only slightly non standard, which was what gave it personality, among other ingredients. But the placement and usability of every element on every page was carefully thought out, and weighed in light of impatient and inexperienced end-users. There was virtually no doubt in my mind that the slightly non-standard aspects would improve usability, not worsen it.
In a different context, I had also previously done a quick photoshop collage for the near and dear person I was trying to help, in which I had stuck a crude banner+logo on a screen-shot of an existing, competing (and very bland) site.
She was stuck between a rock and a hard place (me and the developer), so I suggested she send this crude collage, and my new, snazzy, perfect design ;) to people familiar with the project to get their feedback. The result wasn’t even close. The crappy fake was preferred 10 to 1 over my sublime, haute-couture design ;) .
Now for the second recent revealing incident. Last weeks’ Geeks In Love episode was really a political cartoon in disguise, about the financial collapse and the MacPain campaign. As a lark, and given what I thought was a broader appeal than usual, I submitted the strip to Reddit’s “comics” feed. People then started to look at it and to “upvote” the strip. I got over 200 visits in a few hours, with the strip holding steady in the top 10 cartoons of the moment, but by the end of the day, at least as many people had “downvoted” (you can’t get negative points on Reddit). So once again, enough people disliked it enough to vote it down. They could ignore it and do nothing. But no. They had to express their displeasure in no uncertain terms (the political bias on Reddit is very much to the left, so I’m dismissing the possibility that I was voted down by outraged creationists or Palin supporters).
Once again, I was witnessing the same pattern. I thought I was proposing something of quality, with a wider appeal than usual, and was proven wrong.
So there you have it.
It doesn’t matter what I create: music, web designs, cartoons.
It doesn’t matter who I create for: myself or others.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s highbrow, lowbrow or commercial art or entertainment.
It doesn’t matter weather it is formally slightly unusual or completely familiar and standard.
The result is always the same. A few individuals rave about it, and large numbers of people are put off.
I’m amused and even a little proud, but also humbled to see that I seem to have an artistic sensibility that transcends the particular boundaries of different “art forms”.
It’s also obvious to me that there is nothing I can do about it.
Which in the end is a liberating feeling, even though it means that what I do, despite an audience beyond my wildest dreams, will never emerge from obscurity.Tweet