Sunday Snippet: Cyril Connolly (1903 - 1974)

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

When you talk to many artists, particularly early on in their careers, they’ll tell you that it’s all about the art. It’s all about the personal expression. This is true for painters, musicians, singers, dancers and writers alike, but then the harsh reality of the real world hits them like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, as fulfilling as “art” and “personal expression” may be, the bank won’t accept your “personal expression” as payment toward your mortgage. And it’s not like you can buy your groceries and clothing with “art” either.

Money, in and of itself, is not necessarily evil, but it is a necessary component for living in modern society. You need money to pay for your lunch. You need money to pay for your electricity and your Internet access. To this end, if you choose to be a professional artist of any kind, you do need to be mindful of the marketability of your work. Will someone pay for it? To this end, it becomes very easy to “sell out,” so to speak, so that the work you do is pleasing or valuable to the public. And that’s a very profound danger.

Cyril Connolly was a writer and critic from the United Kingdom. In Enemies of Promise, he explores why he was never able to become the big successful fiction writer that he once aspired to be. Perhaps the quote above provides some solace or justification for the life that he did end up leading, but it it is a lesson worth taking to heart. Your personal integrity is worth far more than any potential payday, isn’t it?

This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many an artist, regardless of level of success. Nirvana headman Kurt Cobain said you should always stay true to yourself, because trying to be someone else is a waste of the person that you are. If you allow yourself to be that blank slate, easily manipulated and twisted by outside forces with the aim of remaining marketable, then you will effectively lose any sense of self-identity. You won’t know who you are anymore.

Then again, as author Toni Morrison once told us, if there’s something that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you should write it. The question is whether you are writing it for yourself or you are writing it for everyone else.