I recently had a great conversation with a friend, Jordan Liu
about art and why we choose to make it.
Context: For the last year or so, Jordan and I have been working on a musical.
As we were wrapping up our writing session for the day, we got into a
conversation about what we were going to do with it once it was “finished”.
Neither of us have “sold” a lengthy project like a musical before, so we spent
some time discussing how easy or difficult we thought that process would be.
Based on this idea, Jordan
suggested he would be more satisfied if we reached 1000 true fans that would
“spend $100 on us” rather than reaching a million people who were less
invested. At first, I thought that this was totally at odds with my idea about
where I wanted the musical to go. In my mind, there was no question. Of course
I would prefer one million people to engage with my art over 1000 people! Who
Then, Jordan really got me thinking. What good would it do if a million people
saw our story but got nothing from it? Wouldn’t it actually be much better to
have 1000 people who it truly, deeply impacted? After all, we make art to do
just that - engage with people as humans, not as numbers. Well, wait. Now I’m
confused. Why is it that I make art?
Typically, the reasons for why I work on something is because I think it can
change the world (yes, I understand that sounds naive and silly, but it’s how I
think about things!) Well, in what ways can art change the world? It could
certainly entertain people. That’s one way. But does that really help “move the
needle forward” on the things that plague our society today, like too many mass
shootings or racial injustice? Probably not. However, I do like to tell myself
that it can help, maybe in ways that are unseen.
Take the example of the TV show “Atlanta”. To me, Atlanta is a delightfully
humanist look into the lives of black people just living. This is a
remarkably simple idea, but one with so much power - in my mind, if Atlanta can
build empathy with average Americans about how black people live and go
through relatable struggles, maybe, just maybe, that will improve race
relations in this country. But of course, saying that out loud makes me feel
like a total idiot. Of course TV can’t fix racism. Suggesting that it can
trivializes hundreds of years of brutal mistreatment of PoCs in this country.
Back to the question. If my art doesn’t really help anyone, then what’s the
point? Why do I insist that it must be created, engaged with, seen, critiqued,
and made better? Part of me knows it’s honestly just because I find it fun, and
we all like doing things that are fun for us. Another part of me yearns for
there to be a deeper reason. Who knows? I haven’t figured it out yet. In the
meanwhile, I’ll keep making stuff. Maybe someday it’ll really change the