I write this article for all students who have creative dreams and feel like their work must be well-known to matter.
Please continue making art, even if you feel that no one but you cares about it.
In high school, my shy demeanor kept me from being one of the ‘popular girls.’ For years, the harmful belief that I wasn’t well-known clouded my perception of everything that happened to me. During these confusing times, I often found solace in painting and writing, as these activities allowed me to process my emotions.
Something changed within me when I first got to U of T in 2018. I came to the powerful realization that I could try to reach any aspiration I wanted to, despite my social status. Fantasies of becoming the next Picasso flooded my freshman brain. I didn’t just want to make art — I wanted people to know about it. Suddenly, my goals extended further than just a high GPA. I wanted to create something that I would be known for after I died.
And then COVID-19 happened, and there I was: a student stuck in her room, confronted with the same frustrating emotions that her high school self dealt with. After months of solitude and introspection, I finally understood that I’d been thinking about it wrong.
Art was never supposed to make me a star; it was only meant to wipe my tears. In other words, promoting yourself and sharing your work with the world is an honorable quest. But it’s not crucial to your artistry — honesty is.
As an emerging creative who’s striving for their 15 minutes of fame, thinking this way is much easier said than done. At this moment, I’m not expecting you to come to the life-changing realization that I did. Rather, I’m encouraging you to read on with an open mind as I challenge you with one question: is the creative process in itself not rewarding enough?
What is creativity?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, creativity is, at its core, the ability to produce something new.
With this in mind, it’s important to realize that the creative process goes beyond art — it can extend to other disciplines such as science and architecture. Whether it be used for writing a poem or creating a vegan cupcake recipe, the creative process allows us to not only think outside of the box, but to jump over it.
In the creative process, there are no mistakes. All the work you produce is unfiltered. Therefore, by creating it, you’re just learning about your truest self.
But if we invite the desire for recognition into our creative process, we start sanitizing our work by trading authenticity for notability. In other words, we reduce intimate creative activities to mere people-pleasing. We have to realize that recognition isn’t a reliable criteria to evaluate our own creativity. Many incredible artists are not famous, and many have argued that some famous individuals are neither creative nor talented.
The desire to be famous
The desire to be famous is as natural to humans as breathing. We all want to be recognized for our talents and feel like we have a place in the world. After all, we are social creatures — no one is immune to seeking validation from others.
Nonetheless, there is a darker side to this universal wish. When we daydream of fame, we may be coping with the emotional neglect we’ve experienced during our lives. A toxic household or a high school bully may have made us feel unseen, and we might think becoming famous will give us the love and warmth we were deprived of.
This is a false and naive belief. No amount of hysterical fans or Instagram followers will bring us the appreciation we seek. After all, fame is just a bunch of strangers knowing we exist. However, building healthy and genuine connections with those around us makes us feel loved and valued — something that we really need.
Craving fame could also be a way of dealing with our own mortality. We remember deceased writers and musicians; when studying their work years later, we could think that fame will give the same validation to our own time on Earth. But we don’t need to create something that will live on after us; even if your funeral doesn’t have thousands of attendees, those who love you will never forget about you. That is more than enough.
An ode to the unknown artist
Creatives face hurdles in their respective industries. For example, those who want to become famous through social media won’t always get picked up by their algorithms, so their profiles will remain unnoticed. Likewise, most performers won’t be cast in lucrative film productions and will instead have to work a second job to afford rent. Needless to say, fame doesn’t come easy, nor should we expect it in exchange for our efforts.
This reality shouldn’t affect your creative projects. Life-changing opportunities may not be in your future, but this is no means a testament to your talent. The creative process is much more than adoration from the masses — in the words of Albert Einstein, it’s your intelligence having fun.
So stop hoping that the masses will name you an artist. You’ve always been one.