Crossroads: Artists Finding Happiness in Obscurity

It is natural to high aspirations for a career. Artists, in particular, seek affirmation and, to no small degree, admiration for the work they create.

It is natural to have high aspirations for a career. Artists, in particular, seek affirmation and, to no small degree, admiration for the work they create. While there is that undeniable secret satisfying moment when one steps back from a finished piece and simultaneously is filled with joy from the accomplishment, there also is the longing to have the finished work be applauded, purchased and cherished.

There is a nearly indescribable secret silent moment in appreciating just finished work 

Most of us don’t share that solitary moment, we treasure it. It is ours. If I write a post here that resonates well with me, I may read it again, not for proofing, but to savor the moment or the turn of a phrase. I may find my mind wandering to a passage days later. When I was steadily making fine furniture, (I still miss my basement woodworking shop in St. Louis, but not the weather.), I would have the same experience as described above. And, I have always known that the secret moment is an unspoken universal part of being creative.

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Some choices can haunt us if we let them

I started thinking about poor choices the other day when I came across a 40-year old cassette I recorded from a long lost vinyl LP. It had on it the second album of incomparable Terry Reid. I hadn’t heard it in decades and had forgotten what a great voice he had and how well he plays guitar.

In his heyday, Reid opened for the The Rolling Stones in 1969 and Cream in 1968. Around the same time he turned down offers to front Led Zeppelin and later Deep Purple. Looking back, it would be hard to imagine he had no regrets over those decisions. For all the listening pleasure he has provided me, I wish for him peace of mind with his career choices.

While most artists, visual or musical, will never be faced with making choices with such incredible potential, the possibility is always there that we will make less than the best decision. We ultimately may need to accept we took a turn that led us away from the limelight and into obscurity. Regardless of the scale or magnitude, learning to live in peace with our decisions and find happiness despite them is one of the best things we do for ourselves, and our families, too.

Growing where you are planted and appreciating what you have are keys to happiness

The reality for most artists is the big international stage is not where their lives and work will play out. Reality dictates it’s going to happen on a smaller scale. There certainly is nothing wrong with enjoying success on a smaller scale. Perhaps other than big money, a successful rather obscure art career can be just as satisfying as one where we are the big fish in a big pond.

My personal experience is to have known hundreds of artists who enjoy success out of the limelight. They support their families, have comfortable interesting happy lives and manage to do so without being known outside of the relatively small number of collectors, gallerists and dealers who help them market their work. To my mind, it is hard to find fault with such an outcome for a career.

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When you consider there often is a steep price to pay for fame these days. Lack of privacy in our celebrity crazed era is a perfect example. Most of us have no clue to the maddening effect of having our lives publicly scrutinized in excruciating detail. To create, be appreciated and paid well for our work is blessing enough for most, as it should be.

There is always time to stage a run no matter how old you are or what circumstances you face

And, if you are one who yearns for the spotlight, that moment in the sun, but feel like life has passed you by, you should arrest that feeling right now. Consider that Frank Lloyd Wright turned out nearly a third of his entire body of work in the last 12 years of his life. Imagine the fire burning brightly and the creativity still flowing at that rate from age 80 to 92. Yes, he was a genius and a creative tour de force, but he is also an inspiration. If you have the get up and go, it’s never too late to make things happen.


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  1. Thanks for such an insightful post. You have touched on some things that are very near to me. I know well that secret moment experienced upon finishing work. And I had at least one of those decisions that can haunt you, not as big as Terry Reid’s but big enough that it comes to mind from time to time. For the most part, I have enjoyed the smaller scale, but then, I’m not done yet…

  2. wonderful post, Barney. Thanks especially for sharing the bit about Frank Lloyd Wright – it is like fireworks of encouragement to those of us who have chosen to work for decades in blissful obscurity.
    (ps. so glad to find you on Facebook and Twitter)

  3. Will be re-reading this and following your links, but just had to comment after first read, thank you so much for such an insightful and uplifting post. You have the ability to really get in touch with my intermost soul with this post, thank you so much. Angela

  4. Thank you to all who commented here. I privately heard from many other artists expressing similar thoughts and feelings. This is one of those posts where I only wrote the title and then put Terry Reid in the body. The rest waited several weeks for me to cogitate on it until I had a better idea of how to elaborate on what I wanted to say. Just another part of the creative process that works for me.

  5. Wonderful thoughts Barney, thank you for posting this.
    Had such a big surge of inspiration at the New Year, but has started to wane. Reading this had helped me to look at the bigger pisture.

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