There are events in my life, as I’m sure exist for us all, that mark time’s passage in significant ways. One was the death of Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain. It was April 5, 1994, and I was old enough to understand the physical act of suicide, but not the intricacies of mental anguish or depression.
Before Cobain’s death, maybe Nirvana’s music was "only music," albeit great music. And after? Who knows. Messages? Cries for help? “Only music?” I would guess it allowed many of us to believe we were seeing a deeper glimpse into the artist’s brain.
After, it sounded different. The pitch was sadder. The human element more harmonized.
Suddenly, we connected harder.
The theme of artists being made bigger, or even discovered after death is not a new one: there’s Herman Melville, the famous Moby Dick author; prolifically isolated poet, Emily Dickinson; Dutch post-impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh; and The Metamorphosis author, Franz Kafka. The list goes on.
Incidentally, their creations and/or lives almost always share common threads - mental health struggles, isolationism, poverty, illness, etc. One could argue that these are interwoven into humanity’s fabric. They’re relatable. And yet, once the creative’s life and mind becomes accessible, so does their work.
For the oft-introverted artist, “opening” can be unnerving. How and what do you reveal to an audience? There’s a short video on YouTube’s The Art of Improvement channel that discusses ways to connect by sharing three basic stories. It suggests:
1. “Tell the story of where you’ve been.” People who know your backstory are more likely to be empathetic to your work. This knowing provides a framework of understanding and a set of open arms that invites a reader in; it says, “this is me, and here’s why I made what this. Can you relate?”
2. “Tell the story of where you’re at.” Don’t over exaggerate where you’re at in your career. Be honest with your success trajectory. Authenticity is key, because more people can relate to a trial-and-error story than a straight-shot-to-the-top tale.
3. “Tell the story of where you’re going.” Share your big, huge, giant goals with the world. You’ll find that your audience will rally around you, and this will provide you with the long-term motivation to keep you moving forward. Another bonus? It keeps your audience interested in your career as it grows. Have you gotten to your goals? They have to hang around to find out!
In writing this post, many cerebral concepts crossed my mind. Should we discount the possibility of solipsism, or the brain-bendy philosophy that our own minds are the only things that exist for sure? Yes, I’m talking about the concept that outside of our minds, we can’t be positive that everyone else, or anything else, isn’t just a projection of our imaginations. But, in case our friends and audiences are real, they should know our stories to better connect to us as artists in our living days.
“Well, that took a weird turn.”
I don’t actually believe in solipsism, so why do I share this? For one, I think out-there ideas are playgrounds for creative adults. Second, maybe it sparks something for your art. But, most importantly, disbelief in solipsism reinforces a key message:
Don’t let your creations spend their lives inside your head.
Allow me to share a little bit about myself, on the off-chance you, Dear Reader, are real. A personal pet peeve comes from the question, “where do you get your ideas?” Nice me says things like, “music, interesting conversation, podcasts, great stories, etc.” Real me thinks, “my brain… same as you.”
I was recently sitting on this concept in traffic, or maybe singing it the shower, or I could have dreamt it… who knows… but, how amazing would it be if we could crack open our heads and allow another human entrance for a short amount of time? A sort of “look-see?”
Here’s the caveat: anyone who could gain access would still be coming with their own brain, and therefore, their own perspective. As they step into our grey mushy matter (shoes off, thank-you-very-much), they’d notice it functions more like a museum gallery.
Look at us, but can't think like us.
Our jobs are to make the exhibit interactive.
You know - make sure the lighting’s good, the docent knows their stuff, and DJ lets the beat drop. Make the time worth the price of admission.
There’s a line to be found here, and it might be personal boundaries, internet safety, or the brain-gallery waiver. But, authenticity and relatability are where it’s at for true artist-audience connectivity. Here's another key point:
Social media information dumps are generally ineffective, because they lack the humanistic side that audiences crave.
If your visitors enter to find endless grocery store-type lists of back-cover book information, they’ll demand a brain museum refund.
You’ll know when you’ve hit your stride because people respond. You’ll also want to know your audience.
Human connection is a two-way street.
When we’re creatives, it feels good to mark time’s passage in big ways: our first publication; first sale; first 100 or 500 or 5000 followers.
It feels good to share your story, and have people by your side that “get you,” especially when you feel like you “get” them, too.
I realize I’m pretty much telling you not to die before getting a chance to really connect to your audience, get to know them, and allow them access to (some of) the real you. If this is what you read between the lines, we’re on the same (web) page. Get your butt out there and show people what you’re made of. Don’t let fear be a hindrance.
You’ll never be “only music.” Nirvana never was.
They’re going to love you.
Cheers, Love, and Rock Fingers,
"If artists would explain more, people would like art more. You realize that?" - Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions