An article from the esteemed Eric Maisel, whose life as a counselor and therapist for artists, as well as writing numerous books, shares a lifetime of study and evaluation of the artist in society. Below are a few paragraphs I've held close for many years.
From “Creativity for Life” by Eric Maisel, PhD
There are cynical artists who withhold the truth from their art n order to gain an audience and to make money, just as there are cynical clergy who preach while neither loving nor believing, and these cynical artists are often among the most successful, since they are very attuned to the kinds of lies audiences love. But I am guessing—and hoping—that you prefer to live seriously.
Other artist will tell only a fraction of what they know to be true or will alter or subvert the truth, because of self-censorship, a long to be popular, or a desire not to offend. As the French writer Jean Cocteau put it, “After you have written a thing and you reread it, there is always the temptation to remove its poison, to blunt its sting.” Elmore Leonard, the popular mystery writer, said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.” Both of these practices are manifestations of the impulse to have and keep an audience, an impulse every salesperson understands.
But, as visual artist Les Levine put it, “Artists are going to die like anyone else - -to they want to leave behind a lot of work they don’t believe in.” Every artist internally debates this issue. Should she sing a jingle or a hymn? Should she sing in harmony or protest injustice? Should he tell the dark truth about the alcoholism in his family or entertain his fans with his command of language?
As Martha Rosler, a visual artist, explained, “The main effort of most of mass media is to get you to succumb to magic and lost your critical ability. I want the work to be more of an irritant.” If truth is an irritant, however, how is the truth-telling artist to survive? You may never frame the question to yourself in so many words, but you must nevertheless address it your whole career.
The artist who most keenly feels the need to tell the truth will make the fewest concessions, will resist falsification the most, and may, like a scorned prophet, find herself vilified and misunderstood. The artist who is more accommodating, however, who more willingly embraces the commercial and the false, may himself be embraced but may wonder if he is squandering his precious time on earth.