A photograph can be good, as is. It does not have to win an award to be good. An essay on Tumblr can be good, as is. It does not need to be on a mainstream blog or more mainstream-approved spaces like Medium to be good. An eBook can be good, as is. It does not have to be in print to be a good book. A painting can be good, as is. It does not have to hang in a gallery to be good. A design can be good, as is. It does not have to be branding material for a Fortune 500 company to be good. Fashion in an Etsy store can be good, as is. It does not have to be sold at Anthropologie to be good. Music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp can be good, as is. It does not have to be released by a major label to be good. A dance video on Vine, Instagram or YouTube can be good, as is. It does not have to be recognized on an episode of Ellen or Jimmy Kimmel Live to be good. Art is good even without status. Status is not proof of goodness. Goodness, is subjective.
Does this mean that an artist should not aspire to different levels of "success" however they define that "success?" Of course not. An aspiration for "success" is a personal journey and when it is conveyed by someone else as a request or passive aggressive jab, then it seems less about really wanting that artist to thrive and more about the person consuming them and/or their art needing a certain level of status to be achieved before they can deem the art valuable and good. I experience this a lot from people who pretend to be interested in my art but always have some requirement before they can really enjoy my art. Some other format, first. Some other status marker achieved, first. Some other bullet point on a resume that they think they should write for me, first. Some of this is socialization; these things are tied to class-related, fame-related standards. I get that. It is difficult for people to understand that not everyone wants to be famous though. And as unbelievable as this sounds, not everyone even wants to be rich. Some people want to be able to create art in the absence of disrespect and microaggressions with enough resources to do so. I am one of those people. (To be clear, not necessarily desiring to be rich is not the same as desiring labor exploitation and abuse, by the way, nor does it mean I no longer need or deserve money.) Even when I make jokes about wealth, I do not really desire the wealth. So much of what I truly desire cannot be bought at all.
A lot of people really need to learn how to value an artist's work in the format that they share it in. Production requests are not compliments. A person publishes eBooks. "Compliments" for those eBooks include that it would really be great if it was an expensive hardback...that maybe their target readers cannot afford. A photographer makes compelling photographs with a $2,000.00 dSLR. "Compliments" for those photographs include that if this photographer had the $6,000.00 dSLR from the same manufacturer, those photographs could really have potential. A person presents more intellectual rigor in their tweets than many academics do in their own work. "Compliments" for these tweets include that if the person had a degree, then they would really make worthwhile comments. These are backhanded "compliments," like "negging" against creative and intellectual work, similar to how people do this in the dating process (i.e. "you are beautiful, but you would be more beautiful with/without makeup"). These are production requests and they devalue creativity and/or intelligence for not meeting status markers and ones often based on class and perceived status of the desired platforms. These types of things are said not just to those without access to status but to those denied access based on racism, sexism, classism etc. and when these intersect.
Some people will argue that people who say these things just want an artist to "succeed." I argue that such a desire requires an intimacy that most people who say this do not have with the artist that they are saying this to. I know when one of my sisters says "I look forward to (insert a specific thing that I want to do next and have discussed it with her)," that is based on emotional intimacy, a relationship, and acknowledgement of something that I actually want to do. This is not the same as someone else who seemingly cannot appreciate my art in the format that I share it in, at the level of exposure/status that I share it at. To be clear, I am not necessarily discussing already famous/wealthy artists. Certainly people—including me—have artistic wishes for famous artists in the public eye; however I do not @ mention them on Twitter or insult whatever they have currently created if I am really a fan. I do not insult The Electric Lady just because I also hope to see Janelle Monáe in film (she has one coming up, actually) and I most certainly do not directly tweet her my wishes.
Instead, I mean the artists who may have a "bigger" vision for themselves, but are not allowed the moments and space to celebrate whatever they did create since someone is always hounding them about "the next step." Maybe "the next step" is to actually enjoy their creative process and whatever they made. Celebrate it. Learn from it. Then create something else. Not be consumed by bullet points on a list that perhaps they did not even write, but that other people have written for them. If there is never a moment to actually experience art as an expression—which does not mean devaluing the fact that art is also work becomes okay—then to me, it seems like artists are viewed as machines. Making the next widget. The widget that will always be on the shelf that is not good enough to be on; the widget that could magically become better...but only on a different shelf. Respecting and accepting the format and the way that an artist expresses themselves does not mean that the art itself cannot be genuinely complimented or critiqued, but instead means allowing an artist the space and agency to decide what that creative process and that creation is. Whether the response ends up being celebration or contempt, at least then it is actually about the art.