Why I don’t worry about Trump (or the sudden rise of click bait headlines).
It’s not your place to decide if what you make is important.
Here’s something I’ve been thinking a lot lately: what if I make shitty art?
Hear me out.
What if the way I express myself isn’t nuanced? What if I offend someone? What if the language I use makes me look bad? What if it’s wrong? What if I discredit or misrepresent other people unintentionally?
What if I fail to get my ideas across!? What if people think I’ve said something that’s completely the opposite of what I meant?
What if I mis-state the facts? What if I’m genuinely inconsiderate? What if I don’t realize that I’m offending people? What if my worst nightmare comes true:
What if I’m actually a bad person?
What if I make something that means so much to me — if I really expose my most vulnerable parts and take an honest stand about who I am and what I want to do— and my worst nightmare comes true:
What if it means nothing to anyone else?
What if what I have to say wasn’t worth saying? Or it made the world worse as a result of my saying it?
These thoughts keep me from expressing myself.
Thoughts like the ones above keep the best parts of me locked inside.
The parts of me that I cherish, that I’m absolutely proud of, and that I think are worth sharing and telling other people about — I keep them silent because I’m afraid of stepping on toes. From making people ask questions about their own beliefs. From making people uncomfortable. From breaking tradition.
I don’t want people to be mad at me.
These thoughts are all just poorly disguised fear. They come from being afraid of discovering something seemingly intolerable about who I am, what I’ve made, or what I’ve learned about the world.
These doubts are keeping me from making me best work.
Do you have this problem too sometimes?
If you do, that’s already not great. But it gets worse.
Here’s the kicker:
People who are genuinely less well-thought-out, less empathetic, less creative, and less considerate don’t censor themselves like you do.
And as a result, those people get heard.
And you don’t.
Fortunately, there’s a system already in place to handle people who make worthless work, say worthless things, and make the world worse.
This system is called:
Limited human attention.
None of us are going to willingly spend any of our time choosing to listen to people who are incorrect, make bad art, promote lazy thinking, use sloppy language, or worse. It’s just not fun.
Because of this simple fact, a great thing happens:
Bad art is forgotten.
And keep in mind, when I say “art” I mean any expression whatsoever. If what you have to say isn’t worth listening to, it won’t go viral.
More than just not being popular, it won’t be remembered at all. Eventually, no one will care. Maybe no one will care to begin with!
So you can put to rest your anxiety. Because if any of your insecurities turn out to be true, the world will sensor you automatically.
But maybe your insecurities are wrong.
Maybe what you make will be worthwhile. Maybe it will go viral. Maybe it will hold people’s attention for decades. Centuries.
Maybe, like Rosa Parks’ — your story will be one of the stories that informs an entire cultural movement.
Maybe something you do or say or write or paint or record will be the work that changes how we see ourselves and who we aspire to be.
You can’t know if you don’t make it.
My best friend from high school, Trevor, and I recently had a very interesting conversation. The premise was this:
What will survive the ultimate test of time?
Regardless of what you actually believe about “heaven” or concepts like it, indulge me for a moment.
Will we be able to read C.S. Lewis’s work in heaven?
Mere Christianity? Narnia?
If not, why not? If so, will every other book be available as well?
I’m sure you can imagine books and other works of art you might not prefer to have in heaven.
How about work that doesn’t matter?
Will the notes you took on a napkin one time over breakfast be available in heaven? They certainly weren’t available after you lost the napkin.
Will you be able to watch Charlie Bit My Finger in heaven? How about the other hundreds of hours of youtube video that were uploaded as you read this article here on Medium?!
I don’t know.
What will we have in the near-ish future?
In 4,000 years? 500 years?
What art do we have from 4,000 years ago? The Epic Of Gilgamesh and some cave paintings. Art that physically survived such a long period of time. We can’t know if it was the best art of the time, because it’s the only art we have.
From 1000 years ago? Only the greats. Only art that found it’s way into other cultural conversations. Art that inspired, instructed, or was studied and lauded for its outstanding qualities by institutes and universities.
From 300 years ago? Only accounts that truly resonated with other people — for aesthetic quality or for their unique position. Only works that held meaning for many or were a particularly insightful account of someone’s unique perspective.
Maybe you’re thinking about how frustrating it is that no one knows what art the world will still have access to in 300 years! In 1000! In 4000! Or in eternity.
Once again, I don’t know. And you probably don’t either.
But the magic of it all is that we DO know one thing:
We know what art won’t be there:
The work that wasn’t made because artists doubted themselves.
Great orators who stayed quiet. The greatest painters who never approached a canvas because they thought they couldn’t possibly make anything worthwhile. Great writers and storytellers of our time who never put their thoughts in writing because people might laugh at them for aspiring to be something they didn’t believe they could be.
We can’t know what the fate of that work would have been if it had been made. But since it was never made we know no one will ever benefit from it.
To not have made anything is the greatest disgrace any artist can face.
The only work that is eligible for entry into heaven, the distant future, or even just tomorrow is work that you make today.
We’re not sure about much in the future except that we’ll never have art that wasn’t made.
And this is why self censorship is the least-informed position I could possibly take about my own work. Deciding not to make something because I think it might turn our awful, or boring, or useless — even harmful! What a terrible, unfounded assumption that would be!
It’s simply not up to me to decide what lasts.
Maybe my perspective is useful, informative, or inspiring!
If it’s not, no one will care.
But what if it is! And worse, what if I hadn’t made it!?
What must I think of myself to deprive the world of my perspective by not sharing it while I’m here?
How prideful must I be to not risk speaking up and changing the course of the entire world if only to avoid looking stupid or embarrassing myself?
That’s my concern. And that’s why my aim is to make work worthy of heaven.
Far worse than being wrong is never saying anything at all.
Because the bad art won’t last, but the art that wasn’t made never had a chance.
Now, speaking of bad art:
I started this post with him because I can’t help writing clickbait headlines and because he’s of particular concern to almost everyone on the planet right now.
The good news is, he soon won’t be.
Regardless of what you think of Trump — no matter how high your opinion, really — I think it’s a safe bet that you regard Leonardo da Vinci as a better artist.
Even if Trump gets elected president — even if we imagine that he develops untold eloquence and becomes the most considerate and thoughtful leader he can be — I think it’s a safe bet that for as long as people exist, they will continue to have have more reverence for the work of Claude Monet or Shakespeare or Einstein than they will for anything Donald Trump ever said or did in his life.
And that’s not just to say anything bad about Trump either! The work you and I make probably faces the same fate.
But no art’s descent into oblivion is guaranteed unless it is never made. No matter who you are, if you make work that stands the test of time — that connects with other people — that’s what matters.
No click-bait headline or useless piece of fluff written for the sake of page views (this piece likely included) will ever garner the lasting attention of the entire world — and that’s a good thing.
That’s why we don’t need to worry about Trump or Clickbait or any other instance of the troubling emergent outcomes of new media.
Worthwhile art lasts.
Art that finds an important story to tell within the context of cultural growth or progression lasts. Stories that tell us more about who we are last. The legacies of people who inspire us to be better versions of ourselves last.
And nothing else does.
Because it shouldn’t. Because it doesn’t need to.
And that is the magic of human attention.
The same goes for you. If your work isn’t better than Van Gogh’s, you’re probably safe from the scrutiny of future generations.
To be frank, you’re probably safe from the scrutiny of your own generation.
And so am I.
Because I’m too afraid to speak my mind.
So don’t let the fear of scrutiny keep you from making work worthy of heaven.
Because you don’t get to choose what will or won’t be worthy of heaven. But you do get to choose whether or not you make it.
Go make art.
Steve Moraco wrote this in the spur of the moment at 1AM because he couldn't not write it.
All he would like in return is for you to share it with whoever came to mind as you read it. Encourage the artists in your life, and encourage your inner artist.
What we make matters because it connects us to each other. It makes our lives infinitely better. And the work that doesn't do that will fade away on its own.
If you would like to keep this work from fading away, hit the like button. Post it on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Whatever. Copy and paste it into an email and send it to your local newspaper and take credit for it. Share it.
Thanks for listening. -Steve