Recently I had a play accepted into a local theater festival. I was very elated, because I had been trying for years to get into this highly competitive annual event. My satisfaction was diminished by only one thing: I didn't think much of my play. I regarded it as a piece of fluff and felt that the festival judges had rejected much better plays of mine in the past. As they say, go figure.
The experience certainly reinforced my sense of how arbitrary and subjective aesthetic judgments are. And it also brought to mind what I call the four possibilities. These are the four ways an artist can interact with his public. In the first scenario the artist creates something which both he and his public decide is no good. This isn't a very happy outcome, but at least when it happens to us we can feel that we are in some sense understood: we and our public are living in his same aesthetic universe and have come to the same conclusion about the work.
The second possibility is that the artist is pleased with his work, but he finds the public indifferent or hostile to it. This scenario plays out all the pain of rejection, all the loneliness of being a misunderstood artist.
The third possibility, the one I experienced, is a little better but not wholly satisfying. That is when the public loves something that the artist knows is less than stellar. We really should never show anything that is not our best work, but it's easy to be seduced into doing so. We want approval so much. And we need the money, too.
And finally there is the fourth possibility when the artist feels good about his work and the public agrees. When this happens we feel understood, embraced. It is the possibility we always hope for but can never predict or control. This is especially true when we follow our own instincts and stay true to our own artistic visions.
Every time we present work to the public we roll the dice and steel ourselves to whatever possibility turns up. And the voice of Clint Eastwood seems to whisper in our ear, "Are you feeling lucky today?"