Artists have power, and with power comes responsibility

By John Yunker on

John Yunker

Playwright, author of the environmental novel The Tourist Trail and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

Guernica

Every artist has power. This is something I didn’t realize when I was younger.

I didn’t realize that ideas are powerful and artists wield this power — even if they don’t realize it.

Even if they’re at home struggling over a novel that they think may never see the light of day.

There is an inherent power in all of these stories that we tell.

As artists, the stories we choose to tell come at the expense of the stories we choose not to tell.

Every struggling artist wrestles with this choice between telling the story he or she wants to tell and telling the story he or she thinks will sell.

Sometimes the stars align and one story achieves both goals.

But you can’t know that when you’re staring at a blank piece of paper or impatiently blinking cursor. You can’t know what story will sell. Don’t kid yourself. Nobody could have predicted Harry Potter. Nobody could have predicted Twilight.

Publishers took a chance on these works and, in doing so, won the lottery.

But before the publishers could take that risk writers had to tell the stories they wanted to tell, stories that they wanted to hear.

As a writer, I have to remind myself every so often that the only thing that matters is that I write something that I want to read. Nothing else matters.

And if the story you want to read means taking the path less traveled, so be it.

If a friend or partner or teacher tells you that you’ll never get that story published, ignore them.

After all, you can always self-publish.

More important, you have a responsibility to tell your story.

“We just give people what they want,” is a common refrain in the entertainment industry.

It’s a lie.

In truth, producers and publishers give people what they think they will like, based on previous blockbusters and bestsellers, which often has very little do with what people really want. And for these we must also blame artists.

Some artists tell the stories they want to hear. Others tell the stories they think the public wants to hear.

As an artist, I urge you to tell the stories that you want to hear.

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