In the world of the internet, it can be hard to understand the value of making things yourself. There is so much competition out there, so many people better at what you are doing than you are. A meme or video goes viral, and suddenly everyone you know is talking about baby Yoda. In such a world, it’s easy to feel very small and that your efforts aren’t worth much. Those focused on fame tell us that if you don’t have at least 100,000 followers, you’re wasting your time.
We all have an audience. Sometimes that audience is huge and sometimes it’s not. Just because we aren’t in the top ten doesn’t mean we don’t have fans or that our work doesn’t have value. So what if the whole world doesn’t love our work? It doesn’t mean that no one does.
I learned all this through a volunteer job I did at quilt show when I lived in upstate New York. At the time, I belonged to the Tompkins County Quilters Guild. The guild was holding its biennial show featuring hundreds of quilts. Instead of getting experts to do the judging, those who attended the show got to pick the winners. Every attendee was given a ballot and asked to pick their favorite quilt in each category.
I was still fairly new to quilting, but I had two bed quilts in the show: Sigh No More and Hey Nonny Nonny. They were in fact the first and second large quilts I had ever made, so I was nervous about showing them. I was a beginner and I knew it. I could only hope that they wouldn’t be horribly outclassed by the other entries.
My volunteer job for that show was to help with the viewer’s awards ballots. In a back room, we went through the piles of paper that were handed in, tallying the counts for each quilt. After all this time, I can only assume I volunteered for the job because I knew I wouldn’t be winning anything and therefore had no conflict of interest. Whatever the reason, I’m so glad I did it. That behind-the-scenes job taught me something of great value.
I certainly didn’t expect to win, and I guess by extension, I didn’t expect to get any votes. But Sigh No More got sixteen votes and Hey Nonny Nonny got twenty. Not many, considering the hundreds of ballots returned, but some. The viewers who voted for my quilts liked them better than any of the other quilts in their division, even over the quilt that actually won the award.
As I looked at the tally sheet, I saw this was true for basically everything. In some cases, a quilt only got a vote or two, but it still mattered enough to someone that they chose it over all the others in its category.
Before that time, I hadn’t realized that this is the way art works. There is art nearly everyone loves and that becomes famous all over the world. And there is the art that speaks to only a handful of people, but it still touches someone.
Touching someone is what it’s all about. Art is meant to show us the world in a new way, to open our eyes, to make us feel something.
So what if only a handful of people appreciate the thing you made? What matters is that someone gets it, even if that someone is you.
Do you get hung up on popularity? Are you hungry for fame and acclaim? Or do you make things with no concern about who might respond?