Johann Sebastian Bach wasn’t massively successful or famous while he was alive. In fact, he published very little music in his lifetime. It wasn’t until decades after his death that his body of work became widely appreciated.
Edgar Allen Poe was one of the first writers in America who tried to make a living based solely on writing. It didn’t go so well. It wasn’t until his death that he was recognized by literary scholars to be the pioneer in short-story fiction he’s known as today.
Emily Dickinson was painfully introverted and published only about a dozen of her poems while she was alive. After she passed away, her sister discovered 40 hardbound volumes filled with 1800 poems and introduced them to the rest of the world. Today, Dickinson is considered one of the most highly regarded American poets in literature.
The creative paths of these legendary artists has gotten me thinking about a couple things.
First, I wonder how much richer the world might be if Bach, Poe, and Dickinson lived today with all the opportunities that exist to share work. Conversely, equally compelling is would they be discovered through all the digital noise of the modern age?
Second, the posthumous acclaim is both encouraging and depressing to think about because these artists almost lived their lives in obscurity. When they were alive the world wasn’t ready for their art yet. But because they created it, the art spoke for itself and and sang their legacy after they passed.
I’m no expert on their lives outside of reading a few articles, but I believe they created because there was inherent reward in the act. In fact, as far as they were aware, the art didn’t create the value in the world they hoped it would. Yet, they persisted. Even in Dickinson’s case, where no one even knew her poetry existed, she still wrote for herself.
I get a sense of comfort considering there is no way to know the true impact the work we create will have. For all we know, we could be depositing value for a future unseen beneficiary.
So don’t live or die by the attention. Focus on the work and not on the outcome, cause there’s no control over that. It reminds me of the action heroes, who walk forward without looking back at the massive explosion they just caused. Instead of looking up to see if anyone saw that cool thing we just did, we should just keep moving forward.
“The more you ignore it, the cooler you look.”– Lonely Island, Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions