“The doing itself is the reward.”
A terrible plague has wiped out humanity. Civilization has crumbled. You are the last person on earth.
One day, you stumble across a video camera. Curious, you press the “on” button, and it springs to life. Nearby, you discover a computer, its screen aglow, waiting to be used.
You realize you have the tools you need to make a film. Would you do it?
Would you make a film knowing no one would see it?
This is at the heart of the question filmmaker Adam Westbrook asks in his beautiful video essay, The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark. The internet has leveled the playing field by empowering indie filmmakers to build their audiences, but in so doing, it has created a world obsessed with popularity. When our latest movie’s YouTube counter sits at zero, it can be easy to feel our creative work doesn’t matter.
But to whom must it matter?
Adam explores the life of Vincent Van Gogh, “an artist who in the ninth year of his career had yet to sell a single painting.” Van Gogh spent nearly a decade working in poverty and obscurity without an audience. He produced almost one thousand oil paintings in his short lifetime.
In the face of such adversity, why did he press on? What motivated him?
Painting in the Dark sheds some light:
Vincent Van Gogh, TS Eliot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Emily Dickinson, Claude Monet, Elizabeth Gilbert, Naguib Mahfouz… Artists who grasp that “the doing itself is the reward”. The activity is done for its own sake; not in expectation of some future consequence.
“You can’t control the external outcomes of what you do,” Adam reminds us, “So why even think about them?”
As we encouraged students, readers, and ourselves at the start of the year, all we can control is our work.
Michael Koehler, with
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