The answer is always.
The artist needs to heed both voices, to satisfy both voices completely. And this is impossible--or barely possible--or rarely possible.
Or possible only with the help of the divine.
The etymological roots of inspiration refer to breathing in spirit. Artist vision begins with the transcendent and then seeks to structure that unboundedness within the boundaries of art. The artist must heed inner vision; otherwise, art has no soul. The artist must heed the vox populi; otherwise, art has no audience, a tree falling in the wilderness and no one witnessing the felling. It is this tension that guides the knife of the artist, and the greater the vision, the closer to the bone the knife slices.
The necessity of the transparency of the artist: what Romantics reckoned in the Aeolian harp metaphor--what Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Nature" described:
I become a transparent eyeball-I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me-I am part or particle of God.This is the beginning of artistic creation. Yet without boundaries, the bliss does not substantiate. A sculpture is defined by space, yet without the boundary where space ends and form begins, there exists no object. And the greatness of the art is determined by the exact, precise edge of that boundary. And the greatness of the art is determined by the consciousness of the perceiver, the audience.
The artist needs to be humble and heed the voice of the people, to listen to one's friends and advisors. The artist also needs to be certain within him or herself, to know that the vision is correct, the eye is true, and that entire world is wrong if that vision is not accepted.
In my poem "A Garret Room at Hotel Tao," published recently in Every Day Poets, the lines read "To choose window and empty sky is to risk the gulf . . ."
The way is steep and demanding: I am reading my manuscript once again: if nothing else, as an act of humility.
Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved