The universe is fascinating at times. Just when I was thinking of how to make myself more useful to the world, I stumble upon Derek Siver’s blog post. Derek writes about timeless articles by making them more timely than ever.
The other day I was contemplating on how to make my music more useful to the world, and Derek provided me an answer.
Art is useless by definition. If it were useful, it would be a tool.
For the past 19 years, I was obsessed with being useful. That one measure drove all of my daily decisions: “How can I be the most useful to the most people today?”
It served me well, but it has its downsides. It kept me from playing and doing things just for me. It’s no coincidence that I stopped making music 19 years ago. It didn’t qualify as the most useful thing I could be doing.
It’s such a luxury to not think about you, out there, and how you might value me.
At the top of every page of my website, I used to have an elevator pitch: a sentence saying how I might be useful to the stranger browsing my site. But no more. I erased it last week.
For the time being, I’m nobody’s tool.
Let the idea sink in a bit, and notice that it doesn’t say “worthless.” Art can be valuable, and someone might find a particular use for it, but usefulness was not its purpose.
Derek attributes the idea of 'art is useless' to Oscar Wilde. Here's one of the letters of Oscar Wilde in the introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray.
A reader named Bernulf Clegg wrote to Wilde asking him to explain, and Wilde replied with a handwritten letter. The transcript is as follows:
16, TITE STREET,
My dear Sir
Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realize the complete artistic impression.
A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. Flower blossoms for its joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course, a man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.
Such a profound thought on making art.