As mentioned in my previous article, The Bronte Sisters and the Sad Girl Trend, art careers are one of the only careers that are based heavily on the monetization of your own experiences, your own emotions and struggles. Audiences clamour for authors who are “authentic”. We want to hear about people’s issues, out of a twisted bit of nosiness, but also because we want so badly to know that we aren’t alone in our experiences.
But where does the artist fit in here? Authenticity is all well and good, but when do we cross the line and become a spectacle? When every experience is on sale, where does that leave life?
The adage “write what you know” is very common in writing circles. It not only means that you should be knowledgeable on the subject matter which you are covering (which you most definitely should be), but also that you should draw on your own experiences for your writing. This is also good advice, but it’s a double-edged sword.
When you write, you are offering someone a window into your life. Even if it’s fiction, pieces of you can be picked up everywhere. This is all well and good. But the more you write, the more you share, the more the window widens and widens until your whole house is made of glass.
Singer-songwriter Mitski was recently interviewed by journalist Ben Beaumont Thomas, in an article for the Guardian (Mitski, the US's best young songwriter: 'I'm a black hole where people dump their feelings' | Mitski | The Guardian). In it, she speaks about what it means for her to have songs that are so raw and vulnerable be consumed by such a wide audience, of people who are also struggling with their own heavy problems. She says: “The reason they really pay me the big bucks is to be the place where anybody can put all of their feelings, their ugliness, that doesn’t have a place in their own lives. I’m like the black hole where people can dump all their shit, whether it’s a need for love, or it’s hatred and anger.”
She goes on to talk about how she feels like a product that’s up for consumption. It’s like fans see her as more of a figurehead than a person. This has happened to many singer-songwriters and authors who share pieces of their lives candidly (this also tends to happen more to women and feminine-presenting people). Artists like Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus are renowned for their sadness. Releasing a song with a happier message is a tone shift at best, but at worst, it’s a betrayal.
Fans see these women as characters themselves, rather than people. Through their writing, they become archetypes and vessels for fans to feel their own emotions. They become more character than a person, their feelings fictionalized, experiences turned into brands.
The thing is, this issue really isn’t one that I can find any concrete answers to. Should artists censor themselves in fear of people taking their emotions out of context? Should fans stop emotionally connecting with artists? Neither of these extremes seems like the way to go, so there has to be some kind of happy medium, right?
I think there is, but it’s hard to really draw a line in the sand as to where that happy medium should be. But there are so many intricacies and variables at play in this issue, so aside from these two things, I’m not sure I have any other solid advice. Obviously, fans should have basic respect and decency towards artists that they like, and remember that they’re people and not just public figures. And artists do need some boundaries in their work, need to have some things that they don’t share widely.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favorite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi
MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR: