Staying True to Our Art

by Michael Simmons on Mar 14, 2013

Van Gogh sold one painting in his entire life (Red Vineyard at Arles).

He started painting in his late twenties. Over the decade until his death at 37 (suspected suicide), he produced more than 2,100 artworks.

What do you think is the right balance between self-expression / solving problems that you think are important vs. being focused on what the market is willing to pay for now?

Some of the world’s best companies were started by founders who wanted to create a product that they personally wanted for themselves. Some of the world’s greatest artists focused on expressing themselves rather than satisfying their customers.

The hard questions that many have to tackle are…

What do you do when the market for who you are or what you value doesn’t exist or is smaller than you’d like? How long do you keep staying true to yourself?

One of my most favorite Steve Jobs interviews was when he talked about his biggest fear in the late nineties. Apple was focused on creating amazing personal computers. It was shipping products that Steve Jobs was proud of. However, Mac computers were barely making a dent in Windows’ monopoly. He shared his concern that maybe the market didn’t really value Apple’s art. Things changed with the launch of the iPod, starting one of the best runs in corporate history.

There’s a thin line between stubborn craziness and breaking through. Vindication may not come in one’s lifetime or ever.

Nobody likes not getting external recognition. Fortunately, expressing the art instinct is its own reward.

Constant vigilance and faith are required for staying true to yourself and for finding your peeps.


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I'm the co-founder of Empact, one of the leading entrepreneurship education organizations in the world. I'm obsessed with understanding how we all can lead meaningful lives that have a positive social impact. I love probing into the truth of how we experience life. I believe that challenges are what make us grow the most, and I openly share my experiences. Continue reading…