Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of appreciating a work of art is that we feel ourselves to be holding the undivided attention of the artist, no matter how great that artist may be. Few of us have dined with kings, but many of us feel we have spent hours upon hours of comradeship with Beethoven.

Through Beethoven’s work, indeed, we may feel a connection to the composer as a person that is akin to a great friendship – even mentorship. How many of us have felt a twinge of uncanniness, in fact, when we realize that a work by our favorite composer or songwriter has affected others in the way it has affected ourselves? After all, we think, the experience of interpreting their work had given us such a personal insight into our own lives. It is as though we have discovered that our most deeply-felt conversation with a trusted friend has been experienced by innumerable other people.

And yet this realization is one of the many graces of a true work of art: art in this sense is almost infinite in its ability to affect us; that is, it is not lessened in degree as it moves more and more people than ourselves; rather, it is an inextinguishable fire or an infinite feast: a work by Beethoven is not decreased in its power to move us even if one billion other people experience the same stirring as we do upon hearing it.

A friend to many: Beethoven

It is for this reason that the role of the artist in society is a great one, for perhaps the greatest gift an artist may impart to her or his audience is that of companionship. Indeed, the artist is in many ways a sort of physician, or more specifically a psychiatrist – one who heals others by understanding their psyche. We live at a time in history wherein artists are still obliged, as they have done even since the time of Mozart and beyond, to take on a number of roles in order to earn a living, or pave a way to a career in order to do so – entertainer, celebrity, public persona – but it is perhaps worth noting that an artist should not lose sight of the great worth they provide to society simply by the sense of fellowship with humanity their work may impart.

The rest of what may come of a career in the arts, whether that involves the anxiety of poverty or the thrill of acknowledgement by a wider public, may in the end – like the lawyer who finds that they are more fulfilled working in a lower-paid position as a public defender rather than as corporate counsel to the wealthy – show that the greatest joy in creating art is the ability to transcend one’s own interests and to genuinely provide a voice in the dark for others. Who knows – perhaps the life of the obscure and contemplative artist holds more satisfaction than that of the media-savvy genius hoping to ride the cycles of fickle popularity. That choice of direction and values belongs to each artist as they place their ship in the waters of their profession, but it is certainly one that deserves thought and scrutiny at any stage of a life devoted to creation.

Jordan Anderson is a songwriter and composer from Portland, Oregon. He has releases on the Illuminated Paths, Tamarack Music, Jeunesse Cosmique, and Fluere Tapes labels.