Scott Adams’s Bil Keane Epiphany and My Problem With Shrinks (An Essay)

     In one of his recent videos, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame recounted an interesting episode from his career. He had had an epiphany. Delivered courtesy of one Bil Keane of Family Circus fame.

The revelation was that Scott was a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Meaning that he made cartoons that only other cartoonists would enjoy.

After some difficulty in digesting this truth Adams credits the nourishment he derived therefrom as integral to his success. Citing that his audience had often requested Dilbert spend more time in the office. Adams was loathe to humor this request given he’d been using Dilbert as an escape from his own cubicle farm. But, post epiphany he began to cater more to the audience than his personal tastes.

The takeaway seems to have been that a serious artist creates work for other people.

I disagree.

First, there is the question of selection. Adams appears to have unwittingly been making a niche cartoon. There are artists who are aware they are making a niche product. Their decision to do so does not of necessity imply self-service.

Whether or not this implication was a goal or aftereffect of Adams’s assertion is irrelevant. Since it falls into the cooky cutter trend of boilerplate advice for creatives that have littered store shelves since Boomers first began navel-gazing.

I call this boilerplate because writing with an audience in mind is as English 101 as it gets. Hell, it’s elementary.

It’s certainly true that this isn’t necessarily easily achieved and helpful prodding from the ‘greats’ likely helps things along. However, that does not change the fact that this is boilerplate.

And not good boilerplate mind you.

Every member of a given audience changes with time. An audience is not a monolith. Believing you understand their egos, their psyches, and their desires is far more egotistical than making a self-serving doodle.

It annoys me in the same way as the suggestion that using a third person voice somehow makes your writing more objective. As if one gained objectivity by pretending to be a disembodied being of no ego hovering wraithlike over eternity.

   Mystics always want to escape the ego so bad they run right into it.

Furthermore, the idea that commercial success and broad appeal are indicative of the quality of a work is so readily dismissible that I will not insult you by describing how.

To be fair this is likely not at all what Adams meant but it can, and I believe will be inferred, by a good deal of people (my ex comes to mind). While it is certainly not Adams responsibility to preemptively perry every daft inference that’s made from his observations; it is my ardent joy to point out the daftness.

Yes, I will concede that solipsism is an ailment all too common among creatives. Putting Dilbert in the office was a good idea.

But, solipsism also occurs in macro-organisms. Remember when Dylan went electric?

There is no wisdom in crowds since crowds are made of individuals who understand very little about themselves.

To suggest otherwise is to utter vapid truisms like some kind of hysterical desert seer.

Yes, there is a brilliance and craft in making the profound accessible to the masses (whatever those are) and escaping one’s personal caprice that every artist should practice.

No, the pursuit of this does not make you a more serious artist or a better artist. This is because there is a distinction between may and will.

Trying to squeeze the unique mixture of information and reactions that is your art into a popular mold will not necessarily make it more palatable.

So, as regards the balance between audience and performer:

Let’s not run into the arms of one solipsism to escape the other.

While there is a large deal of sport and fun in this little essay for myself. I do have motivations that extend beyond knocking down the shibboleth of ‘creativity guides.’

Adams seems to have the same sort of problem that Tim Pool and Jordan Peterson do. That is he’s a shrink.

What bothers me about shrinks is that they believe they think in third person.

Which is what allows and motivates them to delight in ‘telling hard truths.’

These truths often being observations we’ve all already assimilated, digested, and fertilized our garden with.

There is also a belief among these sorts in their own powers. One that is nearly mystical in nature.

Tim Pool calls his ‘social engineering,’ Adams is a hypnotist, and Peterson fancies himself an adept diagnostician for problems that have eluded the greatest thinkers for eternity.

But this is all just a fancy way of saying shrinks annoy me – hence this essay.

Despite these points of contention, I value the contributions and insights of all three men.

Thanks for reading.

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