Creating art for an audience leads you down the path of pandering. Creating art for yourself leads down the road of insanity. Goofing around with friends leads you to greatness.
Greatness is being non-transactional—there is communication, but no end being worked towards. Transacting pushes you into either going it alone and isolating yourself, or joining the crowd and pandering.
Going it alone you aim to be the misunderstood genius, floating a message in a bottle to the future, hoping that a later world understands your brilliance. One in a million you end up as Van Gogh, 999,999 in a million you end up wretched and miserable. The isolated nature of this approach also makes you fail to realize how many people are silently suffering this fate.
When I was more involved in the indie game scene you’d see this failure mode surprisingly often: someone toiling away on their dream project, hopelessly disconnected from reality. Since they’re isolated they don’t realize their sheer un-uniqueness in this approach. People living in their heads because they think they’ll be happier that way.
The other extreme is pandering to the crowd. This is YouTubers making videos based purely on what will get views—what will please the algorithm and be served in front of maximum eyeballs. You become a slave to algorithms and strangers. This article has a disturbing image (don’t open it if you’re about to eat), but it’s a portrait of a YouTuber being completely consumed and destroyed by their audience.
What is goofing around? It’s about lightheartedness. It’s about action that is concretely happening, but you’re not too worried about what will come out of it.
There’s the idea of scenius, but even that has a transactional bent to it. “I must find my scene!” “We must create scenes to generate the next scientific breakthrough!” “My life will have meaning if I’m in the right scene!”
You can see the descent from the peaks of goofing around with friends to the troughs of transactional interaction in the decay of Twitter. Once a home for goofing around it’s become transactional hunting grounds. Once one person turns an interaction transactional, it’s near impossible to not evaluate your own actions non-transactionally. Algorithmic content will bring you the “most engaging” content, and will increase Daily Active Users. But it dulls the ability to goof around.
Goofing around with friends is what sports coaches push their players towards when they tell them to “have fun.” Why is a coach encouraging players to “have fun” in the most important games they’ll play in their career? Goofing around is a way to release an obsession with yourself. You’re not doing things for you. You’re not proving anything to an anonymous crowd. You’re communicating with your friends.
Goofing around is photoshopping something for some friends in a group chat. It’s recording a song about an inside joke. It’s mucking about.
That doesn’t mean that nothing should ever be shared outside of groups of friends. Rather, the best art to me feels like opening the door of a friendship, so that others can appreciate the goofing around that happens there.