Art and the Butterfly Effect

The other day I was reading a book set in World War II America. Prominently shown in the “Recommended Reading” section at the back was my own book, Dancing in Combat Boots. What an unexpected thrill. I showed it to my usually low-key husband, and even he was impressed. A few days later, we were visiting my in-laws in middle-of-nowhere Idaho, and a distant relative said to me, “I saw your name in the acknowledgements of a book I’m reading. The author seemed so grateful for your assistance!” That was a different one of my books. Another unexpected surprise.

As artists we think constantly about our own work, and part of us (even for those who deny it) secretly dreams our creations will be the next big thing. But for most of us, our artist journeys will consist of hard work, long hours, modest livings, and a modicum of recognition or success, and for that we will count ourselves lucky.

We don’t think very often about all the ways our art impacts others. And many of us will never know. If my book inspired another artist to do her best work, how great is that? If my guidance helped another author share his message with the world, how great is that? If someone writes to tell me that my quote in a magazine article gave her the courage to start writing again, how great is that?

I’ve said it before . . . we’ll never know the full impact of our art and that’s okay. If there is such a thing as the “butterfly effect” –and sometimes a small change can make a large difference–it only stands to figure that sometimes we are the butterflies.

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