Friday, May 06, 2011

Misunderstanding Art and the People Who Make It

Have you ever had a blogbuddy that you've read for months or even years , when suddenly in the course of a email or comment exchange, they will say something like: "I wish I was a writer"?

Perhaps you have a friend that occasionally gifts you with a painting- or a poem -or hand-made ornament of some sort, and then tells you that they wish they were an artist. You look around your home and see your friend's work adorning your walls, after all you've collected a number of their works over the years. In fact, the place wouldn't be quite the same without them.

So you look at your friend, who is sweet, kind and humble to a fault , and they look at you with their big, vulnerable, approval-seeking eyes as you struggle to find the words needed to comfort them.

What the fuck is wrong with you? is the proper way to console your friend.
Well, maybe not precisely those words, perhaps something like: I guess somebody who is an artist is signing your name on their art then, because I have a print hanging on my wall with your name on it and it is awesome.

They will inevitably shuffle their feet and mumble something about never really selling anything or making much money at it. This is when you have to watch your temper. Your poor friend was picked on enough in school and being mean won't help them much. There is something about a talented person who says things like "I suck at [art-form], I am a failure, waaaah" that makes you ( me) want to slap some self-esteem into them- but that isn't the instinct to follow. It'll backfire and make things worse.

What you try to do is explain that they shouldn't hold themselves to some impossible and contradictory double-standard based on money or acclaim. I mean, I think most readers of this blog would agree that 99% percent of popular art/music/media is utterly insipid drivel that is mass-produced and marketed at the pod-people demographic. Yet the people responsible for perpetrating this nonsense on us are held up as artists- or even worse-as critics with opinions that count. Plus they make oodles of money. But do you actually think what they do has more artistic value than what you do?

You produce maybe one painting every six months or so and when you are done, you usually give it to someone who you care about. That person cherishes it. When they have company at home, they like to show it off to their visitors. It will remain valuable to your friend as long as they live, and maybe longer. Can you say that about Susan Boyle CDs?

Personally, I'm not going hang an ugly piece of shit on my wall just to make you feel better about yourself. I might stop inviting you over instead. If I display it, it is because I like it and if you tell me that you suck, then you are insulting my taste.

And writers. Do you blog? Look at your sidebar. Do you have more than zero readers?

My take on writing is based on the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.

Simple version: In the experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed box that contains a radioactive pellet with 50/50 chance of decaying over a certain period of time. This decay, should it occur, will kill the cat. Schrodinger proposed that until an observer interacted with the cat- opened the box- the cat was neither alive nor dead but existed smeared and super-positioned in both states simultaneously, and that the 'real' status was determined at the moment of observation.

Your story is that cat. You place it on-line and wait. After a while you get a comment, someone likes it. You repeat the experiment over time and eventually 10 or 15 people start saying they like it and read most, if not all, of what you write.

The cat is alive. You have readers.

Congratulations! That makes you a writer. Hopefully it isn't posthumously like the fellow who wrote Confederacy of Dunces.

You have 10 or 15 people who actually care what you say and think and that is 10 or 15 more than most people get. My poor departed granny would have sacrificed her grandkids to Baphomet if she could have had half that many people pay attention to her stories.

 Being a financially successful artist doesn't necessarily mean that you are a good one and being a good one doesn't necessarily guarantee an income. Crazy, innit?

And then there is the whole "suffering artist" thing. That is some black-cloud dreary-ass shit, man. Get the hell over it.

If you really must insist on suffering for your art, get a soul-killing 9-5 office job, wait tables, work retail or some other marginal job. That way you'll have at least have money for food and to help pay for your art of choice. And if you can afford an amp, a guitar, a place to live and a rehearsal space, then you aren't suffering. You have it made. Everyone hates their shitty job, that doesn't make you special. What makes you special is that you can express and release that emotion through your art...oh, right, except you'd have to be an artist to do that.

And if you are fortunate enough to be spared the necessity of a crappy job and have lots of free time to do your art-o-choice, then shut the fuck up with the suffering gabble already. If I could stay home and play guitar all day on a trust fund or lotto winnings, I would choose that and I wouldn't bitch about how nobody understands or appreciates me or my art.

Well, not much, that is.

4 comments:

Craig D said...

Frank Zappa quoted John Cage (I ink) in stating that art is defined by the frame.

Still, my favorite art is linkletter.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

some times I look at what is called 'great art' and think...what the fuck?...
it's all in the eye...I know what I like..that's all that matters.

Angel said...

LOL, I have often wished I was a "writer" 'coz I think there's a difference between a blogger and a writer. I'm a blogger, and there are many writers who blog, but there are many bloggers who really are not writers.
:D

Allan said...

A- I think you're a writer, but I know what you mean.