It’s so good to see innovative artists creating work for the hell of it, particularly when underneath the creation there is a deeper meaning resonating beyond the usual ego traps one can fall into when creating work. I get that it’s a career and that you have to invest a lot of time in publicity and marketing yourself and your work. Otherwise, all of the time you’ve invested in creating the work may be for naught. This isn’t news to me, though I’ve never really been very interested in slick self-promotion (or maybe I have, but I’ve been taught that being somewhat humble about yourself and your work should be de rigeur). Still, there is much to say about the role of marketing oneself to the public and creating your branded identity (even if that identity is shapeshifting constantly). After all, we are in an era of obsessive consumerism and polished posturing. Still, there is something so superficial and empty about this rat race modus operandi, particularly when you scratch beneath the surface of some of these artists’ creations and come up with nothing but the residue from their desires to be famous.
Eric Bogosian has an interesting monologue in his work/character Dog Chameleon from “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll”, that blatantly unsheaths this veiled collective desire that is rampant in our culture. In talking about normality, his poor artist character says,
“Shit, I want fame! Look at me, man! Fame is what counts. Fame with money.”
He continues on to decipher between good fame and bad fame, but you see that Bogosian is unearthing a sentiment in our society that I believe really hurts everyone, in particular artists. Why do fame and money equal success? Why should they really be the measure of one’s talent and ability? Most people will acknowledge that they really aren’t, yet we all buy into the meritocracy. It seems that it’s impossible not to equate talent with this type of success, when everywhere we’re being told that the two go hand and hand. And also, on top of that we add to that a dash of youthful obsession to create a desire for fame to happen in one’s youth, as that is a more attractive, marketable type of success. Yet, judging by these standards, there are a number of successful people who are not very talented. It is what it is. The creme de la creme does not always rise. Sometimes it does. But often it doesn’t.
So what does an artist, performing or visual, do in a society that measures their talent by this definition of success, with success being something that may or may not happen depending really on a number of factors (capital, time one can invest in creating, in networking, in promoting and of course, the luck of the draw of being at the right place at the right time). Do you just ignore it and go about creating your own value system, working on creating your own reality in opposition to or on another plane altogether, from the status quo behavior? Or do you go along with it, taking the gamble that maybe you’ll “make it” one day. I always want to say to all of the talented artists/performers I meet that they’ve already made it. If you spend the time to create something that inspires another person in some way, in any way, then you’ve been successful. These artists know that, but our capitalist society doesn’t often measure it that way and they can be pursuaded to believe otherwise. Perhaps you measure success by the ability to go full time as a working artist. That is quite a feat you’ve achieved, if you do manage it. But you may never be famous in this lifetime, and you may never be rich either. So these markers of success are deceptive. Yes, I know many people who may read this and deny that they want these thing, but I don’t believe you can live in this culture and be completely immune to these desires. I think artists should try to fight hard against this or attempt to expose its artificiality. These desires lead down a very unstable path of insecurity and delusion and take you far away from honesty in your own work. They seem to contribute to disingenuine or bland work and also they promote egoism and posturing in one’s work, both of which are turn offs (at least for me), unless they are done ironically to expose the very things they are promoting. It also promotes a type of rat-race competition that hurts the potential communities that could spring from an openness to collaborate with others, as opposed to shutting it down.
It’s a difficult situation for those in the arts. There is less and less money to help sustain us and that, in itself, creates a tension. Who is good enough to get the money? Who will fall by the wayside because they aren’t receiving funding? It’s a complicated thing. But, at the heart of it should be the realization that it really doesn’t have to be this way.