Now the Pickle

Her Beautiful But Evil Space Highness has an issue with her interwebz (look, a BBES Princess is no match for Space Bureaucracy. This should be self-evident. Just because one possesses, in one’s delicate and feminine but iron fist, the power to crush stars and snuff out the lives of billions and billions of innocent peons does not exempt one from waiting for the Soulless Technician to show up. Sometime between eight and noon. Perhaps. If the stars are in alignment and Mercury isn’t retrograde. What do I know: I just minion here.) and between oppressing her latest planetary acquisition and and asked me to fill in. So instead of a novel Novel Writing Seminar post, you get to listen to me philosophy-ize. Lucky you.

I read a thing yesterday (full disclaimer: Mrs. Dave read it to me while I cooked dinner. Then we argued about it, and then I read it after dinner and putting Wee Dave to bed for the night in his super-duper suspendy baby hammock. It’s a thing, and we all like it.) wherein a writer for the Atlantic bemoaned the shift in what it means to be an artist. Fuller disclaimer: I’m prone to growling at such things as passive-aggressive elitist twaddle, as much as I am to considering them in anything resembling an objective position. I’m curious on your take on it.

What immediately came to me was a clip from Men in Black 3, wherein our heroes attend a shindig in the 60s, and encounter Andy Warhol.

Most of the article is taken up in a fairly solid explication of what it has meant to be an artist through the last few hundred years. Words like artisan, poet, and playwright denote a craftsman’s status. One who constructs a thing; a worker and a creator. Michelangelo and Shakespeare fall into this category, and the implication is that this is how they, and Kit Marlowe (though perhaps not) thought about themselves and how their contemporaries thought of them. This was the world in which an artist (or other artisan) was lucky to find a wealthy patron to finance their lives while they created.

Later, an artist came to be a mythical creature, huddled in a chilly Parisian garret suffering for their art and subsisting on baguette crusts and dreams. The best of this era became the equivalent of rock stars, sponsored into high society by (yet more) wealthy patrons who would shower them with wealth and material comforts (and lots and lots of booze, I shouldn’t wonder) and they would move among the high and powerful as a figure of mystery and wit and enlighten even these mighty with the burgeoning greatness of their art. This was a time where Art (note the capital) was inspired in tortured genius by some mystic muse.

Then, as time marched through the end of the modern age and into the postmodern, what it meant to be an artist changed again. It was important to be a professional, and sufficiently credentialed. One attended the appropriate university, learned techniques and sat in lectures, spent hours practicing, and then graduated. One found a job, often in conjunction with a school of some sort, and worked at one’s art. The artist was a professional like any other, putting in hours; paying dues.

Now? Well, now we’re turning into something else, apparently. No longer is the artist a solitary figure, struggling to bring forth a work. No, we’re now exchanging depth of discipline for breadth of versatility. Artists now study many disciplines, the better to appeal to a broader market. Indeed, it would seem that the End of the Gatekeepers is nigh, and the hoi polloi are making a mockery of Art. It’s possible I’m reading things into the article, but while I found a lot of useful information in it – and outright enjoyed reading most of it – I can’t help but grouch at the writer’s conclusions.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding at work, here. Namely, it’s not that artists are now working to appeal to the market (instead of working to create good art, it is to be understood). Truly, artists have always worked to appeal to a market. The disconnect here is what that market was in the past, and what it is now. The author of the article gets so close. Art is work, and the worker should be worth his wages. But the worker still must get paid.

Look, Niccolo Machiavelli wasn’t writing The Prince for the average Florentine (or was he? Gramsci would evidently argue otherwise, and to him I give a slap on the nose. Silly commie.) because none of them could PAY HIM. At least, not enough to survive on. This is why you never see any great works dedicated to the guy who lived on the corner and made children smile. Nope. You dedicated your book to someone with wealth, in the hope they’d take an interest in this common artisan with the intriguing ideas and – incidentally – excellent judge of character.

The same remains true, though the market has now shifted. No longer are we forced by necessity to appeal to a small group of money’d oligarchs. Or rather, we are, but the pool has gotten MUCH larger. But we still appeal to our market in the hopes they pay our bills. That hasn’t changed. Art is nice, don’t get me wrong. Truth and Beauty are nice work, if you can get it. But Platonic absolutes don’t put food on the table or keep Wee Dave in onesies and liver pate. Indeed, the set of those who can pursue Ideal for Ideal’s sake is limited to the set of those who can do so for no remuneration. Namely, the amateur hobbyist and the financially independent dilettante.

For the rest of us lowly mortals, we must continue the slog. Develop your skill sets and your markets, hone your craft. Continue your education and work your nets. Treat your job like it’s a job (I’m bad at this. I blame the 8 month old psychic vampire who’s recently taken up residence in my domicile.) and get paid. Doing art is good. Getting paid for making it is better. Leave the determination and analysis of Art to another generation. One with no skin in the game.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Now the Pickle

  1. I became a professional artist by accident. Really… I never intended to paint for my living (much less create sculptures out of latex and air. Performance artist? Honey, I’m *agoraphobic* (which doesn’t mean what most people think it means). Writing I could have seen, back then. I started writing with a passion when I was a teen. But because I was a professional first, an artist second, and then a writer, I think I hit it right. I might not have, had I done that in reverse order. See, in the pursuit of money, I became the artist. So I have handled it as a business from the beginning. In the wise man Gary Cole’s words ‘exposure will kill you.’ I’ve had hypothermia, more than once. I wasn’t going to leave myself open to that on a business level. There were little mouths that needed food and milk in them. And because I was determined, I made it work. Now, writing, I look to the market, and make concessions. If it’s selling, put it out there. If it only works as a loss leader, shrug and move on. Yes, the creation is a chunk of your soul, but without feeding, that soul is going away anyhow.

    MMmmm… this is getting muddled. I need to think about it and probably write more than this to make it clear. Thanks for the brain food, Dave 🙂

    • You’re welcome? I was mostly just waxing acerbic over the passive aggressive slant in the last paragraph of the Atlantic piece. I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to take an underdog stance if one’s available, but I’m rather tired of the long-sufferingness of the art establishment. Especially while such are so involved in speaking farts to power. It’s tiresome. I’m glad you got something more constructive out of my ramblings.

      • “Farts to power” Hah! No, I was speaking from long experience with ‘artistes’ who can’t find their brains with a bucket, and then whine when they can’t make any money.

        • Yeah, no comment. My wallet doesn’t comment, either.

          • You are no artiste, my friend. Generally, there is more glitter involved… And life dictates, sometimes. You’ll turn that around with some time. Right now, focus on that wriggly little masterpiece you and Mrs. Dave are collaborating on. They don’t come more perfect than that!

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Irrational fear of forums?

  2. Uncle Lar

    Puts me in mind of that old timey writer Willie the Shake who churned out bloody incestuous potboilers for the common crowd. That was back in the day when the cheap seats at the Globe went for a penny and three pence got you a seat in the balcony.
    I’m betting old Will busts a gut every time some learned scholar yet again attempts to dissect one of his gory soap operas. Though he did provide fodder for countless masters and doctoral theses slapped together by english majors in their efforts to secure tenured teaching positions.

  3. masgramondou

    The good thing about today is that an artist can – in theory at least – get patronage from hoi polloi. Instead of a dedication to one amazing rich and powerful dude now you can dedicate your work to the 1000 incredibly insightful individuals who funded you on kickstarter

    Sadly there are also other ways to get $$$ from hoi polloi. This is via the bureaucrats and government sponsorship of the arts. For that the talent required is not to please the multitutdes but to pander to the check boxes on forms bureaucrats created in response to the whims of politicians who had no clue. The fact that this exists means that many people (including I suspect the salon writer) are unclear on the correct relationship between art, artists and money

  4. Sometimes I think the airs we artisans put on is just a thin cover for “Dammit, why can’t _my_ trash become a popular best seller like that other person’s even worse trash?”

    • Holly

      It’s part of the performance that people want with their Art. (I’ve told I dunno how many music students–all of ’em, I suppose.) You can be the most brilliant musician, technically perfect, infuse every note and rest with emotion, but if you perform with a blank face sitting perfectly still in your chair (‘cello, we sit) your audience will not be pleased. You must act. It is a requirement. You must move in your chair. Your face must express emotion. And you have to wear the right persona for the piece.
      People don’t want to know if their Artist had a bad day, if the baby was colicky, whatever. They want their Artist to match their Art.
      We are all actors, and all the world is our stage. Just don’t forget that we aren’t our chosen roles: it makes our loved ones miserable–they don’t want the act, they want us.

  5. Luke

    Actually, it does appear that Niccolo Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” for the average Florentine.
    He’d spent much of his career as a gadfly. That he’d write a book explaining how rulers manipulate and exploit their subjects is much more believable than his suddenly developing a fondness for the Medicis.

    It says something about human nature that his book was adopted as an instruction manual. And that the techniques still work, despite being exposed.

  6. Pat Patterson

    I read the article in The Atlantic, and believe that it should be assigned reading for students in an academic environment who are engaged in pursuing a degree in fine arts or creative writing.
    Pretty much everyone else should treat it as a pair of socks on sale, and give it exactly that much attention.
    Writers write. That’s what they do. Most of you have to do other things that pay the bills, and sometimes those things are very much worth doing and are even rewarding and enjoyable, but if you are really bitten by the writing bug, those things are just done to subsidize writing.
    I really don’t think the pay-off for writers is money. I think the pay-off is an appreciative audience; money is just how you keep score. That, in part, explains why the SJWs work so hard to take over awards like the Hugo; since they DON’T have the kind of large, appreciative audience that Larry Correia has, they frantically seek some other form of validation that they are appreciated. By the way, Sad Puppies 3 wouldn’t even have to do a single additional thing, and the SJW thrills at receiving a Hugo would still dissipate, because their game has been exposed, and they aren’t going to be asked to any parties except their own.
    That’s NOT your circumstances at all. You are a member of the Mad Genius Club. Salivating writers everywhere long for membership; you earned it.
    On a personal note, I LOVE your work. It took me until last week to read and review ‘Baptism By Fire,’ but I am eagerly looking forward to the next time your name appears on my reading cycle.

  7. mrsizer

    While I saw a bit of bemoaning, I didn’t read it the way you (apparently) did. My big take-way (hey, it’s a better word than “learning” as a noun) was that artists must now be entrepreneurs, too.

    I consider it supportive – albeit reluctantly – of the MGC philosophy.

    Pat, good point about the validation/keeping score. It seems to me you are correct.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    • I think Daves point was that artisans have always worked for the audience. It’s just that the audience used to be small and rich. But they were still writing/painting/composing for an audience.

      It’s the artists who want to be supported by tax money that chap my butt. If it doesn’t sell, paint/sculpt/construct something else something else.

  8. Draven

    I’ve been doodling and writing since i was in short pants. I first started about working in vfx when The Making Of the Empire Strikes Back was on TV. (yep, just dated myself there…) I write well, am a reasonably competent 3d artist (but, unfortunately, work slower than many of my colleagues…), can sketch mechanical stuff, and can do some interesting electronic composition.

    So yeah, I’m an artist, just a multi-disciplinary one.

    • Heh, I once came up with a great name for an FX/Prototyping shop: Complete Fabrication.

      • Draven

        lol good one

        • This made me look up my old Whiteboard posts. I had another effects company idea:
          Cheap Theatrics.

          Dust in the Wind Sandblasting Co.

          I also had a huge list of imaginary Pro Domme dungeons: Global Domination, Quality Control, World of Hurt, Standard Deviation, Discomfort Zone, Spanktuary, Ouchwitz, and the one with the Indian Domme, Namaste Agony.

          And then there was the BDSM in-home technical support – Gimp Squad.

          And they all employ Lou Pohl – Tax Attorney, and go to Ledger Domain Accounting.

          But my favorite was the bike shop, Zuzu’s Pedals.

          • Draven

            you’re spent entirely too much time on those you know

            • Actually, there part of a series of one-liners and other ideas I’ve accumulated on my kitchen whiteboard for over a decade. Sadly they’ve been accumulating much more slowly lately as my creativity has shifted into writing. But they’re all on my LiveJournal under the “Whiteboard” tag.