“The fact of your death is known. The time of your death is unknown. What, then, shall you do?”
Artists are faced with an interesting conundrum.
I’ve avoided the title of “artist” most of my life because it reminded of “beautiful loser.” Hard to say “artist” without the word “starving” preceding it. Not attractive to me. At all.
What if there were a middle path?
kəˈnəndrəm/noun - a confusing and difficult problem or question.
Actually, humans are faced with an interesting conundrum. There is an opportunity cost to every second we’re on the planet. Every moment is a choice.
I can write this blog post or I can edit pictures or I can read a book and drink a glass of wine, but I can only do one of those things at any given moment. That means that I’m paying- or trading, in a way- editing pictures or reading a book (or any of my other options) for the opportunity to write this blog post.
The artist’s conundrum is, to me, even trickier.
He (or she, of course) can unzip his unconscious mind, bare his soul, and express himself fearlessly, regardless of the outcome. He creates art because he must- it’s like giving birth.
You don’t get to choose. The pain of not creating is so great that you’ll endure massive amounts of external pain to create.
I’d say Van Gogh would be the poster child for this kind of artist. Posterity has been kind to him, but it really doesn’t do him any good. He died unknown, unsold and poor.
This variety of artist may be aware that they’ve been chosen. There really are very few truly talented people in every generation, and if you’re one of them (and if you buy into this belief) then you have an obligation to honor and develop that talent regardless of the consequences.
Occasionally, public taste and the artist’s vision coincide. I suspect Joni Mitchell, for example, would have written the same catalog of songs whether anybody listened or not. Banksy, Roky Erikson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins may be other examples of this.
Another sort of artist uses their talent to make money, and let’s the market guide their vision. Andy Warhol was the master of this, and he wrote a great book about it: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol – from A to B and back again.
In many cases, Andy never touched the art that was sold under his name. He was fascinated by the celebrity and access to other celebrities. He had a good feel for what would sell. He liked the money. And, he could hire people to actually make the stuff.
Nashville songwriters, who pay lip service to the soul of Townes Van Zant and Hank Williams, but write songs by committee targeted at the lowest common denominator are good examples of this.
The focus is extrinsic- “will they like it?”
That’s called “prostituting your talent,” but in many cases there’s not a lot of talent involved and I have no problem with prostitution as a business model- and the only person who pays a price for this is the artist involved.
It goes back to that opportunity cost. If you’re a musician, for example, and you spend your time learning a song the gang down at the bar will really like Saturday night, you’re a lot of things- entertainer, for example- but you can’t do that and also dig into your soul and write your defining song.
Knowing that, it’s surprising to me to realize that I am, ultimately, an artist. And it makes me wonder if there might be a third type of artist.
What if you were to blend the business sense of Andy Warhol with a sincere dedication to art?
This is a fine distinction, so hold on tight.
What if you could discover what you love, develop that into a collection of work, and then use intelligent marketing to monetize your passion?
It seems like that there would be a few problems to solve.
1. Find your passion.
2. Develop your talent and acquire skill.
3. Package the results. (For artists, this could be canvases, sculptures, etc. For musicians, MP3s or CDs.
4. Market the products and sell them.
This seems like the answer to the question posed at the top of the page… “what then shall you do?”
I intend to explore this further.
It’s the artist’s life for me, but I have no urge to be a starving artist, or even a moderately successful one.