Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Fist Full of Dollars

It seems like all people want anymore is to be famous. Or at least, maybe, just to be recognized on a large scale, and then left alone.

We dream about it. Oh yes, we do. We secretly dream of throngs and throngs of people, clamoring for our latest offering to mankind - some rare gift of our design that we plucked out of the ether, bathed in our imagination, and for a limited time, are offering in a shrinkrapped package for 12.99 plus shipping and handling.

Even in the CCM industry, people don't "give" their CDs away anymore because they believe people shouldn't pay for the gospel, (Like Keith did) they give them away as a marketing ploy to gain greater popularity, cash and fame.

The result: Bitter Artist Syndrome. Show me an artist that is plagued with task of surmounting the high of their last great success and I'll show you a bitter, afraid, depressed artist. Show me an artist that strives for influence more than he/she strives for the pleasure of creating art, and I'll show you a angry, spiteful, jaded soul who's only solace is in cuddling every given compliment or accolade in his/her sweaty palms until the compliment quickly rots, forcing the cuddling artist to both need and resent the fan who continues to replenish the supply.

People don't write books anymore because they love to write. They write to get published and get famous. People don't write songs anymore because they love music, they write songs to be the next Dylan, to be the next MTV star, to be the next biggass band phenom to hit the stage, to win the next grammy, to win the next Dove award, to get bigtime play on the radio.

Fame does that to you. It makes you want the recognition more than you want the joy of creating and when you finally get it guess what? It's all dogsh##. Don't get mad at me for that last sentence, Paul said it first. "The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for... Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life... everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. -Philippians 3:7-11, The Message

This is one of the reasons why reading Seth Godin's blog feels like I'm reading Nietzsche, or Darwin. To survive, you must adapt, influence, and collect the cash. The formula for Darwinian dominance. As my eyeballs devour each paragraph of his philosophies, I am practically wagging my tongue and salivating, wishing I had come up with whatever new thing that I missed and he never misses. But that is at the bottom of why people come to his blog. It's almost an abusive sort of thing. If he is not ahead of you, he is obsolete. If you don't read his blog, and bow to the dollar, you'll be obsolete, poor and (DUM DUM DUMMMMMMMMM (cue diminished chord and timpani roll): A Fundamentalist.

Don't get me wrong, Seth G. is a genius, and I like him, but I wake up every day, and strive to create for exactly the opposite reasons that he preaches. To make money and gain influence is NOT, and should never be at the heart of creation. Sometimes it might inspire you to work harder, but if the love wasn't there in the first place, and by submitting to the goal of cash, fame and influence, you have shackled your wrists and thrown away the key. It is at the heart of why Adam and Eve took a mighty, tragic chomp out of that apple, and it is the vapid, bitter doppelganger of the true freedom of feeling God's pleasure while you do what you love with the gifts you have been given.

Paul never wrote a single letter out of a desperate need for recognition, he wrote them out of a desperate need of the Church to get their act together. He wrote out of an overflowing joy that infused all his training and education with a fire that no dollar or praise could equal.

David never wrote a single song for the purpose of popularity among the Israelites, he wrote them because he was a musician, and because he loved God, or because he was angry with God, or because he was offering comfort to a tormented King. Never, never for a penny or power.


Chaotic Hammer said...

I certainly think there is a lot of truth in what you're saying.

I don't know if I'm growing crotchety and old, or just spending too much time in my Bible, actually starting to believe what I read in there... but yeah, I've gotten pretty burned out on the whole pursuit of fame and fortune thing that seems to pervade everything and anything. Everything is about marketing now.

But the whole "sell-out" thing can be sort of tricky. I've known of plenty of artists who started out doing excellent art truly for the love of it, but then got noticed. Usually it's first by a niche crowd, but when some folks in the mainstream start to sit up and take notice, soon the masses start flocking to a "new and different" thing, and are shocked and amazed and delighted by it. Then the sincerest form of flattery (imitation) follows right behind that, and by the time the commercial world has wrung every bit of joy out of the thing, it's left broken in some dark alley on the scrap-heap.

I'm not so sure there's some sort of inherent nobility in being relatively obscure and doing your art for just a few appreciative people. People have to eat, right? What you're really addressing here is motive, and love of your work.

Don't you suppose there are some people who are famous and widely recognized, but who are still doing their thing out of pure joy, for love of their craft?

Seth Ward said...

Absolutely. A bit of stream of conscious talking there, which always lends itself to generalizations or at least, hints of generalizations.

It is about motives. You can be on a label and be famous and love what you are doing and doing it because you love it.

Stephen King, a great example of just that. He says, "write cause you love it, not to get published."

I say, if your motive is money, -no matter how much you say it isn't you must, must, must know for sure whether it is or not- you should stop and do something else. You are on the road to bitterness. Now, eventually, what you love might pay you handsomely, and that is an overflow and nothin' wrong with that. But a Christian should believe that God will take care of you regardless, and all you have to do is show up and obey.

nancy said...

good stuff

Jeff McQ said...

New reader. Very well put. Thank you for making me think.

FancyPants said...

I would say there's a difference between creating to be famous and creating to make money.

Once creating becomes your job, you've got to find ways to make money from it. Right? If not, then artists should just create for a hobby, not for a career.

So how do you deal with that as an artist? It's an age old question, I think. How do you create with integrity AND with a marketing strategy? How do you NOT worry about what people will think of your art when those very people feed you?

portorikan said...

Great stuff. Thank you for sharing.