Thursday, May 8, 2014

"What If?"

An intriguing way to begin a story, even a theoretical one of this nature.  Perhaps even more so on this occasion, because it ignites curiosity and excitement concerning an enterprise of the mind, which could benefit from some injected heat, because nothing transformative is going to happen.  Have I lost you already?  Well, consider this.  What if it turns out to be good, and you missed it?

The idea for this post came to me while I was attending a (free) screening of Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, which I shall write about next time if I can think of anything more to say than “I liked it.” 

Actually, the precursoring germ for this idea popped into my consciousness during a momentary pause at a television station I did not intend to watch, concerning some once struggling but now fabulously successful dress designer.  (Dr. M had fallen asleep watching it, and it was on when I came into the bedroom.   Even the walls were screaming, “Change this station!  Please!”)

In response to the either direct or implied question I had heard writers and artists and architects and participants in numerous other artistic endeavors answer, the question being,  “Who do you {write, paint, “architect”} – for?”, the fabulously successful dress designer replied the way the overwhelming number of participants in those professions reply,

“I do it for myself.  And I hope people like it.”    

That statement always sounds, to me, courageous and inspiring.  The artiste does it – uncompromisingly – for themselves – maybe venturing out on a precarious, trail-blazing limb.  And, as it turns out, people do like it.  Hurray!

The “Question of the Day” is,

“What if they don’t?”

Maybe because you’re “ahead of your time.”

Maybe because they simply do not identify with your vision.

Or maybe because you’re not ahead of your time and they might possibly identify with your vision but due to inexperience or your generic level of ineptitude,

They say, “Uh-uhn”, and move on. 

You’ve experienced this at Crafts Fairs.  I know I have. 

There are hundreds of exhibits of artists showing off their wares, each slightly or perhaps radically different from their competitors’, or somewhere in between.  You pass from exhibit to exhibit and, though there may be literally thousands of offerings,

Not a one of them rings a bell. 

Those people sitting behind the display tables worked hard making that stuff.  And they may even be talented.  But “talent” is not enough.  What they produced has to strike a chord.  And if it doesn’t, at the end of the day, they are wrapping up their precious creations and driving them back home. 


“What’s going on with my art?”  And, correlatively,

“Should I keep doing this, or should I give up and go into the linoleum business with my Uncle Phil?”

Unless you’re a hit right out of the box – and some people, like child stars are, though they may never hit it again – this question haunts everyone involved in a creative undertaking.  It may come out, “Do I have it?” but more realistically, in its most boring configuration – he forewarns because he hears how boring it sounds in his head – it’s, “What am I learning about the relationship between what I do and the way people respond to it?”  And, corollarily, “Am I wasting my time here, or what?” 

You did what the famous dress designer I switched to another station from did.  For him, it worked out.  (And by the way, where are the documentaries about the artists who fail?)  Who knows?  Maybe he didn’t succeed at first.  Maybe it took time.  The question is, “How much time do I allow myself before I give up?”  

It is revelatory that my “go-to” alternative is inevitably “Give up.”  “Give up” is my natural “Default position.”  That’s why it’s good I am nowhere near important decision-making. 

“Track down Osama Bin Laden?  Are you kidding me?  The guy could be anywhere.”   

There are other possibilities.  One of them is not to give up.  And another is to “tinker.”

We are not talking “radical reconfiguration.”  Look at what you do, maybe sneak a peek at “what’s selling”, and see if can introduce certain alterations or perhaps simply cosmetic “window dressings” to your work so that it falls more comfortably in line with the prevailing fashion…

Without wanting to shoot yourself in the head for selling out.

Personally, I do not know how to do that.  That is, at least in part, why I am currently writing for free on the Internet.  Here, I can do what I like and hope people like it.  But, in the world of “commercial creativity”, where there is actually money involved, I do not now, nor did I ever, know how to adjust.  

“Adjusting”, and “writing from that unique and special place inside you” – they don’t fit together, or at least, I couldn’t make them.  I was lucky for a while; they liked what I liked.  But then, I wasn’t.  Times changed, and I could no longer give them what they wanted.  At which point show business shot me dismissively out of a cannon. 

Not that it’s always that simple.  I have a writer friend who consciously tailors their material to the (ever-changing) marketplace.  And his success level has been minimal.  So trying to conform to “what’s selling” is no definitive guarantee.

Then again, there’s Captain America:  The Winter Warrior.  I don’t know if that’s a question of what you like people in gigantic numbers also like or it’s a more deliberate strategy, or a combination of the two.  But boy, did that ever work out! 

So, as Chief Dan George observed in Little Big Man,

“Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

But that’s a secondary issue.  The primary question is this:

You want to offer the world something that is distinctly and expressively your own, and the populace unceremoniously turns it down.

Then what?

This is an “Open Question.”

Feel free to jump in.

1 comment:

Frank Paradise said...

I have been grappling with this age old question for years about why are tv and movie comedies being dictated by young smooth talking executives that couldn't write a good joke if their rich mother-in-laws life depended on it. Great to see the fine actor and Native activist Chief Dan George mentioned as he didn't make his screen debut until aged 60 but sure made the most of it when he did.

Cheers from Hollywood North, eh.