Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm Not Here to Sell Anything

"Manning Up" is live at Misfit Magazine where you can read it for free. Free-free, not "everyone who donates blood receives a free t-shirt" free because, really, the t-shirt isn't free, is it? You donated a pint of blood for that shirt.

I've been thinking about how "selling" art ruins it (and yes, I consider writing art, even the pulpy lies I write). By ruin I mean changes it--if the goal is to sell a piece of art, market conditions will, even if unconsciously on the artist's part, alter the art. Thomas Kincaid doesn't mass produce his garbage because it's an inner expression of his heart and soul. He mass produces it because it sells. It's not art. It's commodity.

I know some readers of this blog won't consider writing "art". Okay. Fair enough. But I consider the best short fiction to be a pure aesthetic experiment with the ability to conjure a visceral response. ( Consider "The General Who is Dead" by Jeff Vandermeer and Guernica by Pablo one is a short story...the other a painting. Both deliver the horror of war. Both linger long after viewing.

My favorite children (stories) were born from a desire to tell the story rather than write for a market. Maybe I'm not normal, but I write best when I write for nothing but the story. Yes, those stories are hard to sell at times. But they're free. I like short fiction because of that freedom--because short stories are the play land of experimentation and experimentation is vital for art to exist. I'm afraid to write another novel because of the time commitment involved with (at least) a little pressure to write something which can sell.

I'm not here to sell anything, even if I had something to sell.

Have a lovely Monday.


Scare Sarah said...

I agree it changes it. There is also more pressure on the paid stuff to be good. Whereas creating for fun or the love of it is a much more relaxing process.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

It does change it, but I think it's a sliding scale more weighted toward Art than Commerce. You can, imho, make art for commercial markets and still call it art--as long as you follow a vision of disruption of some sort. Kincaid, as an example, disrupts my idea of reality because of how he interprets it with the black canvases and hazy feelings about an individual piece doesn't change based on that it hangs in thousands of middle-class dining rooms. Same with a Peter Lik calendar or a Lady GaGa song...created with heart, but sold with ruthless intent.

Art stops, in my pea-brain, anyway, when commercialism is the main goal--like the James Patterson Story Machine. Bully to him for keeping a publisher alive, but, by his own admission, his works are bland and generic and intended solely for mass-consumption, like flavorless, non-organic McDonalds hamburger "meat". The only thing he's trying to disrupt is the gap between his wallet and my wallet.

Aaron Polson said...

Sarah - I believe an artists greatest pressure comes from the drive to create.

Jeremy - Disruption, I'll give you. Kincaid...I'm not going there. It's not the fact that it hangs in thousands of middle-class dining rooms, but that, just like Patterson's books, it was made to be on those walls. I wouldn't separate the two by much. This isn't about the pursuit of money being evil, just that any creative product will change when intended for sale.

K.C. Shaw said...

In some ways, though, I think creating a piece of art for sale will make the end result better. If I was writing my stories just for myself (and lordie, sometimes I feel I am), I wouldn't worry quite as much about clarity and description. I put that stuff in mostly so the people reading it can understand what I conceived of in my brain before I wrote down a word.

I'm a very amateur artist--art art, not writing art, I mean--and because I've never really tried to be an artist who sells her drawings, I've never felt the drive to become better than I am right now. My abilities as an artist haven't improved much since I was last working on my art in college. My writing has improved immeasurably in the same time, solely because I have the drive to sell what I write. Not that that's bad or good, necessarily. It all depends on what the artist wants from the art, ultimately.

Aaron Polson said...

KC - I feel a second post coming.

I totally agree (re: making the result better), but I don't start with "I'm going to write something to make money" in mind. What really drives me is the will to communicate and make the story as good as it can be--and yes, that usually (but not always) means a bigger payoff in the end. I'm not sure I've been clear. At all. (hence the impending second post)

Brendan P. Myers said...

DaVinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, et al, all worked for money or were otherwise paid for their work. If their patrons did not have food on the table for them when they returned from their studio, they would have moved on to the next patron.

And anyone who thinks writing isn't art is an idiot.

Aaron Polson said...

True, Brendan, just like I'm not going to teach for free. But I'm still writing, and from my count, making less than 25 cents an hour for it over the past four years.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

Here's the rub: "art" means different things to different people. That's its strength...I think Dali is genius and Pollock is bollocks; I think Marilyn Manson is art (even--and maybe especially--when he wee-wees on his fans) but not a single one of these auto-toned tools on R&B radio quality. But I'm sure there are tons of people who see it exactly opposite. If we all agreed on what art was, it wouldn't be near as interesting.

Brendan P. Myers said...

@Aaron: Not sure how to respond. You're obviously feeling angtsy and conflicted about something, and if I had to guess, that something is: Would I still write if there were no hope of ever making money?

Not everyone would. As I've mentioned before, Stephen King has said he was about to throw in the towel just before "Carrie" hit.

Between you and me, I think you'd have to be a crazy person to continue to write without holding out at least some hope you could earn money, maybe even a living at it. It's just too hard.

So write that novel.

PS: Andy Warhol also mass-produced stuff that was most assuredly art. What Kincaid does is art too. Bad art, ya asked me. But art nonetheless.

Martin Rose said...

You touched on a very relevant topic in your post. It's more than just selling something; marketing has become an activity that overshadows the effort of writing itself. I understand the necessity, to some degree, but I am loathe to engage in it. I often get "Novel-Lock" -- the fear of investing years of your life to something nobody will buy because it's not "marketable."

Or, you could turn the concept on its head: you're not selling. You're offering a unique artistic expression no one else can. If you do it for free, so much the better, but it still has inherent value far beyond the monetary. And I think that's something that doesn't get appreciated enough, something that has value for the intensive power it presents, not what it can fetch on an open market.

Not that you see anyone turning down money . . . but you don't see a whole lot of people in this industry who are doing it for money, anyway. It's the joy in action that spurs so many onward.

Good post.

Aaron Polson said...

Jeremy - And we can agree on that, at least.

Brendan - Not so much angsty--sorry if it came across as such--just wondering where the "honesty" is in any art. And there is a big difference between Warhol's "factory" and Kincaid: Warhol mass produced to make a statement about mass production.

Martin - You had me at: "marketing has become an activity that overshadows the effort of writing itself". Exactly.

Brendan P. Myers said...

@Aaron: Warhol mass-produced to make money and made a statement in the process (hangers-on are expensive).

Also got to thinking about this guy, who created his art solely for the love:

Don't be this guy.


Aaron Polson said...

Brendan - least he has a Wikipedia page (kidding...kidding). ;)

Cate Gardner said...

My WIP (which is kicking my ass) is for an intended market - an invite and already accepted even though the story isn't written. Well it is written now (mostly) and I swear, I have never worked so damn hard on a story. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be good enough. I think attempting to sell 'art' works for me. Without that goal, I end up with nonsense.

Who am I kidding, even with that goal, I end up with nonsense. :D

Katey said...

I think I get what you're saying, but I do want to point out that I LIKE mass-produced crap. I like catchy pop music and show tunes, I like quickly written Regency romances, I like TV shows that are little more than softcore porn (*cough*True Blood*cough*). You know how I feel about art, I am an art historian, for god's sake, but these mass produced crap piles give people something they need, too. People need an escape, to shut their brains off. It's why I watch football every Sunday and Monday, too. I want to be entertained. To cleanse my brain palate and prepare it for the next actual thought.

Guernica is one of my favorite paintings--Picasso was actually my first "favorite painter" when I was a kid. But if I stared at Picasso all day, I'd have offed myself a long time ago. That sounds extreme, but teenagers are, as you know too well!

So I do agree with you, and god knows I effing hate Kincaid, but I just needed to speak up in defense of mindless fun. It's a worthy pursuit for Charlaine Harris, Roger Goodell, Georgette Heyer, and yes, even the New Kids on the Block back in the day. Selling it may be whoring yourself, but if you don't have anything new or interesting to say, at least you're making people happy, you know?

And I know you agree with that because you love cheesy horror and pulp like I do. And those things can all BE art. But I don't think it damages someone's reputation as an artist if they produce both art and entertaining crap, is all I mean. I hope I can do it, some day. (RPP has bills to pay!)

Aaron Polson said...

But Cate, it's very readable nonsense.

Katey - You make too much sense, of course, as you usually do. And it is, truthfully, harder to entertain than folks might think on the surface.

Katey said...

It's a difficult and, honestly, a noble profession. We need it far more than we need depressing. We can do that on our own.

Martin Rose said...

I'll drink to that . . .