Friday, April 25th, 2014

It has been a productive couple of days, save for the writing and blogging. In an attempt to bolster foot traffic at the family business, I’ve joined a networking group to get the word out. I’ve not been officially sworn into the chapter, but I’ve already been asked if I’d like an officer’s position. That sounds promising.

In the literary world, I’ve recently started to gnaw on the concept of democratization in art culture. My introduction to the whole idea began by watching Andrew Keen’s interview in PressPausePlay. In it, he describes the proliferation of “art” we are experiencing as “global masturbation.” The digital age has brought about technology (e.g. Instagram, self-publication, Guitar Hero, etc.) that gives a false sense of artistic worth to any individual. It simplifies the craft and vetting process of art to where talent is lost in the hurly-burly of media. People in Keen’s position would tend to consider the fine arts an “elitist business.”

This is what’s known as art’s “meritocracy,” an idea in which individuals should be recognized for their achievements. I’m not going to wax philosophical about meritocracy, because it’s not bulletproof. Sometimes, there’s still an undervalued artist. Such was said about James Purdy, a once-Hooterville resident. On the other hand, how do we know the next Kubrick isn’t languishing somewhere in a sea of piano-playing cat videos? The answer is we don’t.

As I was digging through creative writing articles, I found an old letter to the editor of the New York Times dated 02.08.1981. In it, the writer explains the pitfalls of the NEA focusing on a racial group, rather than individuals. This is the  pre-Internet America version of meritocracy. This isn’t a new problem, just magnified and adapted for more modern times.

So, as I sit here creating my part in the chaos, I am left to wonder about my “work.” What do I have to say about this concern? It seems to me while the fine arts are truly better off an “elitist business,” we all have to start out as amateurs. Natural talent is welcome, but several people can be trained to be an artist if they stay dedicated to the cause. Yes, there are some people who cannot be helped, period, but we as “amateur artists” should not be discouraged so easily. What are our alternatives, really? We either create and claw with the tide, or die against it. There is no happy medium.

This all reminds me of a quote from Anaïs Nin:

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.

My question to you is this: Are there any hallmarks of mediocrity? Would one know if they’re cut out as an artist after a certain period of time?

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9 thoughts on “Friday, April 25th, 2014

  1. Nate, I could wax rhapsodic (or just bitch) about the elitism and snobbery I have encountered on the road to publication and garnering a readership. I try not to focus on that and instead spend my energy on productive things. Making new words. Being grateful to people who help me. Thinking about unexpected gifts from people who are known.

    • I cannot say I’ve directly faced anything that would resemble an “elitist” attitude towards my writing. That simply says to me critics haven’t considered my work worth examining. I’m strangely OK with that, as I think I’ve been there before in some capacity. It’s the proverbial “Devil you know.”

      This whole idea, I feel, needs to be addressed by anyone taking their creative intentions seriously. Elitism is a pejorative, and is used as such by many. Often I find with such situations in life (e.g. Socialism), there’s always two sides of the coin. To not blindly dismiss a subject requires understanding the argument made from the other side of the fence. That is what I attempt to do. I find that taking it all in is a positive experience in and of itself.

      My conclusion is quasi-game theory. In all honesty, what would I personally gain from folding tent and moving on with my life? Another handful of nights PC gaming while fighting the urge to smoke myself to death? Is that really the way I benefit in life? Or, I could write, try developing my craft, understand writing mechanics, and investing something that may become a powerful outlet for me someday. The critics can have a field day with my stories, but they will have to understand I have no alternative.

  2. nicjor79 says:

    There definitely are hallmarks of mediocrity. They include not having any natural talent or desire to get better, and expecting to make it as an artist without having any connections or personal business sense. Not too surprisingly, a person with the second but not the first can do just fine- but they’ll still bear that hallmark of mediocrity. And truly mediocre individuals typically never realize that they’re not cut out to be artists, or do so only after everyone else realizes it first. I’ve encountered enough people like this to be an expert on them. They’re probably the most arrogant individuals alive.

    If you can find it, you should read Tom Wolfe’s essay “The Worship of Art: Notes on the New God,” which takes a really interesting look at this subject.

    • You’ve made mention of this particular topic before, referencing the clip of Antonio Salieri in Amadeus being the self-proclaimed “Patron Saint of Mediocrity.”

      The problem with me is that I don’t have a good gauge on what I’d consider my work. I know there’s always room for improvement, but am I going about myself the wrong way? Is the verve there in some capacity?

      …and now George W. Bush is selling his paintings of dogs. Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto!

      I’m currently reading what Wolfe has to say in his essay. Thank you for the recommendation.

  3. kerbey says:

    “The digital age has brought about technology (e.g. Instagram, self-publication, Guitar Hero, etc.) that gives a false sense of artistic worth to any individual.”–This is so true! Just yesterday, my son was holding his phone up, telling me he was using a new app to “play the violin,” and I said, “No, a real violin player would have to spend years honing his skills, finger placement, all by practice and repetition.” I can’t be Eddie Van Halen after three hours of Guitar Hero. How much more impatient can our society become? There is a huge difference between painting on canvas with oil pants and using a graphic program to make an image. Both require skills, but they are not the same kinds of artists.

    • My friend, a potter and ceramics instructor, was upset at one of his students a while ago. The student never showed up for class, but came in out-of-the-blue with his iPad. Apparently, there’s an application that allows you to digitally sculpt a piece of clay and have it reproduced in a factory to be shipped back to you. My friend was appalled. He is steadfast in the belief that you get your hands dirty, learn the craft with your own hands, and put your energy into your art.

  4. Joseph Nebus says:

    I have seen mentioned, as a hallmark of mediocrity and something that can be evaluated from within, was Jo Walton’s coinage of “Third Artist Syndrome”.

    The First Artist draws directly from life and with careful attention to building something new. The Second Artist draws from the influence of the First Artist, modifying and expanding and in some way perfecting the style. The Third Artist draws from the Second Artist, but doesn’t bring enough influence from real life, or from other artists or styles or critical thought, so that what’s produced has the forms of something earlier but neither an advancement in craftsmanship or an expansion in reach.

    That seems to be useful to me since a person writing can stop and think about the process of writing and why they’re writing the way they are, and whether they’re using a motif without considering why and whether it’s appropriate and whether it makes sense.

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