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On selling out, or, “Someone had to pay for all that Christmas confetti.”

Jan 09, 2013
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On selling out, or, “Someone had to pay for all that Christmas confetti.”

For some people, “selling out” isn’t just doing a commercial1, it’s wanting to expand your audience, period.

Robin Sloan linked to this spot in the NYTimes profile of George Saunders and wrote, “Every fiction writer should be thinking this way.”

I want to be more expansive. If there are 10 readers out there, let’s assume I’m never going to reach two of them. They’ll never be interested. And let’s say I’ve already got three of them, maybe four. If there’s something in my work that’s making numbers five, six and seven turn off to it, I’d like to figure out what that is. I can’t change who I am and what I do, but maybe there’s a way to reach those good and dedicated readers that the first few books might not have appealed to. I’d like to make a basket big enough that it included them.

I got in a Twitter spat (well documented over at io9) defending the quote, and I really don’t want to rehash it here, but basically what I’ve (finally?) realized is that all my disagreements about art these days tend to come down to whether the people I’m talking to believe that “real” art is only something that you make for yourself without any considerations of how it will go over with an audience.

It’s refreshing to find someone at Saunders’ level at his point in his career wanting to expand his audience rather than just shrugging his shoulders and saying, “I’m doing my thing, if the dumb masses don’t get it, then that’s their fault. Fuck ‘em, I’m keeping it real.” As @meaghano put it, not simply dismissing those you’ve failed to reach with “false preciousness/grandiosity.”

As Saunders says, “A writer understands his work as something that originates with him but then, with any luck, gets away from him.”

The idea that “real” artists only make the work for themselves (take it or leave it, world!) is not only wrong, it’s boring.

We not only need to stop worrying about selling out, we need to be open to the idea that the artist thinking about audience, or, god forbid, seeing what he does as a collaboration with his audience, under the right circumstances, can actually improve the work, or get him someplace different, or more interesting.

Filed under: selling out, audience


  1. Title courtesy Sufjan Stevens defending his decision to license a song to Red Bull

85 notes

  1. geometricallypure reblogged this from austinkleon
  2. sunsetsovercitylights reblogged this from austinkleon
  3. halfmorgan reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    This. A thousand times this.
  4. das-bot reblogged this from austinkleon
  5. themundaneworld reblogged this from austinkleon
  6. pamelab said: Kind of like that old chestnut…if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear does it make a sound?
  7. poetaster-poetaster reblogged this from austinkleon
  8. sandmtntexan reblogged this from austinkleon
  9. myndscribe reblogged this from austinkleon
  10. paveverse reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    commercials need good music too :)
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