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Posts tagged "selling out"

Apr 14, 2013
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Patti Smith’s advice to young artists

A writer or any artist can’t expect to be embraced by the people. I’ve done records where it seemed like no one listened to them. You write poetry books that maybe 50 people read. And you just keep doing your work because you have to, because it’s your calling.

But it’s beautiful to be embraced by the people.

Some people have said to me, “Well, don’t you think that kind of success spoils one as an artist? If you’re a punk rocker, you don’t want to have a hit record…”

And I say to them, “Fuck you!” 

One does their work for the people. And the more people you can touch, the more wonderful it is. You don’t do your work and say, “I only want the cool people to read it.” You want everyone to be transported, or hopefully inspired by it.

When I was really young, William Burroughs told me, “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work. And make the right choices and protect your work. And if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

So, so good.

Feb 12, 2013
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Jan 15, 2013
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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

Dec 27, 2012
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“Are you taking any steps to keep shit real?”

@twliterary sent me this great piece by Dave Eggers in 2000 addressing questions from a student at Harvard asking about his newfound success and “selling out.” It’s so good, hard for me not to just post the whole thing here. (Lo and behold, while searching my “selling out" tag, I found that I’ve posted this before.)

In one paragraph, he nails the whole authenticity racket:

[The] sellout manual serves only the lazy and small. Those who bestow sellouthood upon their former heroes are driven to do so by, first and foremost, the unshakable need to reduce. The average one of us - a taker-in of various and constant media, is absolutely overwhelmed - as he or she should be - with the sheer volume of artistic output in every conceivable medium given to the world every day - it is simply too much to begin to process or comprehend - and so we are forced to try to sort, to reduce. We designate, we label, we diminish, we create hierarchies and categories.

Then comes the rallying cry:

The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.

There is a point in one’s life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one’s collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.

Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit ‘real’ except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It’s fashion, and I don’t like fashion, because fashion does not matter.

What matters is that you do good work.

Filed under: authenticity

Oct 04, 2012
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Steve Lambert on making (good) work with a specific audience in mind

This was a wonderful video to stumble upon after my rant about Grizzly Bear and the ridiculous notion that making work with an audience in mind somehow “taints” your process.

Steve Lambert was like a lot of artists:

I never sold a lot of anything… I made work for my peers, for people on the street, and I made work because I thought it was important. I didn’t have the chance to sell stuff, so I didn’t really think [it].

But when he started showing in a commercial gallery, he started selling lots of work to a very different audience:

The people’s homes that the work ends up in are not my peers. They are of a different class than I am. They usually have some wealth because they can spend a few thousand dollars on an artwork that’s going to be in their house just because they like it.

And he got a little freaked out about the disconnect between making work for everyone and making work for a select few:

How did I get here? This is not what I was working towards. And there was this feeling that, “Just go back. You weren’t trying to get here, just go back to where you were before.” And then there was another part of me, which I think is the smarter part, that was like, “Wait, you get to talk to this group, this select few. And not everyone gets to do that, even if they want to. Don’t walk away from that.” 

So, instead of wimping out and self-sabotaging, he decided to take advantage of his new situation:

So, what do I want to say to this audience? If the venue is this person’s home, what do I want to do in that venue? And what I want to do is offer some reminders that they want, too…

The shift for me was realizing, “Oh, I can make work that people are going to live with, and not just any person, but a very specific type of person, and it gets to be there and be an influence.”

You can see more of Steve’s work at http://visitsteve.com

Jun 11, 2012
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I imagine that you’d like to become a success or something equally vile.
— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (via)

May 21, 2012
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Some of you really need to take a bath. Seriously. A little soap won’t kill you. You won’t be ‘selling out.’
— Bobcat Goldthwait’s commencement speech, “Success is for creeps

Jan 17, 2012
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I’d love to sell out completely. It’s just that nobody has been willing to buy.
— John Waters (via)

Apr 30, 2011
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Sellout…I’m not crazy about that word. We’re all entrepreneurs. To me, I don’t care if you own a furniture store or whatever — the best sign you can put up is SOLD OUT.
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