A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...
Posts tagged "selling out"
For some people, “selling out” isn’t just doing a commercial1, it’s wanting to expand your audience, period.
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.
@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