You just never know.
If you are trying to be any sort of artist, of paint, print or song, then you just never know what the public will like. Sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense.
I remember a young bookstore owner: Greek features, long dark hair, thin, a good lady who loved wine and chocolate with a good romance film or novel. What I found exciting was how her taste for shelving books and things, for young and old, was the same as mine. I found out my childhood favorite The Eagle of the Ninth, in theatres last year as The Eagle, had a sequel. I guess the public, unfortunately, had different tastes, for the store is no more.
One day I was telling her how a manuscript of mine wasn’t doing well. She said, “Don’t give up” after telling me of when she was attending the provincial art college, here in town. One of her pieces had not placed at the college competition. But when she entered it at an outside competition, she won—and even beat out a piece by her instructor! “You just never know,” she said.
I got my start in writing at my university student newspaper, the Gauntlet. Of course this could include attending far away “student university press” regional conferences, for my own knowledge and fun, mostly, but also, in theory, for taking notes and reporting back. As I recall, one of the seminars was on staff morale and retention. We were advised on such simple, yet new-to-us, things as having a coat rack, and a message board with individual names. (Reporters get calls from friends and sources) A few years later, during a discussion, at a Gauntlet staff meeting, on the value of conferences, I mentioned this seminar. People said sweet! They rushed to implement everything I could remember.
But when Tony Sabo looked in the files for my report, it wasn’t there. Why not? Perhaps the staff, or the “regime,” of that year had not only disregarded all my feedback, but had removed my report, too. Or perhaps, after feeling foolish at being so disregarded, and not wanting to cast pearls before swine, I had quietly taken it back. I don’t know. To the advice of “don’t give up” we can add, “Keep a long perspective”: The public can change.
I’m still chuckling at a sweet lady cursing at me over the telephone. I had lent her the DVD’s for a TV series that “wasn’t good enough” to make it for even half a season before being canceled. Maybe to the public it was “bad,” but that wasn’t why my friend was cursing me—it was so good! She was hooked! And now it was over! I agreed it was good, “It’s flying off the shelves at Amazon, from word of mouth.” As you may have guessed, I am referring to the series Firefly by Joss Whedon, the writer-director of this year’s summer blockbuster, The Avengers. The man who made Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, must have had such high hopes for Firefly… but sometimes you just don’t know.
Up in Edmonton on the weekend I saw an art house movie, Searching For Sugarman, regarding a lyrical singer-songwriter. Afterwards, people stood in the aisles to watch the film credits, not wanting the show to end. Believe it or not: In South Africa they listened for decades to a musician as well regarded over there as any big household name over here. In the documentary made overseas, Searching For Sugarman, some Cape Town music lovers are seeking to penetrate the mystery of a gifted artist of the late 1960’s, a man who, according to legend, committed suicide on stage. If the world wasn’t good enough for one as beautiful as he, then no wonder he made no more albums.
The wonder is how his albums were heard everywhere, with every music lover in Cape Town owning them…yet…—here’s the kicker: He was American! No, I hadn’t heard of this man, named Sixto Rodriguez, either. During the movie I was enthralled to hear his music, played over scenes such as pretty skylines and historical civil rights footage; simple musical scenes without any need for fancy “shaky cam” or rapid scene cutting. Awesome. If you have to travel to another city to see it, then do so: the movie is worth it.
I just don’t know, here in “Amurica,” why “we-all” wouldn’t listen to such lyrical music, so pure, so powerful, produced right here in our own backyard.
Sometimes, I just don’t know. It must be painful, even unto suicide, to keep creating art the world disregards. (Stormy, starry night) Poor Vincent died without selling a single piece… they go for millions now. Having thought so much about it, I think I’m entitled to create a little advice: Value your day job, as your art can only benefit from contact with the real world. Enjoy your art, regardless of this painful world, for it is real, and it is yours. My favorite painter, August Renoir, when asked why he still painted despite arthritis in his hand, said it best: “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
As winter deepens, and Christmas draws near
~My buddy Blair, an avid reader with little use for TV, felt so moved by Firefly that he composed a review: It is still the best review at amazon; people who don’t know he has passed away are still commenting to thank him.