Looking back on Michael Jackson’s death last summer, I think one of the things that made it such a big deal was that he represented the last of the old guard of superstars — an entertainer who could fill a stadium with adoring fans anywhere on the planet and guarantee a hit album just by stamping his name on it.
Nowadays sites like YouTube, Jamendo and Deviant Art offer up all the video, music and graphics that your attention can stand. It’s nigh impossible for a wannabe superstar to rise above the din of all this amateur generated art.
And this is a good thing.
As a retired comedian who’s still active in my local performing community I’ve been trying to figure out how all the bright young actors I know can possibly make a living amidst this deluge of user-generated content. I’ve finally found my answer in this book by Richard Florida. A lot of you are not going to like it.
Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, is a manifesto of sorts for white collar knowledge workers. It also sounds the death knell for suburbia, as the culture and diversity of urban centres are seen as an incubator for other types of innovation.
But the “aha” moment for me came when the author turned to employment requirements for these new knowledge workers — they are increasingly demanding the right to pursue outside artistic interests, be it eschewing late night deadlines to perform with a band, taking time off during the workday to audition for an acting role or taking a sabbatical to make a film. I myself don’t see the class distinction for this type of artistic freedom — anyone gainfully employed should have the right for artistic pursuits no matter what their “day job” is.
This can be a huge revelation if you’re willing to leave some 20th-century baggage behind. While I was once proud to say I was a professional entertainer I certainly couldn’t say the same for many of the unmemorable TV commercials and live shows for corporate clients that I got paid to do. In fact, what I’m most proud of is the stuff I did for free.
This isn’t to say that you can’t make money from art, or that a worthy few can’t make it a full-time career. But re-evaluating your priorities — that is, putting art first — would solve at least two problems that I see over and over again:
- The struggling artist who endures a series of dead-end low-paying day jobs while waiting for their big career break;
- The professional writer/actor/director/musician/whatever who gets paid handsomely for squandering their talents on endeavours that are, shall we say, spiritually unfulfilling.
Will art suffer from a dearth of professional artists? I don’t think so — for example, The Lionshare is far more compelling a film than anything I’ve seen from Hollywood so far this year. It may well be that such grand projects are undertaken with the ultimate goal of “making it”, but what if artists were to free themselves of this antiquated notion — really just a blip of the 20th century — and concentrate instead on just making art?
I humbly submit that this is already happening. What do you think?