Friday, June 26, 2009

What You Get Is No Tomorrow

In discussing yesterday the impact of hearing that two entertainment icons had passed away on the same day, Bambino noted that, growing up in the Soviet Union, he had of course heard of "Charlie's Angels" but didn't know the individual actresses names. Everyone in the USSR, though, he noted, had heard of Michael Jackson (and in that way someone truly special was lost yesterday). "It's a name you know regardless of when you were born," someone else suggested. "Like 'Andy Warhol.'"

While I'm not sure Warhol ever achieved the sort of household name recognition I know Jackson did, this conversation did prompt me to reflect a bit on what it is that drives artists like a moth toward that flame that, as Bowie phrased it, "burns your change to keep you insane." What is so attractive about fame?

Watching "Requiem for a Dream" again the other night, I was struck by the palpable transference of Ellen Burstyn's character, Sara Goldfarb. Her deluded notion that somehow appearing on TV would solve all her loneliness and restore purpose to her life was heartwrenching. And, of course, to some degree it wasn't entirely delusional. The chance that she would appear on television made her a bit of a celebrity among the other lonely widows in her building. They were excited for her and perhaps vicariously less lonely as well. So there is something tangible, if absurdly fleeting, about fame. What you want is in the limo. Not that the limo is yours to keep, though.

But how does fame strike anyone as a good status to seek out on a permanent basis? Why was Picasso, for example, so relentlessly intent on being famous, even late in life? He had received as much validation of his talent as anyone could ever dream of. Is it merely that fame is addictive? Farrah Fawcett reportedly went through that arc that cautionary tales are built on: being thrust into the limelight, just to then want desperately to escape it all, just to then later realize once it's not shining on you, you miss it and want it back again.

What I wonder when I think of artists who, for example, had had the high life during a boom---selling millions of dollars of their work and being invited to all the right parties, just to become years later the has-been that the new rising stars can barely disguise their pity for when they see them trying to hold court at someone else's opening---is why wasn't "their turn" at it all enough? I mean, it's one thing if they're still cranking out relevant and important art--still an influential player--but we all know those figures who had had their moment and are stretching it out well past its expiration date. (Yes, I know, that's a cruel description, but without taking this discussion to "there," I won't get to what I want to express.)

There's an Eastern way of looking at one's existence that boils down, more or less, to the notion that normal life is one tragedy followed by another, so when you get that rare nice day in which the sun is shining and your family are healthy and with you, don't fail to appreciate it. It won't last, and rare moments like these are God's kindest gifts to you. I wonder why we in the West don't think the same way about fame. It's not the normal state of things that anyone should be the top star for more than a moment or two. And because it's not normal, trying to retain such status will cost you dearly. It will, again as Bowie put it, keep you insane.

The obvious answer for artists, IMO, is to ensure for you that it's about "the work" and not the recognition. Should recognition come along, like that rare sunny day, then by all means, enjoy it and be sure to appreciate it. But if the clouds return the following day (and they will), don't sulk about the loss of what was a fleeting reprise from your toil...get back to work.

Postscript: Props where they're due.


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36 Comments:

Blogger George said...

To thine own self be true.

6/26/2009 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Edward said, "... life is one tragedy followed by another ..."

Making art was always a sporadic thing for me. Then, in February 2008, I got the diagnosis: cancer (everyone has a date with a disaster of one sort or another). This was followed by one round of radiation, two rounds of chemo and three surgeries. Ten months of not doing art at all - just struggling to walk across the room most days. By January 2009, I was back in tip-top shape (with some body and life-style changes, of course). But I've been in the studio non-stop since January, have discovered a new method of working that really rocks, and am serious (for the first time in my life) about being an artist.

Tragedies, though they always involve serious loss, can also be huge blessings.

6/26/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

hats off to ya Michael - dancer, singer, composer extraordinaire !
( and all the others as well )

Who would have predicted that Indiana would be the place from where such celebrities as the Jackson 5, Michael and Janet would arise from? Makes one wonder if this greatness that the artists strives towards is found not so much in the destination, but in the moving towards that goal. That Jason became a hero because of his struggles and not as a result of his snatching of the golden fleece.

Maybe this striving towards the limelight is just a misplaced understanding of the moth, thinking that the flush of warmth that they enjoy is from the flame, and not the struggles to reach it. A sentiment especially the norm in this digital world of “experience separated from memory” (to quote the actor A Schultz) One easily risks to confuse how one acquires wisdom and contentment via the struggles of the self trying to find the answers; instead of acquiring liberty from the actual questions of the koan.

I do think you're close Ed in that it is about the work - but maybe it is more so in the seeking - the effort to overcome - the accomplishing and not so much the accomplishment.

The art work is always seems to me a byproduct, more a result of an action. But the action is the focus, not the artist, not the art, not the celebrity,

simply the authentic act.

and it is often work!

6/26/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

human existence is suffering

all suffering is desire

6/26/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

When I was at school and started getting offers to exhibit, I immediately was startled with this notion: what if I became famous?
(relatively, this is only the darn artworld) All was going too well, people would like the stuff I did a little too easily (except the stuff I did deliberately to provoke). Let's just say: I "felt" fame coming (call it delusion), and I ran rapidly in the opposite direction.

Here I am now, a complete nobody. But I think I'd be good at trying to get famous. That doesn't mean that the art would be good. It's not about being good, it's about knowing how to attract attention, and how to be just what people need (not the remote excellent artist that's too deep for people to grasp).


Cedric C



Post-Scriptum: Hey Tom, welcome to the club! I also fought cancer. Gee, what's with cancer? People are getting it younger and younger. I have one kidney now and feel quite good considering: hopefully finding it soon was the bastard luck of my life. I share the amor fati sentiment, but bizarrely the cancer led me even more to believe that life can be so short that I should spend it on quality life, rather than working like a pig (making art for me = sweat like a pig). I did "religiously" asked
the what's-Out-There to give me time and chance to achieve something good out of life, but not necessarely art, or not directly.
I used to be a rather dark and bleek person and I think that's what led to cancer. If you're going to think humanity is fucked all the time, you're sending the message to your body "get me out of here!". Now I'm much more enthousiast, fluffy and pink about
everything, and I love people much more, all sorts of people, from a lot of different places. The slower life explains why I'm on
blogs a lot (that may change any time), but I couldn't insist enough that people focus on having more fun in their lives. Cry the
things that need to be cried, but really focus on the fun, whatever that means for you (well, watch out for bad addictions). Health issues really ridiculize fame, but I bet MJ understood that.

6/26/2009 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

When MJ lit his hair on fire, or Janet jackson slipped a nipple, I think they were both "authentic" expressions - but one was premeditated and both arose out of commerce.

In the same sense, most so called "expression" is often premeditated (I mean, you are painting on canvas with paint, not with shit on the wall).

There is, however a sense that there are too many rectangles and not enough shit to work with in the world.

Segue to fame - how much better (or worse)would much art be if it was less concerned with fame, public reception, authenticity or commodity?

No food no pain.

6/26/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I was debating elsewhere about the cultural pertinence of Michael Jackson. I'm pretty convinced that early Jackson 5 and Off The Wall were highly culturally pertinent to funk and the disco era.

I'm more confused about the 80's. Is an artist culturally pertinent because he is famous? Billie Jean is a track that sounded very avant garde when it came out, but much less the rest of the album (in my humble opinion). While Prince had sonorities that were really new in most of his tracks since the beginning of the 80's (making him culturally pertinent in my point of view). I'm really saying that I don't think Jackson invented "Pop" or the type of music that is on Thriller. Some say Jackson turned Pop into a mainstream phenomena, launched the fact that radios started to focus on Mainstream, but I believe that occured after Madonna. Michael still had to fight it out with the new waves like Culture Club. Mainstream radio happened much later (Britney Spears comes from Madonna more than MJ (again, personal opinion)).


Then there is dancing. That man could dance. I'm sure he had an impact there, as he had on videoclip culture (but that already started out in the 70's).


Allright, just rambling,

Cedric C

6/26/2009 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger marc said...

"They're Out To Get You, Better Leave While You Can
Don't Wanna Be A Boy, You Wanna Be A Man
You Wanna Stay Alive, Better Do What You Can
So Beat It, Just Beat It
You Have To Show Them That You're Really Not Scared
You're Playin' With Your Life, This Ain't No Truth Or Dare
They'll Kick You, Then They Beat You,
Then They'll Tell You It's Fair
So Beat It, But You Wanna Be Bad"
Michael Jackson

Art, Peace and Love

6/26/2009 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous chris said...

Ed,
I think you can answer your own pondering but I'm happy you brought this up. Surely you know many artists who are obsessed with the next show or the next project (maybe these are the moths). And plenty of others you rarely see around because they are holed up in their studios most of the time. I fit into one of these categories but i won't disparage the other. Both types and, all the shades of grey, share the same self afflicting anxiety- neither is ever content. I don't think this is a difference of east and west. Its just what separates the artists from the graphic designers (a direction i attempted but couldn't bare to settle with).
It's the west's version of success that may be flawed; to expect someone to reach great creative heights without making a mess in their lives along the way or to validate a lifetime of achievement only by replicating their fame over and over.
MJ may not have gotten to the point where he felt comfortable maturing as an artist. He was ambitious, curious, and unique, and i'm sorry we won't see what he would have become.

6/26/2009 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

Hopefully I'm not too far off-topic here, but I've been thinking lately about the concept that an artist (painter, musician, what-have-you) sometimes needs to find acceptance/acclaim outside of his or her hometown or even homeland before being appreciated in the place they started from. Is this just anecdotal (for example: ABBA, Frida Kahlo come to mind) or is there something to this theory? Like the allure of the exotic?

6/26/2009 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

You want to know about that glint in the public eye, fame?

Ask Paris Hilton - Paris Hilton does fame like a conceptual artist.

Look ma, no hands!

6/26/2009 02:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I would love to ask this to Paris Hilton, if she consider herself a conceptual artist or is aware that some of what she does merge with conceptual art,

I mean she's not doing it for the money either. Is she all about fame? Inviting a standard family to a VIP club offers potential for reflexion I find.



Cedric C

6/26/2009 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Michael and Charlie died yesterday afternoon. Thing is, Charlie was my friend and the 'missing' is different.

When the music stops, you won't care how famous you were, but while you live you might. To thine own self be true, because there is no path without pain, no easy road for the entire journey.

So I do not believe that it is "just about the work and not about the recognition." Life is a holistic process with all ones intentions linked together like a web moving through random events in time. Tug on the point that desires fame, oh hell just love me, and it pulls on all the other points, shaping the decisions of what you do.

If you never tug on fames string, then you tug somewhere else in your own psychological web. There is no stasis, we all have some program, some linked web of desires that drive us forward.

What we must recognize is that fames desire, that point in our web, is also attached to the outside, to that which is not us, and which we do not control with any assuredness or certainty.

What comes into the web, those random vibrations from the outside, affects the parts in the web where creation takes place. It can make us or break us, but it can also inspire us beyond what we believe we are capable of.

The process is all so interconnected and complex that there is no one solution, no superhighway of satisfication, success or otherwise.

Sometimes just affecting one persons life is enough - call it nanofame.

Bye Charlie.

6/26/2009 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

My condolences, George.

6/26/2009 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am reading a new book that is the writings of Jack Tworkov, Yale university press it addresses all of these issues very plainly in the introduction by Mira shor and in the writings themselves. I recommend all artists, especially young ones who thought and think anyone over 40 or 50 is old and not relevant to read it. Its about learning to have an artists life over an entire lifespan, attention or no attention, and being a responsible person as well, a lot of young artists do not understand this concept or longevity and what you have to do to have this long life as an artist(getting a real job, learning to stay home and just work with no hope or even a glimmer that anyone will even care).

6/26/2009 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Re the postscript. If you really wanna see contemporary dancing: Alvin Ailey dancers with choreography by Ulysses Dove; Twyla Tharp dancers, or Twyla's choreography for any troupe; Garth Fagan dancers; Eliot Feld dancers; hell, just about anything at the Joyce.

That said, the rhythm in Jackson's music was the best in pop.

6/26/2009 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

No hope of a glimmer? Bleak man, bleak. I mean, if you want to be alone in you garret, that is fine, me, I'm not married to the concept.

I've found that a lot of artists use rationalizations to defend their lot in life, and their particular obsession. This is true across all fields.

And death comes to us all.

But what I don;t get, is why people think Picasso had a corner office on death? Really? I think people want to believe. Maybe Picasso believed more than you or I - that makes him a dupe and a duper. Or dupe and dupee. An outsider artist! A visionary! But also a naive rube, a hayseed, fooled by art (what a joke!).

Regardless, no one really wants to live forever.

Eat it, just eat it.

6/26/2009 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric C, I know what you mean about life and quality. Facing death doesn't "teach" you what's important in life - all the stuff that's second best just naturally falls away. You know you don't have time for it. So is the pursuit of fame one of the important things? Yes it is - in the sense of acknowledgment, while you're still around, that you're leaving something beautiful behind for others to enjoy. No one wants to die with the feeling that their gift was wasted, ineffectual, unappreciated.

George, my condolences as well on the loss of your friend.

6/26/2009 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is Charlie? Did Charlie Finch keel over?

6/26/2009 06:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Condolences, George.
I hope you have other friends with who to share this loss.

Fame is part of making art when you are a kid and want to impress your family. There is also
the monk who paint to celebrate their God. Are they doing it to get famous? I don't know...
Maybe it was to decorate their church (the repetition feels a little vain). Nobody wants to leave a life unachieved, but
the acknowledgment part I disagree,
because it depends on your set goals. What if the artists wish to communicate with the deads? Or use art to ease a compulsion, a madness (Van Gogh)? Fame or acknowledgment is not an
automatic motivation, but an undescribable impression of underachievment may be.



Anon, your joke is impolite.


Cedric C

6/26/2009 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver


Is this what we're talking about?

Cathy

6/26/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

For the sake of discussion, 'Charlie' was my friend, he is a 'Charlie' you don't know. For me, in this week of tragic events, Charlie is making death personal, not a news item. It happens and thank you all, I'm ok.

6/26/2009 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I've found that a lot of artists use rationalizations to defend their lot in life, and their particular obsession. This is true across all fields.

This is a truism I've inferred in numerous ways in the past. The real question is related to how we see reality, as an individual, or as a group, or as a society. They are not the same and the point of debate in many conversations here is precisely related to the differences.

'Rationalizations' reconcile how we view what is occurring to us, with the definitions supplied by the greater culture. When they do not coincide we invent psychological or intellectual structures to map our experience onto the common or cultural experience.

Conflict is the result of rationalizations which result in a denial of truths, events we experience or desire. But conflict is also a state which can be channelled in a way which either expands or contracts personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are what we consider the real, as opposed to theoretical, limits of possibility.

The desire for fame, for engorged acceptance, becomes problematic in isolation yet it may act as the necessary catalyst which pushes ones work beyond ordinary, and makes it extraordinary. These transactions occur at a price and at each plateau one finds a different set of tradeoffs. There is no free lunch, just a different menu. You pay the bill and take your choice.

6/26/2009 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy asked, "Is this what we're talking about?"

I can only say, yes, it's what I'm talking about

and

Gather ye roses while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
A world where beauty fleets away
Is no world for denying.
Come lads and lasses, fall to play
Lose no more time in sighing.

The very flowers you pluck to-day
To-morrow will be dying;
And all the flowers are crying,
And all the leaves have tongues to say, -
Gather ye roses while ye may.

Robert Louis Stevenson

6/26/2009 11:11:00 PM  
Blogger marc said...

I agree with Anonymous, about “getting a real job, learning to stay home and just work with no hope or even a glimmer that anyone will even care.” In 2000, I moved to US with less than $1000. But being a self-taught artist, I had my target on the enlightenment and on the development of my art. In my first year, I could only afford one canvas, so I painted it many times until I was happy with the result. Living in New York in the second year, I was just getting by, buying food from the 99 cent store. At the time, I had no money to do my art, but I was blissfully content from the energy and inspiration from all of the museums; the indulgences one can experience by the great works of art.

Throughout my years, I have had many good and odd jobs. I bought some new materials and used objects that I found. I painted over my old bed sheets and on book shelves. Today I am very pleased to fulfill my dream and thankful to all of those great artists, past and present, who have enlightened and thrilled me with their work. MY American dream is not about money or possessions. I once fell for the same illusions and traps that we all fall for and wasted a lot of my time, but life has taught me a lesson and has put me back on track.


My journey here is ending; by next year, I plan to be back in my country, sitting under the trees, watching the monkeys play, waiting for the next inspiration to come. To my fellow artist friends, I might suggest fasting for a day or two. THEN discover the amazing joyfulness that a simple apple can bring. Sometimes we need to lose to gain. I am happy to share some of my experiences and do not attempt to patronize someone else’s lifetime experiences or lifestyle. “So Beat It, just Beat it, But You Wanna Be Bad"

Edward you are right. It's all about "the work".

6/27/2009 01:11:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen Magsig said...

The daily act of making art is the answer for me.

6/27/2009 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If you really wanna see contemporary dancing: Alvin Ailey dancers with choreography by Ulysses Dove; Twyla Tharp dancers, or Twyla's choreography for any troupe; Garth Fagan dancers; Eliot Feld dancers; hell, just about anything at the Joyce.

Not to take away from the important distinction you're making, Joanne, but in the context of Pop culture (which is the only context in which Jackson ever asked to be considered), it's hard to imagine anyone coming close to eliciting the unbridled joy that he could. To quote the Magnetic Fields, "If there's a better reason
to jump for joy / who cares...."

Exhibit A.

6/27/2009 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Hi. I enjoyed reading this fame post. Thanks for sharing.
Joe

6/27/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Eva said...

I think the Times article by Macaulay pretty much nailed it: Fred Astaire was asked who was the next big dancer - his answer, Michael Jackson. I danced a lot in NYC, studied jazz under Luigi for years. We all talked about Michael Jackson - and many of these people were dance snobs.

6/27/2009 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

OK, Ed and Eva, I give in.

6/27/2009 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I'd love to hear Stephin Merrit's opinion on MJ! I missed Coraline...

MJ was great but so was Paula Abdul and Janet's choreographies.


As far as being beloved, if it doesn't work out, there is always behated. A lot of people seems
to enjoy that position as an equivalent.


Cedric C

6/28/2009 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Threading back through the years I reach the memory of my foreign language master at school. As well as teaching he wrote poetry; made translations (Herman Hesse, Lorca etc.); was a friend of Henry Moore and corresponded with Picasso . In the midst of a French or German lesson he would suddenly stop & quote a verse from some poem that would seem right for the moment. I first heard the following 50 years ago & it has stayed with me ever since. It seems right for this moment context:


The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Louis MacNiece

6/29/2009 03:21:00 AM  
Blogger pam farrell said...

EW said: "Watching "Requiem for a Dream" again the other night, I was struck by the palpable transference of Ellen Burstyn's character, Sara Goldfarb. Her deluded notion that somehow appearing on TV would solve all her loneliness and restore purpose to her life was heartwrenching."

hmmm...Not to diminish your point about the lure of fame, EW, but if i remember correctly, in Requiem For a Dream, the character Sara Goldfarb was also out of her mind on speed/diet pills, which played a role in her delusions...

6/29/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Chicken or egg, perhaps, Pam. She was so anxious to fit into her favorite red dress for the TV appearance that she started taking the diet pills.

6/29/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

Doris Day
escaped from that.
I suppose must have some kind antidote for been in the spotlight with all cost.

Carlos

6/29/2009 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Michael Jackson's last art purchase

6/29/2009 06:57:00 PM  

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