I was imagining that some folks who actually do well selling art would take my last post as an indictment of how they got there. The post had some general observations and conclusions that could be applied widely, but as far as the specifics this was a post about my friend and the comparison made to that one other artist. I understand that this may not have been obvious, and I’m glad at least one person asked me to clarify some things.
“You’ve got me worried now that I’m just producing trashy eye candy which has curb appeal because I usually do well at Artisan markets and craft fairs. I like my work and have never felt I’ve just left the bar low but now I’m worried that is the case. I want to produce good work that can be taken seriously but I also want to sell to the mainstream. Are you saying I can’t do both?”
You should never apologize for doing well or being popular. And it is NOT the case that quality and popularity are mutually exclusive. Its just that the quality may go unrecognized in favor of more accessible things. Popularity is not a sign of quality, though sometimes we take it as such. And it is not often the case that we are popular because of quality. Curb appeal does not mean an absence of quality, just that quality is not necessary for it being liked.
Of course some artists DO sell out and give the public exactly what it likes and nothing more. But many popular artists attempt to raise the bar as well, to challenge the audience to seek more. Unfortunately curb appeal is sometimes distracting enough that quality flies under the radar. So this is a good question: Can you be challenging at the same time as appealing? I think it IS possible, but maybe its a difficult thing to pull off. It is also a question whether different audiences get the same thing out of this work. Quality work that appeals to the masses may still only be entertaining for the majority, and nothing besides…..
Remember, the audience getting what they get is NOT a reflection on your own attempts to raise the bar. Its just that if you give them something easy to like they may quit there and not look at the more difficult things you are expressing. That is not your fault. Some will get it, its just that most will probably not.
And that’s okay, I think. There has to be a place for ALL of this. The things that are not easy to like just remove the perch for a lazy audience. For the most part the audience gets out of it what they put into it, and an accessible format broadens the scope. I think that may be important. Weren’t the plays Shakespeare put on designed for mass entertainment as well as being the very best in literature? Entertaining but also something much more? If we ourselves aim this high we may not have the skill of Shakespeare in also appealing to the masses, but I admire those who try. I also recognize that not everyone wants to be challenged by art, and that’s okay too. Artists need to serve those people as well.
Here is an interesting question: It may also be the case that some folks are structurally incapable of seeing art as more than entertainment, which is perhaps a HUGE thing. I am sitting on an essay that explores this, maybe to be published later this week or the next. And if that is true, that some folks will never get what we do as anything more than simply eye candy, that is exactly as high as the bar goes for them. And if art only served some higher purpose and left these other people behind, if no art was made that merely or partly entertained, just what would the world look like? Could we actually live in that world? That is a real question to ask, and it seems a lot hinges on how it gets answered: What is the responsibility of artists if a huge segment of the population has a belief structure that makes art a luxury and which at best is only there to entertain us?
So I don’t think a low bar is necessarily a bad thing, it merely serves one end and not others. And what it does not serve is important in its own right. The disappointing thing is that the world view that focuses on entertainment simply has no place for these other things, and because it is so easy and accessible makes it seem at the same time that these other things simply don’t exist. And elitism on its side is equally guilty of selling a partial take on things. The view that embraces both may be the most difficult thing possible. There are not enough Shakespeares out there, perhaps. If only more of us were more like Shakespeare……
Make beauty real!
Even with Shakespeare, there was the Penny Pit! 🙂
“When you arrived at the theatre, you would take your seat. There were three entrances to the theater: one for those standing in the Yard (also known as the Pit: the floor in front of the stage), who paid a penny for admission; one for those in the middle galleries, who paid two pence, and one for those in the upper tiers, who paid three pence. During the performance, food and drink were carried around and sold. If you were of the lower classes, uneducated and poor, you would have purchased the cheapest ticket for 1 penny and you would stand in the “pit.” Those from the middle and upper classes purchased more expensive seats. The further away from the pit you could be, the better, because the pit was noisy, smelly, and often rowdy. The floor of the pit was covered with straw, because those who stood (or sat or fell down) in the pit were often drunk, and the straw was needed to soak up the bodily fluids they expelled.”