Artists are people that don’t tend to have many rules (or at the very least are somewhat flexible with them). However there is one rule that seems to be taken very seriously and that is never ever ever “sell out.”
This rule can mean different things depending on the type of artist you are. If you’re a musician it might mean never trying to go on “American Idol” or singing certain songs or genres. If you’re a writer it might mean constantly pursuing the great American novel as opposed to trying to write the next “Twilight.” Directors and actors might try to make small art-house films instead of Michael Bay blockbusters. Whatever kind of artist you are, you are probably familiar with a code of sorts about what constitutes authentic art. These codes can be seen in our media and culture. In “Rent” the main characters, a group of artists and musicians, clash with their former friend who married into a wealthy family and wants to build a state of the art studio in the middle of their bohemian neighborhood. In “School Of Rock” Dewey Finn chastises his former band members, who kicked him out in favor of another guitar player exclaiming “You’ve been focused so hard on making it you forgot about one little thing; it’s called the MUSIC!” He leaves the practice space stating “I don’t wanna hang out with a bunch of wannabe corporate sellouts.” We all might know someone (or even be the person) who seems to be constantly saying things along the lines of “Oh I liked so & so until they went mainstream.”
For years I’ve had my own codes I’ve been determined to play in an original rock band. I balked at the idea of going on shows like “Idol”. I loved those characters that rebelled and never gave in. However over the past few years many things have happened that have made me question these stances. Since I don’t want to go into potentially endless details it should suffice to say that a lot has happened that has made me wonder if being the suffering artist who never sells out is really making me a better artist or any happier. In both cases I’m not sure this is true. It is hard for me to be a productive artist when I’m having trouble writing songs, finding an audience, etc. Furthermore, while I’m willing to work for my art should I have to suffer for it? Shouldn’t I enjoy it? I remember my professor in college quoting Xavier Cugat who stated, “I would rather play ‘Chiquita Banana’ and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” At the time I thought the very idea was horrendous, even somewhat blasphemous. However after two years of hard knocks I’ve started long for the swimming pool.
Another reason I’ve had many of these thoughts is I came across yet another Cracked article, that pointed out that even my heroes The Beatles had changed many aspects about themselves to become…well The Beatles. Among the changes were switching from jeans and leather jackets to trousers, getting those now famous matching haircuts, and no longer doing any inappropriate behaviors onstage (eating, drinking and swearing). Of course, as the article points out and fans of The Beatles realize, making these changes didn’t exactly stifle the creativity of the band. It might be worth asking whether The Beatles would have made it as far if they’d said to hell with Epstein’s ideas and stayed in Liverpool. Would we even be talking about them today?
There is a big part of me that hates the fact I’m writing this (heck even the fact I’ve been having these thoughts). I always swore that I’d never be that person who caved in to “bourgeois ideals” and other seemingly corrupting influences. This being said I still have enough idealism in me that I wouldn’t want to become some Gordon Gekko like character who’s only concern is what’s going to be the next hit or how much will an album sell. When I think about that day in my professor’s class when he quoted Xavier Cugat I remember my response was “Why does it have to be one or the other?” Maybe that’s the trick. You make compromises where you have to, you wear the costume or sing the occasional song through gritted teeth but you try to stay true to yourself on the big things. You pick the battles instead of waging what might be an endless unwinnable war.
There might be those of you reading that absolutely hate what I’m saying. You might feel that just by contemplating these ideas I’m turning my back on true art and simply becoming another hack. To that I say ok. Honestly I hope you’re right and I wish you well on your artistic journey. I hope you can go out and do things that I can’t. I hope you knock down walls and create a path for yourself. I hope that you never have to contemplate the choices I’ve been finding myself making and that you can find success without having to make a sacrifice that would violate your artistic integrity.
However maybe there are others of you who identify with what I’m saying. To you I say let’s try to redefine what makes us a “true artist.” Let’s pick our battles where we can. Let’s carve our own paths where whatever choices we make are the ones that are right for us and not ones that we are pressured to make by the idea of what an artist should be. In short, let’s not give up but maybe every so often give in.
“The Beatles.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. .
“Chiquita Quotes and Sayings Quotes about Chiquita.” Chiquita Quotes and Sayings. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
Iannone, Jason. “5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out.” Cracked.com. N.p., 08 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
“Rent (musical).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. .
School of Rock. Dir. Richard Linklater. Perf. Jack Black. Paramount, 2003. DVD.