The Artist in Context

This interesting interview with David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) has been on my mind the past few days. He discusses the myth of the lone artist off creating eternal works in isolation, and how, rather, every artist creates only within layers of context. These layers can be viewed from different perspectives; you can zoom in (as it were) or zoom out to these different viewpoints. You can zoom in to the artist’s current surroundings and milieu, zoom out a bit to their localized era (the ‘spirit of their age’), zoom out some more for more historical perspectives (gender, race, politics, age) and even further for more general insights into the human condition, animal being and so on. Even when you zoom in all the way on the artist in isolation, he (or she) is in fact teeming with influences from within and without, such as thoughts flitting around, emotions from circumstances past and present. As an artist develops their work, the events of every day life intervene and make their presence felt. Each piece, whether it’s of music, writing, painting, or drama, carries with it all these layers of context. Byrne also emphasizes physical context – how the acoustics of a place influence the music that is created there, how the light in a studio influences the colors a painter uses. Very interesting stuff.

The idea was driven home even further by my reading of Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids”. The name-dropping in this book is jaw-dropping (but being one of those names herself makes it justified). She brought her raw self into the circles she found herself in (New York City, 1969-1970’s, Chelsea Hotel) but her raw self was shaped and molded by many powerful influences. You find yourself wishing it had been your own damn raw self that had also been dropped into that blender of space and time and that yours too had turned out so outrageously! Yet it’s not merely accident, not merely luck. You – whoever and whenever and wherever you are – also have to align yourself, and also on many levels. You have to align within yourself (be and accept who you truly are) and where and when you are. Go where you ought to be and do what you ought to be doing. Are there people who can actually do this? If so, they are some lucky bastards.

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Take this Genre and Shove it

I was just glancing at some blog post about “what price should you charge for your ebook?”, which, translated into my first language, reads “bla bla bla bla bla”, and I noticed this line: “it depends on your genre.”

Do you have a genre?

Or does your genre have you?

And can you say the word ‘genre’ twenty times fast without realizing what a stupid word it is? Then say it some more and think about what a stupid concept it is.

Look, if you’re happy doing what other people are already doing, then go ahead and copy that out and worry about genre-appropriate prices and everything else that goes along with the crowd. Yes, X can sell for Y so if you do X then go ahead and charge Y.

Or maybe do something that only you can do.

Experiment and try and figure out what that is. Take your time and try a lot of different things and don’t pull our your price gun and tag everything in sight.

If you find there’s nothing that only you can do, then you probably haven’t tried hard enough or looked long enough, because for everyone – everyone! – there is something that only they can do.

As Bob Marley once said, “don’t be just a stock on the shelf”

Seriously.