What Happens When the Artist Chides His Audience?
I’m writing this from my garret, watched over by two small mice, who – enviously – watch my three remaining crumbs of bread. Tomorrow I eat them, and then it’s all up in the air whether or not I have the strength to finish the novel, my magnum opus upon which I have labored unrewarded for the last twenty years.
How many of you nodded along with that thinking it made any sense?
How many of you know I’m joking, but still think that is the way it should be?
Come on, reach deep into your soul and tell me the truth. How many of you think that for a work to be authentic it must be labored over in extreme poverty for a very long time, unappreciated by anybody until, possibly sometime after the author’s death, it is declared a genius masterpiece and talked about in hushed, reverent tones for the rest of eternity?
You can tell me the truth. You’re not an idiot. It’s the culture that’s stupid. It’s the culture that has labored since your birth to tell you a bunch of lies which are not only lies but utterly and completely nonsensical.
If you still don’t think the myth of the unappreciated writer, who labors in extreme poverty but creates True Art™, is nonsense, let me explain.
How do we know it’s true art? And before you start making gestures and sputtering, to finally come back with “knowledgeable people know that,” let me cut through the fog. The answer is, we don’t. No, not even experts. If everyone knew what great art was, investment in art wouldn’t be such a risky business. Great art, great literature, any form of “greatness” in creative expression is ultimately “What future generations think is great.” And, like all speculation about the future, it’s difficult, if not impossible. In visual art, what is often the acclaimed taste of an era is the laughable, ridiculous pastiche of a later era. In literature…. Do me a favor, let your fingers do the walking through Gutenberg, then look up the biographies of some of those authors. Many of the people who make you say “who?” and who in fact would make anyone but an expert in the literature of their time go “who?” were literary lions in their times, acclaimed by all and pronounced “the next Shakespeare.” (Who, like "the next Heinlein," used to rise every generation until people got tired of it.)
If the art is so great, how come no one is buying it? Besides the artist who is spending way too much time with absinthe and way too little time with quill and paper, or brushes and canvas, that is?
Oh. I see. Because the general public is too stupid to appreciate the greatness of the artist. Because the artist is “ahead” of the public.