. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.
So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.
But these days, though, there seems to be a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.
This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.
Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.
Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.
If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.
The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.
Remember back when I posted about my work schedule in Stephen King is my Boss? And how I said I sat down at 9:00 am and wrote until 1:00 pm (except for my elevenses break) six days a week?
I’m a big talker.
About a month ago, the thought of sitting down at 9:00 am to slough through a morning of revision made me real, real tired. My brain did not want to revise. It wanted to make some jewelry—so I let it. I hauled out my beads and little pliers and wire cutters and those tiny but essential findings and had at it.
I spent a happy two days in my “pop-up jewelry store” as the hubby called it, creating with color and texture, letting my writing brain rest. Sure, I had a twinge of guilt for not writing, but not enough to stop me. And after the jewelry, I needed to work with color some more, so I did a few watercolors, completely unconnected to illustrating anything. Just five little watercolors for a show at a gallery in Connecticut. I called it my “glowy animal series.”
A few days ago, a friend sent me an article by Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog that made me realize why I so enjoyed those non-writing days. It was an article about a book called “Uncommon Genius,” published in 1991. The author, Denise Shekerjian, interviewed forty recipients of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants about their creative process. Lo and behold, a very big component of the creative process for them was downtime, drifting-around time, unconnected-to-your-work time. Ta-da! Validation.
Now I’m ready to write again. Nay, I’m eager to write again.
A change, as they say, is as good as a rest.
The focus of my last semester in the MFA program at Simmons College is on preparing us for the ‘real world’ that is, navigating the process of getting published. Which is as it should be, since the Simmons program is highly regarded and has placed many, many graduates in the publishing community as editors, authors, agents, and publicists.
But I find myself, in these classes, getting short tempered and snappy. I would like to have a book contract. (I think.) But if I’m stringently honest, I think what I most want is to be heard. And that brings up my conflict. I want to be heard, but do I need to be heard? There is a crucial difference here and it is the difference between self-reflection and self-absorption.
Self-reflection is the soft voice of curiosity and wonder––the musings of wanting to understand one’s place in the world. Self-absorption, by contrast, is the loud unceasing voice of need.
When I learn about book trends, and ‘what sells’, I switch from the voice of self-reflection to the voice of self-absorption. I get caught up in the craving—the need––to be heard, and that’s what makes me grumpy.
The world is becoming increasingly noisy, and the ante is being raised. The quiet voice is being replaced by the voice that shocks because that is the one that is heard. Many, if not most of the young adult novels I read for my classes were violent and/or dystopian. As I read, I wondered: are these books reflections of a jaded teen audience, genuinely speaking to their concerns, or are they exploiting the teen marketplace? Because remember, by far and away, authors of YA novels are not teens. They are adults.
I wanted to learn to write to express a creativity in me that tells me it’s time. But after a long day of hearing what sells––of being reminded of the endless American obsession with money––I am weary.
A different reminder (one that is especially poignant in this age of status updates): there’s more to life than selling yourself.