I didn’t say it. Someone who shall remain nameless said that to me, and it started me thinking about The Lone Artist.
I’ve been to New Orleans, Paris, Venice Beach, New York, London, Amsterdam, and other places where The Lone Artist sets about attempting to earn a living or at least approbation from a crowd of strangers walking by.
In Paris, it was the Ecole des Beaux-Arts students drawing Mona Lisa in pastels on the sidewalk, their hats out for coins.
In New Orleans, it was a pair of pre-teen boys tap dancing on a street corner, under the watchful eye of their mother, a trumpet player on a corner down the street, and an artist setting up shop in the middle of the St. Louis Cathedral courtyard, right under Jackson’s shadow.
In Amsterdam, it was the scantily-clad prostitutes in the plate-glass windows along the canal. (Okay, as “artist” and “lone,” that one’s questionable, but it’s vivid, ain’t it?)
In London, it was the—what is this guy? Is this classified as pantomime? Definitely performance art. (Shut up. I like mimes.)
In New York, it was the oddball music played by street musicians.
In Venice Beach, it was a dude who charged $5 to create origami magic with one strand from one palm frond. I knew it was a living sculpture that would die in an hour, but I bought it anyway because it was so different and . . . unexpected. I admired that he could do it in seconds right in front of my eyes, I admired the work itself, and I kept it for the hour it lasted, then threw it away. That $5 was very well spent.
In a lot of ways, I like being a lone artist. When I go to authors’ websites and read about the difficulties they have working with a publisher, I’m glad. When I go to readers’ websites and read about how sad they are when a favorite author gets cut off mid-series, I’m glad. When I sit down to write and realize that I can do anything I want without having to account to a sales staff, I’m glad. When I know that the readership I’m gathering one by one, to whom I am ever so grateful, now has enough faith in me to go where I take them, I’m glad.
There is one respect I really don’t like it. I don’t like the near absence of distribution. But . . . that’s about the only way I can think of that I don’t like it. After all, a street performer can only play to the audience that walks by.
It’s not easy. Some days it’s damned depressing. I count on the readers to talk to me and remind me that there is something of worth in what I do, and believe me, I remember it. I count up those emails and screen shots and snippets of conversation here and there, and I keep them, put them in my hard drive bank like coins in my hat.
So when bedtime comes (if it comes) and I fall in bed exhausted from everything I have to do to be a lone artist, it’s the good kind of exhaustion.
Howard Roark laughed.