Everything is still biased against the lone artist.

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.

14 thoughts on “Everything is still biased against the lone artist.

  1. Eva

    “If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

    Yann Martel
    Author’s Notes
    LIFE OF PI

  2. Mike

    Be proud of your artistry. And remember you’re not completely alone anymore. While the results may, most times, seem intangible, insignificant really, the power of the web–and social media especially–is connecting us all.

  3. jenn topper

    Trying not to sound stupid, I never thought about the lone artist in an artistic light. I mean, I ran a record label [into the ground] and the artists, and I, busted our asses getting records into stores and into distributors’ hands. Busted asses trying to get shows. Busted asses trying to get reviews in ‘zines (this was pre Internet. I am an old lady). Busted asses all over the place so I guess we never had time to ruminate about our ahhrt. We were too busy being angry at asshole promoters, frustrated at dismissive distributors, and broke from not being paid from shows and distributors.

    Then comes writing and I’m looking up this big, Sisyphusian hill thinking, fuck, I’m going to kill myself again and for what? FOR MOTHERFUCKING WHAT?

    I have two kids now and a corporate job and I can’t wait to get out there and sell my book to indie stores, like a dumbass dog coming back for another beating.

    Stupid, stupid artists, we are.

    ~jenn
    @revolucion0

  4. MoJo Post author

    But that’s not my point. The BOOKSTORES aren’t our street. The internet is our street. We are free to be here as long as we want, slowly building an audience. No one to account to for our time or our sales (erm, maybe our checkbooks) or to try to justify our existence over and over and over again.

    The fact is that we’re all doing it OURSELVES is a real bummer, I’ll grant you, but the barrier to entry is as simple as putting our hat on the sidewalk.

    I dedicated STAY to my mom. In 1995, when I was chronically depressed at having gotten THISCLOSE to getting a contract 4 times with 4 different manuscripts, only to be turned down for oddball reasons, she said to me:

    Why are you basing your goals on decisions someone else has to make?

    I have never forgotten that. In fact, I’ve lived my life by it ever since. It’s my guiding philosophy.

  5. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  6. MoJo Post author

    I think so. It’s unfortunate that the book I dedicated to her has an underlying theme of mothers v daughters—and not in a good way.

    Oops. Weird reverse serendipity.

  7. Pingback: Tweets that mention Everything is still biased against the lone artist. | -- Topsy.com

  8. Will

    “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.”

    Amen. The thing, though, is not to read too much into obscurity. (For me, at least.) There are a lot of reasons that people don’t drop pennies in a hat, even if they enjoy the work. We must find the balance between the work that is purely our intent and the work that gets through to the part of the audience that does drop pennies. Because we need to eat, right?

    But that’s not to say the lone artist shouldn’t be a lone artist. Good with the bad. There are simply days where the space between clinking pennies is so long that it all seems useless. There’s no remedy for it. Just keep going, right?

  9. MoJo Post author

    There are simply days where the space between clinking pennies is so long that it all seems useless. There’s no remedy for it. Just keep going, right?

    Yes.

    Was it Churchill who said when you’re going through hell, just keep going?

  10. Brent Robison

    Yes, and the prejudice against DIY in the arts is nowhere greater than in the book world. I’ve been contributing to discussions on the writer’s colony http://litopia.com and have been amazed at the vitriol directed at those few of us who speak in favor of self-publishing. The idea that we might, as sound-minded adults, make a well-considered decision to self-publish is so far outside the conventional wisdom that it brings up some sort of elemental fear that stops up the ears of those who’ve invested their careers in the employee mentality, and their response is an angry repetition of the same mantra: self-pubs are losers who can’t get into the club (even though 99% of them are not in the club either).

    Both my wife and I have sold our visual art on the streets of NYC and other places. She’s made a living for 20 years by bringing her art, leather masks, directly to her audience — http://wendydrolma.com . It’s a model that can work, although with a low-ticket, low-margin item like a book it’s more a labor of love than money. But nothing wrong with that. Up with the lone artist!

  11. MoJo Post author

    Brent, apologies for not answering sooner, but then yesterday, WOW! The world exploded when Harlequin announced its vanity arm. Your comment takes on a whole new level of meaning.

    [I]have been amazed at the vitriol directed at those few of us who speak in favor of self-publishing…repetition of the same mantra: self-pubs are losers who can’t get into the club

    Another way to say it is, “You’re cutting in line!”

    She’s made a living for 20 years by bringing her art, leather masks, directly to her audience — http://wendydrolma.com .

    OMG those are GORGEOUS! (And normally I hate music on a website, but this worked.) I’ll post your wife’s link over on Romance Divas. I know a few ways those would be appreciated.

  12. Wendy Drolma

    What a nice surprise this morning to read your blog entry and come across a response from my husband Brent in which he mentioned my work and website (thank you for posting a link to it on Romance Divas). I enjoyed reading the thoughts you shared about your life as a “Lone Artist”. There can be so much pain around the issue of making a living from the work we create and so I’m glad to hear your optimism. Whether one is signed by a big publisher or is standing on the sidewalk, watching the faces roll by, patiently waiting for someone to take notice of them seems like one in the same experience. It’s about making a living and doesn’t have much to do with our relationship to the creative process. I believe the quality of that relationship is what gets us through the details of making a living out of it or not. What fortifies me against the disappointments that arise around selling my work is to bring integrity to my creative process. Actually, it’s that and keeping my expectations low that gets me through. In truth, it seems to go against some fundamental law of nature for me to call myself “Lone” anything when I see everything as so inextricably linked.

    How many twists and turns were needed to bring that five dollar bill (paid for origami magic) back around and tucked neatly into your pocket once again? Thinking in this way helps me loosen my grip on outcomes, to simply trust, and stay close to what I find most nourishing–to create.

  13. Pingback: Joe Konrath Needs To Shut The Fuck Up « Mike Cane's xBlog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>