Money, Art, Fear and Passion

What is it about money that tends to drain the lifeblood from art?

I think it’s the same thing that poisons so much of the human condition.

Fear.

Fear blunts creativity. It silences intuition. And it takes a great deal of courage to overcome.

Art done for money is fraught with compromise. There are patrons to please and shareholders to appease, not to mention the layers of people who want to put their two cents in, often in the mistaken belief that their job is to second guess “what the public will accept.”

It’s easy to find so-called faults with something, especially if it’s new or different. Whether the art is a painting, a play, a movie, a book, or a building, money brings out what Stephen Pressfield calls “the lizard brain.”

The Fear Monster.

And fear leads to making safe choices. Ideas that are already tried, tested – and done a million times.

But art done for art’s sake is different.

It isn’t created for committees. It’s bold and truthful and unapologetic. Love it or hate it, art done for art’s sake doesn’t give a damn. It’s content simply to be.

Making safe art is impossible, but a lot of people still try.

For years I’ve watched writers, art directors, illustrators, actors, musicians, photographers and directors pour their creativity into advertising. Too often – probably 95 percent of the time – that creative spirit is squelched.

It’s strangled at birth by an agency employee fearful of his client’s reaction.

(“I like it, but Steve hates ads with animals in them.”)

Or it’s euthanized in a boardroom by a client who’s afraid of one angry customer in Regina.

(“I love it, but we can’t make fun of the Swiss.”)

Or failing that, it’s gunned down at close range by focus group.

(“I’d buy it, but I don’t think other cereal eaters would.”)

Little by little, they chip away at what made the idea great. Until all that’s left is pablum.

And yet, there is a pattern. Again and again at award shows worldwide, the same ads keep winning Gold.

Ads that have an opinion. Ads that are funny or heartwrenching or shocking. Ads that demand your attention.

Just like art.

And in almost every case, the way these ads got made is the same.

“We didn’t have time to test it, so the client just approved the script and we ran with it.”

“There wasn’t any money in the budget, so we shot it the way it was presented, and everyone worked for free.”

“It was a tiny project nobody cared about, so there was no one around to second guess it.”

Ads like these don’t pay much, if anything. But people do them for something more valuable than money: they do them because it lets them share their art.

The results are often spectacular. So why is it so hard to sell great work?

Because art is scary.

Art will be noticed, and therefore judged.

No one judges wallpaper. It’s not interesting enough to have an opinion about.

Of course, it’s easy to like art after the fact. Once it’s produced and has gained recognition and acceptance, people are eager to jump on board. That’s why advertisers pay handsomely for hit songs.

When Royal Caribbean used “Lust For Life” to sell cruises, they had to edit the references to sex and drugs. It would’ve been easier and cheaper just to pay someone to write a G-rated jingle. But it wouldn’t have had the same energy and authenticity.

I used to think artists who licenced their work had “sold out,” but I’ve since changed my mind. Whether it’s a David Shrigley t-shirt or a Weezer song in a KFC commercial, it’s still art, because it wasn’t created by compromise.

Bands don’t write sit around thinking, “How can I make a Ford truck sound sexy?” Picasso didn’t ask a dozen people if they liked Weeping Woman before he painted it. He just painted it.

The same is true of everyone who’s ever put up a fringe play, filmed their own web series, put out their own music CDs, or dozens of other passion projects.

It’s one of the reason I love improv. Some of the funniest, coolest, most interesting people perform for zero dollars.

They do it because they have to. Because they love the connection with their team and the audience, and because they have something they want to share.

It takes guts to go onstage with nothing prepared. It takes guts to paint the first brushstroke, or type the first word on a blank sheet of paper.

Clients aren’t the only ones scared of being judged. So are artists. But they share their gift because they’re compelled to.

I’d love it if everyone got paid for their art, but I’m grateful for those who do it anyway.

For everyone who fights the fear, follows their passion, and makes art, bravo. And thank you.

The C Word

My sister always told me, “We don’t get physically unhealthy in our family. No cancer or strokes or Parkinson’s disease. It’s just our minds that go to shit.”

I used to find this vaguely comforting, till my oldest sister began showing signs of dementia. Some might say I’m being too harsh, that’s it merely a strong fixation on her part, but I say anyone who watches Hoarders for more than three hours straight is a nut case.

My paternal grandfather, Grandpa Jones, went batty in his old age. When he was younger he had a temper, and used to beat up Grandma. My Dad was the eldest of four kids, and he tried his best to protect her.

One day Grandpa beat Grandma so badly that Dad decided to stop him once and for all. He loaded a shotgun, but while he was tamping down the bullet, he shot off the top of his index finger instead.

The good news is, it all evened out in the end. When Grandpa went senile, Grandma locked him up in the attic and fed him on Wonder bread she slid under the door. One day Grandpa escaped and ran down the street, naked and babbling.

Or so I’ve been told.

All of which is my way of saying I’m fortunate that I haven’t had to deal with a serious illness.

Last month Cameron’s Dad had a cancerous tumour removed from his skull. He and his wife came to Toronto, where I visited them at a hospice for chemo and radiation patients and their families.

If you’ve never been to a hospice for cancer patients, you don’t know what you’re missing. And believe me, that’s a good thing.

The Princess Margaret brain tumour hospice looks about the way you’d imagine: miles of drab, grey corridors filled with elderly people shuffling about or slumped in chairs.

The main lounge resembles a bed and breakfast I stayed in when I was a kid; an effect made more real by the fact that one wall is filled with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books from 1960.

Looking around, it was hard to see where those billions of dollars for cancer treatment are going. I mean, last I checked, chemo and radiation were considered cutting-edge around the same time as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.

One place those dollars definitely aren’t going is The Humour Room. This drab little space boasts a few chairs, an old timey television and – I shit you not – a VCR and tapes. An old lady sat there alone as we passed by, watching CNN.

The next time we go, I’m bringing a DVD player and a copy of Dumb and Dumber. Even if it’s their only movie, it’s beats an evening with Wolf Blitzer.

Cameron’s parents, Cameron and I decided to go for a walk. When we got to the end of the block, we turned the corner and found ourselves facing a compound straight out of The Wire. Teenagers huddled in twos and threes, daring us to make eye contact. All that was missing was D’Angelo’s orange couch.

We quickly circled back to the hospice and sat in the lounge for a while. Then it was time to go. On our way out we passed another room filled with books. There were boxes and boxes of them, all donated by volunteers.

“Look at this one!”

Cameron’s Mom held up an old paperback. On the cover was a picture of a keyhole and the words The Discreet Gentleman’s Guide To The Pleasures Of Europe. It was basically a Frommer’s for the raincoat brigade, circa 1976; a sort of European Orgies On $10 A Day.

“Here, take it,” she said, pressing it into my hand.

“I couldn’t,” I protested. “It’s for patients.”

“The sign says ‘Help yourself. Yours to borrow or to keep.’ Why don’t you use it to write some sort of skit.”

Or…this.

 

Signs of the Apocalypse


Is it asking too much for “PORT” to burn out next?

 

Let’s just file this one under What the Fuck.

 

Located at Queen and Shaw, Shaw We Go hooked me with its intriguing blend of pun and non sequitur.

The subtly-applied duct tape is a nice touch. (Tip for restaurateurs: Don’t put prices on your sign unless you plan on going out of business soon.)

But my favourite part is the address. Just in case you thought this sign was for their other location.

Charlie don’t surf (Unless it’s on a mercury surfboard)

It takes one helluva phenomenon to steal thunder from the launch of Apple’s new iPad. But then Steve Jobs didn’t figure on the power of Charlie Sheen.

From the minute his verbal gems hit the web, they became the stuff of legend.

And the people responded. Not since the Renaissance has the world seen such an explosive outpouring from artists, musicians, writers and actors.

But perhaps most impressive is the sheer volume of meme-worthy material. Produced in a little over 24 hours, it surely offers proof that Sheen is, indeed, immortal.



 


 

And check out:
livethesheendream.com

 

Charlie Sheen or Ghaddafi: Who said what?

 

and:
Charlie Sheen Quotes as New Yorker Cartoons

 

Art, Money, Fear and Passion

What is it about attaching money to art that tends to drain the lifeblood from it?

I think it’s the same thing that poisons so much of the human condition:

Fear.

Fear blunts creativity. It silences intuition. And very few people are strong enough to overcome it.

Art done for money is fraught with compromise.

There are patrons to please and shareholders to appease, not to mention the layers of people who want to put their “two cents” in, often in the mistaken belief that their job is to second-guess the public.

It’s easy to find fault with something you’re paying for, especially if an idea is new or different.

But art done for art’s sake is different.

It isn’t created for committees. It’s bold and truthful and unapologetic. Love it or hate it, it doesn’t give a damn. It simply is.

It’s impossible to make safe art, but a lot of people try.

It’s called advertising.

For years I’ve watched talented writers, illustrators, actors, musicians, photographers and directors pour their creativity into projects, only to have it chipped away till there’s nothing left.

It’s strangled at birth by an agency employee fearful of his client’s reaction.

(“I like it, but Steve hates ads with animals in them.”)

Or it’s euthanized in a boardroom by a client who’s afraid of Head Office.

(“I love it, but we can’t make fun of the Swiss.”)

Or failing that, it’s gunned down at close range by focus group.

(“I’d buy it, but I don’t think other cereal eaters would.”)

And yet despite this, there is a pattern. Again and again at award shows worldwide, the same ads keep winning Gold.

Ads that have a distinctive opinion. Ads that are funny or heartwrenching or shocking.  Ads that demand your attention.

Just like art.

And in almost every case, the story behind how these ads got made is the same.

“We didn’t have time to test it, so the client just approved the script and we ran with it.”

“There wasn’t any money in the budget, so we shot it the way it was presented, and everyone worked for free.”

“It was a tiny project nobody cared about, so there was no one around to second-guess it.”

Ads like these don’t pay much, if anything. But people do them for something more valuable than money: they do them because it lets them share their art.

The results are often spectacular. So why is it so hard to sell great work?

Because art is scary.

Art will be noticed, and therefore judged.

No one judges wallpaper. It’s not interesting enough to have an opinion about.

Of course, it’s easy to like art after the fact.

Once it’s produced and has already gained acceptance, people are eager to jump on board. That’s why advertisers pay handsomely for hit songs.

When Royal Caribbean used “Lust For Life” to sell family cruises, they had to edit out references to sex and drugs.

It would’ve been easier to pay a music house to write a G-rated jingle. But a song generated for money wouldn’t have had the same authenticity and raw energy.

I used to think artists who licenced their work had “sold out,” but I’ve changed my mind. Whether it’s a Warhol t-shirt or a Weezer song in a KFC commercial, it’s still art because it wasn’t created by compromise.

Bands don’t write sit around thinking, “How can I make a Ford truck sound sexy?”

Banksy didn’t ask a dozen people if he should paint the West Bank wall. He just painted it.

That’s why I love improv. Some of the funniest, coolest, most interesting people perform for absolutely no money.

They do it because they have to. Because they love the connection with their team and the live audience, and because they have something they want to share.

It takes guts to onstage with nothing prepared. It takes guts to paint the first brushstroke, or type the first word on a blank sheet of paper.

Clients aren’t the only ones scared of being judged. So are artists. But they share their gift because they’re compelled to.

Here’s to everyone who fights the fear, follows their passion, and makes art, whatever the medium.