27.4.12

this is dedicated to...

In 2006 the BBC produced a dramatic interpretation of Sondheim’s opus Sweeney Todd, removing all music and giving the demon barbers role to Ray Winston. This version – added to the wide and varied list of adaptations to the story – claimed a further visceral look into the life of Benjamin Barker by taking away any previous frivolity and cutting back to the harsh realities of a man driven to murder.
When asked about his crimes Mr. Todd coolly answers:

“… At first I did it because I could, and then I did it because I couldn’t not.”

This quote always stuck with me; a call to the arms of compulsion, a nagging persistent need to do something. I like it because I believe it is the way of all those who create and have not yet seen the glittering lights of achievement. Bedroom musicians, aspiring writers and artists surrounded by unsold works; the very idea that we would continue where there is no tangible gain is often the dividing line between what is deemed a worthy pursuit and a complete waste of time.

There are few who would deny a chance to have their creations see the light of day and be thrown to the hopeful appreciation of similar minded individuals. But struggling -and I use the verb very loosely -  away in obscurity is not in itself problematic or tantamount to a destitute existence, there is an innate joy in the act of creation, one which is noted as an obstruction to depression. There are often questions raised of the will to create when there is no monetary gain, granted to be paid for your pursuits is the goal of almost anyone on the planet. Working life is often filled with drudgery and the necessity to do work that we do not enjoy, that is sadly part of adult life for many of us. But as Confucius is famously quoted as saying.



"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

The ability to cast off a job which does no more in terms of personal nourishment than pay the bills for one which is a joy - if not sometimes difficult - to do is the dream of most human beings regardless of their creative abilities or wants.

Recently I watched a TED talk by punk singer and music journalist John Robb. Usually TED presentations are focused on technology or science but Robb gave his talk about the inspirational ideas which emerged from the 70's punk scene. His focus was not on style or even dedication to an artform but on its legacy to the modern world as being one of the first DIY cultures. Today we take for granted the ability to create music in our homes or reach out to people with our opinions through a blog, the internet has provided a voice of equal volume to everyone who uses it. This idea is what makes creative processes so persuasive in today's society, there is an unsolicited outlet available to all irregardless of gain or even the merit of the art itself. 


Sadly in this sea of creativity it is far easier than it ever was to remain in the shadow of obscurity, unseen and unheard like a particularly naughty child. And yet this is still no deterrent to the swell of creativity, in fact it seems to have merely fuelled the fire, local bands still play in local pubs and across the globe people paint and write. Last year's National Novel Writing Month saw over three billion words written in one month of its collective count but the scheme has yet to produce more than two publicly published novels.  Millions of writers in dozens of locations across the globe wrote furiously for a month to reach the 50k word count (of which I'm proud to say I am one) with no real illusions that it would make them famous or even that their work will be read.


There was a time when, discussing the influence of piracy on the music industry, I would propose that without any money in the business we would quickly and thankfully lose many of the manufactured acts produced by the x-factor and their ilk, allowing space for people passionate about their art a time in the spotlight. Granted we have not seen the pop factory shut down production of one-hit-wonders and it would appear that without the primary pursuit of money there may not be an industry or a spotlight to bask in, but the advantages of an open platform such as the internet is universally more beneficial for artists than the days before its inception.

This seems to be an avenue of argument that is little walked in the online piracy debate. We are told constantly that by downloading and sharing we are personally and wilfully killing the industries who provide us with the entertainments and arts we love. This simply isn't the case, the real face of it is that we are taking the money and therefore the power out of the hands of institutions that would sell us frivolous, mass produced mulch and deciding for ourselves who deserves our well earned cash. In days pre-internet (I know they are painful to remember but we must try) there was never a call to arms against people sharing a record with a friend, lending it as a recommendation.  

Today many artists have cast off the once coveted place with a record label and have taken matters into their own hands, connecting with prospective and existing fans directly through websites and social networks. Amazon's Kindle Self Publishing system allows any writer to have their work featured in the Amazon store and be seen and/or read by the million people a week buying a kindle. Fan-sourced fundraising website Kickstarter has this year seen two independent video game developers receive over a million dollars in pledges from everyday people like you or I, with the fund for Indie RPG 'Wasteland 2' garnering a staggering three million dollars.  
  
The argument that by withholding or choosing a different direction for the cashflow that otherwise circumvents feeding of our pre-formed entertainment institutions is somehow leading to their downfall is ridiculous. We created these industries with our wallets and as such they should be the ones to follow our chosen stream of revenue. Artist should be deterred from and by celebrity culture, showcasing the rich and privileged and be consistently and painfully aware of the doldrums of obscurity and the tang of rejection. I'm not attempting to start a debate on whether true art comes from pain or the merit of paying ones dues but there should be some inherent awareness that ones pursuit may be eternally fruitless and that the reward should come from the production of the art not the glittering carrot of potential recompense. Beyond that, debating that artists will somehow lose the will to create simply because they cannot financially rely on their art to make a living; that art itself will curl and die without being slowly drip fed money in somewhat insulting.


Art is not some frail and decrepit former being clinging to life, it does not require our constant supervision and support to ensure it doesn't finally move on to the next world if it is not continually bathed in currency. It is sustained by those who wish to see it continue strong into perpetuity; fed by passion, dedication and compulsion. Artists will not stop creating simply because they can't earn a living on it, they have been squirrelling away behind the scenes of mainstream media for centuries because of the inherent joy of the act itself, safe and comforted by the knowledge that they, no matter how insignificant they may be to mainstream media, are carrying the torch of art onwards.


Here's to the struggling artists, may your hunger be forever sated by your inspiration.

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