How will you know when you've arrived?
I’ve never been super into award shows, but I remember watching the Grammy’s growing up with a sense of trajectory. I remember thinking “That’s what success looks like”, even as I kept my musical aspirations somewhat close to my chest as a young kid. The truth is, though, the Grammy’s always felt like it was about entertainers, and I’ve always felt uneasy with the title of entertainer.
It’s the line that all creators debate – ultimately what makes art? And is there an equivocal difference in value between “art” and “entertainment” (or crafts or decoration in the visual art world)
It’s not so much that art or entertainment provide more provide meaningful contributions to society, for me the difference between entertainment and art is in the metrics of success. Entertainment is about audience size, whereas art is about impact. To make it even more confusing, it’s not always either/or. I keep thinking of Shakespeare and his ability to reach beyond the class divides and create plays that were both meaningful and accessible.
However, in this capitalist driven corporatized society the focus on numbers can really put a damper on creativity and originality. In youtube’s early days it was a platform where innovation and playful creativity could find an outlet. Here’s this open platform where people can put ANYTHING THEY WANT and it is profoundly cluttered with the latest “challenge” videos and the same kind of content focused more on what key words are trendy and most likely to attract eyes. Sure, there was ALWAYS trash in with the treasure, but now you have to dig through the creative equivalent of plastic McDonalds toys to get to something remarkable.
When success is about the amount of attention that you get, then attention becomes a core influence on what you create.
In 2010 I went to ASCAP’s I Create Music Expo in LA, and a lot of the DIY marketing advice came down to “post covers”. Great advice if you want to play covers for the rest of your life. No so helpful if you’re a songwriter. Covers can be wonderful when an artist has a personal connection with the song, but not when it’s just a cheep attention grabber. Not when it’s a business move.
When numbers are the primary indication that you are “making it”, it’s easy to ignore your own creative impulses. It begins to feel crazy to take the time to develop originality, much less take creative risks or break the established rules. But risk taking, originality, and rule breaking are essential to making anything meaningful or intereseting.
There is an alternative (ancient) metric of success: to plunge the depths of our souls and know every shadow and light; to create community around the resonances of our best selves; to experiance as much joy throughout this frantic and fragile existance as possible .
There are no award shows that show you that you’ve arrived, no charts and comparisons, but in the end, when you are enjoying the accumulated memories of a life well lived, I imagine an award would just feel like a trinket in comparison anyway.
-In love and rebellion,