That line from Seth Godin's post stuck and stung: Encourage People to Stop Compromising 3,000 Times a Second. That should be framed, I thought.
Seth's post's in reference to restaurant connoisseur site Chowhound's sale to CNET (and a Toronto restaurant tour). Chowhound founder Jim Laff says his mission and task have not changed post-sale: "Run a site with really discerning and trustworthy information contributed by people who care as much as I do about the credo of refusing to settle for mediocrity — ever."
So the headline's another Laff aphorism: Encourage people to stop compromising 3,000 times a second. And hits close to home:
I've mostly tabled the book except for a five-day writers conference I recently attended. The forty day slice of life mad journaling (I was capturing it all in real-time) ended for me mid-June.
Need a breather, I said, before I start the revision process. True, and truer still, is the book scares the bejesus out of me. It's the boldest, controversial, most inspired thing I've ever written.
Last night I had one of those too-ubiquitous discussions at a dinner party where a bevy of artists (and I mean real artists, not dilettantes such as myself ;-)) justify their compromises on behalf of paying the rent and eating a square meal. The conversation ain't different than that which I hear among entrepreneurs. (Highly recommend the life-changing The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur.) Or worse yet the internal chatter that goes on in my own head way toooooo often.
We start compromising on the spark of inspiration. The inspiration that snowballed the whole reason we're living in a scrappy loft in the first place. Always, temporarily, of course. The inspiration which is intimately tied to the vision and momentum of the whole thing. We start compromising on the important stuff that holds it together and keeps it cohesive, worthwhile and magnetic. (That slippery slope ends up comproming brands too.)
We convince ourselves the "public" (labelled They, Them and sprinkled liberally in our rants and whines), ya know, like everyone knows: They truly wants, desires, clamors for the safe, acceptable, watered-down, mainstream "commercial" choice.
We follow the herd rather than that wee (but insistent) voice. We create another photo-sharing web 2.0 company because that's what's in. That's what's They are funding.
Our theory is confirmed by powerful corporate curator-Them's such as when Microsoft's Michael Klein firmly says: "No sex, nudity, politics, violence or religion." The Them's that nix your next movie idea:
"He got withering stares and a stern lecture. The suits didn't understand his claustrophobic world of outsiders and ogres. His made-up words (scrunt, narf, tartutic) sounded like recycled Beowulf [hmm, sounds like Lord of Rings to me]. They especially didn't like the shots he took at film critics." - "Will M. Night Live Happily Ever After? Book Chronicles Filmmaker's Quest to Bring His Fairy Tale to the Screen", San Jose Mercury News, July 23, 2006
No matter that "maverick" (maverick is San Jose Mercury News subtitle moniker, not mine) director, M. Night Shyamalan had previously grossed over $2 billlion worldwide for Disney ("The Sixth Sense", "Signs", "Unbreakable"), they slammed the door in his face this time. (I haven't seen Lady in the Water, yet. I will now.)
So what happens when someone blows the cozy theory and sells their uncompromising artwork at Sotheby's for $427,000. That's no one-time lottery ticket bonanza: "On the private resale market, his prices have shot up to $600,000."
Now I'm talking about "maverick" John Currin. A heck of a lot has been said about John Currin's work and John himself. Good, bad, lukewarm - everyone has an opinion.
Yet one thing I haven't heard is that he panders to the masses. In fact, he manages to sell his work to the very same audiences he routinely skewers in his canvas ironies. His work has that same eerie holding-the-mirror-to-ourselves resonance that the film American Beauty did. Inexplicably people pay huge sums when someone digs beneath the surface vapidness and the wan masks we cling to for seeming safety -- with conviction. (1)
It's precisely that unswerving conviction that's ultimately so compelling and attractive: We want to risk feeling, being, what they exude. (And this once they is not They.)
"The story of [John] Currin's rise to prominence generally begins in the early '90s, when political correctness held sway in the art world... By the late '90s, critics were pointing to a re-emergence of the figure in painting, crediting Currin along with a few other young artists like Lisa Yuskavage, Elizabeth Peyton, and Jenny Saville...These painters weren't contrarians like Currin; it was just that these were the kind of paintings they wanted to make." - "Talk of the Town: Critics love the painter John Currin. But Why?", Mia Fineman, Slate (highly recommend the slide show overview of Currin's career)
"I felt a powerful force coming off the guy...I was rooting for him and his movie. Maybe that sounds like the writer getting too close to his subject." - Michael Bamberger, referring to M. Night Shyamalan, "The Man Who Heard Voices: or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale"
The NYT's book review shows the risks of fawning fans writing books yet there is an authenticity to the charismatic pull of M. Night that rings true. It's not everyday that any actor admits: "I'm gonna let him guide me. I'm gonna do something I don't often do, which is completely give myself over to the director's hands." (Paul Giametti interview, "Giamatti Wades Into New Territory in Lady in the Water", CTV.ca)
By now, I've read so much about John Currin I'm dizzy (and, no, it's not the blasted heat; I'm in air-conditioned heaven at tea haven Fantasia in Santana Row right now. Yummy jasmine milk tea with pearls.) One hopelessly undelicioused lost and mesmerizing article interviewed Currin and I felt the palpable joy exude reading how he enjoys playing with the brush and colors and canvas.
Did I say real art earlier? Yes I did. Here's an example of real art: Connoisseur and serious collector Jim Laff knows inspired art when he sees it. Within forty-eight hours of his serendipitious discovery, Laff's enthusiastically engaged nine other curious collectors to a studio and gallery of culinary art. Here's the acclaimed critic's review of Toronto's Gharoa Restaurant:
"I live in a Bangledeshi nabe in NYC, and really know the cuisine," confides Leff. "Yet every single item here surprised and delighted me. So soulful, so accessibly delicious. A gem."
Every single one of us is an artist when we move from inspiration, we follow our heart wherever it leads us. The inevitable result: So soulful, accessibly delicious. A gem.
So I encourage myself to stop compromising 3,000 times a second. So I encourage you to stop compromising 3,000 times a second because the honest truth is I yearn for more art in this big blue orb we inhabit.
Bonus: I was enchanted by this critic's love for two of Currin's pieces. His ending sentiment still echoes for me: There are certain things that belong to art alone. (To read the entire "Bad Boy, Good Manners: John Currin" The Nation article go to google and search: madame pompadour boudoir. Yeah, seriously, that's how I learnt about John Currin.)
"The two figures are exceedingly mysterious... Hobo and Sno-Bo could be panels -- say summer and winter -- in a Mannerist boudoir, the way Boucher's paintings of the seasons decorate Madame Pompadour's boudoir, now in the Frick. They are erotic paintings that imply larger meanings. The women are protected by their beauty against the harshness of the world. The images imply the world's harshness by indirection. As paintings they have the power to hold us in front of them, contemplating meanings too fragile and remote for application to life, like the kinds of visions a wizard in Shakespeare is capable of summoning into momentary being for someone's entertainment--interludes in life. There are certain things that belong to art alone. - "Bad Boy, Good Manners: John Currin", The Nation
p.s. Funniest line in San Jose Merc piece on M. Night: "Can this guy really read minds and communicate with some Higher Power?" Geez, we all do. Artists throw less barriers to it less often. Yeah, it's some power alright. When you feel something akin to an electric current coursing through you, you know what I'm talking about. What'd ya think inspiration feels like?
p.p.s. I can't help notice the archetypal mystical fairy tale quality inherent in both John Currin's and M. Night Shyamalan's work. That'd be an interesting thread to follow. I encourage you sleuth and learn about John Currin and M. Night Shyamalan yourself.
Footnote (1) "The show begns with a painting from 1989, after a photograph from a high school yearbook, of a blonde named Mary O'Connel, unsmiling, pinched, an embalming in paint of this familiar brand of middlebrow institutional portraiture. Mr. Currin is not the first to recognize the cheap pathos that is in these vacant, ritual images, as there also is in magazine advertisements and pornography. But he nails the fake sentiments better than most.
Mary O'Connel's eyes, flat disks, are the emotional vortex of the picture. Eyes in Mr. Currin's work tend to be black holes, sucking up light. All of his scrubbed, fair-skinned subjects beam on the outside, whether they are skinny wives giddily puffing cigars in ''Stamford After-Brunch'' or the wan, waxen blonde preening in ''Park City Grill'' before her alarming date -- but the eyes make them look vacuous or desperate." - "ART REVIEW; With Barbed Wit Aforethought", Michael Kimmelman, New York Times
image Not your average Rockwell, eh? I'm going with culinary theme with Currin's Thanksgiving, 2003, oil on canvas. Then, actress Bryce Dallas Howard, plays a narf in Lady in the Water, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Finally, Currin's Honeymoon Nude, 1998.