Google randomly displays the masters of fine art on my screen, switching every ten seconds or so. A Monet just flashed by, now its someone named Joseph Léon Righini.
All of this is staggeringly good art. None of it is given much attention by me during the day. But it is there for me to see whenever I want it. A mountain peak – an Everest – of fine art to aim for every 10 seconds. This would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago. I remember growing up we had a massive Encyclopaedia Brittanica in our house for reference.
Why does this matter? I think it matters because it means that the problem of our time – the problem of this revolution we are experiencing – is not one of scarcity or of access to information, or to inspiration. The internet has given us access to more information than we could possibly want – be it art, science, history or cat videos.
Instead the problem is one of contribution. The nagging question in our heads should be “When am I going to show up?”
I don’t mean show up in Google’s algorithm, I mean show up to the party and contribute. Care enough to try, to fail and to show your work.
When I was 11 years old, I changed my handwriting in an effort to be cool. I wanted to be more like my friend. He wrote with far more flair than I did. His pages had words that stood out at you. They were all in in neat rows, but they looked artistic and full of purpose. His paragraphs were all in joined up writing and each word was at an angle. His pages looked like they came from someone interesting. Mine just looked like they came from a bog standard 11 year old kid.
I remember clearly deciding to write an assignment in this new style – with my new found flair. The words were all at a painful angle across the page. It took me ages to finish because I was more interested in how it looked than what was written. I put my name on it and handed it in. I felt satisfied and liberated. My new, cooler, more angular identity was emerging.
When the teacher handed our marked papers back, he stopped when he reached me. I got a poor mark. He was disappointed with me, he said. And what on earth was wrong my handwriting? He could barely read it.
I couldn’t hide my blushes as I mumbled some sort of response. I reverted back to myself the very next class.
Art is subjective. But to my mind, as an artist the price you place on a piece of art is reliant on three major drivers – marketing, reputation and purpose.
Marketing – this boils down to the things that can be defined and measured and tracked. Who is the piece of art aimed at? What is the minimum viable audience? Who is expecting your message as something anticipated, personal and relevant? The clearer this is in your head as an artist, the easier it is to price your work.
Reputation – this is linked to perseverance and track record. The idea of showing up and consistently shipping what you say you will ship is important when you need to put a price on your work. With each promise you keep, your reputation is solidified and this gains you a most valuable form of currency in the internet age – attention. Wit attention comes pricing power.
Purpose – Are you trying to change the culture, and by how much? A couple of examples run through my head:
Your purpose may be not ambitious enough – As an artist, you are well known as a ‘reproducer of the masters’. All you ever do with your art skills is reproduce Van Gogh paintings for tourists to buy as cheap mementos. In order to remain relevant to your chosen market (and it is a choice) you have to keep on churning out the sunflowers and keep the pricing at a level defined by the going rate for copies of others’ paintings. It’s not changing the culture, it might make you a living, but the prices remain low and the labor required very high. In essence you are a factory selling a commodity.
Your purpose may be too ambitious – a performance artist wants to rid the world of human trafficking through the clarity and poignancy of her message. Dancing and reciting her viscous poetry on the street corner, she ends up shouting at passers by who do not give her much attention or currency. Her stated purpose was too broad and difficult to achieve. Her market is not refined enough. Her price bottoms out.
I’m sure I chose my website name, “Chimpwithcans”, for a reason. I just can’t think of it right now! Let’s try and figure it out.
Chimps are like us. We are like chimps. We evolved differently from similar ancestors, but our primal make-up (and behaviour) is little different. For example, chimps not only laugh like us, but also smile in silence; they are gourmands, they play, they are aware of the fact that they think and can distinguish between fair and unfair, as well as cultivating friendship.
Despite these similarities, the juxtaposition of a chimp with headphones on is intriguing to me. Can you imagine the infusion of culture, technology and art into the chimps brain through those cans? I like to imagine what the chimpanzee is listening to.
Music appeals to something very base and deep within our human psyches, and sometimes I fantasise that given a couple thousand years of evolution a chimp might get music the same way we do. Imagine how much better we would understand primates if we could dance with them?
Chimpwithcans (and the glorious artwork by Mr Aveling) is therefore about stripping away the complications of our culture and busy lives, and simply letting the music in to our primal core. It hints at imagination, curiosity and submission to the power of music in the ears. It’s how I see myself when i hear a good song.
I started to draw something for my daughter for her to colour in. I thought that if I helped her with the outline she would like it and the end product, the picture, would be better when we finished. I was wrong. She got frustrated and what she really needed was guidance and encouragement, not a controlling figure.
Hanging out with children can teach us many lessons. This one is huge. Generating excitement and autonomy is WAY more valuable and productive than dictating.
I saw the error of my ways probably a step too late. I gave her the pencil and cheered her on for half of the picture. The messy, 3 year old half of the picture is a thousand times more charming than my interrupted first half of the picture.
Generating excitement is a massive skill worth practicing.
Why do you need to write a blog or to create a podcast? First off, it’s really easy to do. You just need a laptop and a mic. Second, because it lets you refine your ideas and thinking on whatever subject is at hand. And what better way to spend time than to clarify life?
Podcasting in many ways is easier than blogging, because talking is easier than writing. Conversations happen without the need to plan each word or sentence structure.
Neither of these activities will likely make you rich, so don’t do it for that reason.
Both of these activities will show you something about yourself and your ability to create and to stick with a discipline. Do it for that.