Same is true of all entertainment mediums. There are films that are genre defying, and there are those that downright ridiculous, yet they rake in those almighty dollars without even trying. In a world that consumes entertainment with a voracious appetite, the right formula for success is a well sought out grail of holiness. There are empires built upon formula, but there are also avenues of respect lavished on those who can create the substance of art. One easy nominator is the question of money.
When does art "sell out"? Basically the idea is anytime artistic integrity is exchanged for money, then the soul is spent. But, isn't success dependent on making a lot of money in show business? Everything costs money, right? Good question. It was said of Shakespeare that he never really made a great deal of money in his lifetime. Fame and renown for certain, but money was not the goal of Shakespeare's art, at least from this side of history it doesn't seem to have been. In Shakespeare's time, a superstar status just didn't really exist. The artists of his time, including himself, were after fame, and not fortune. It was the recognition that they were creating immortal art that held a large audience spellbound, that proved enough to spur their lives as artists. Centuries later, we are still pouring over Shakespeare's sonnets and plays, digging deep into the richness of his art, and making emotional discoveries.
It would be great if all of art and culture were to be memorable over centuries of time, but that's not the case! How does one create work that generations of people will discover and love? How does one create work that is forgotten almost instantly? It's interesting if you really think about it.
The world of fashion bases itself on the principle of constantly re-issuing the "new". Fashion re-invents itself all the time, but as long as it's "new" to the audience, the excitement begins, and the image takes off, blazing down a runway, and onto the shoulders and hips of people who want it. Our nakedness is consistent, it's the constant flux of style that we identify more closely with. We allow ourselves to be re-invented, or we risk falling behind the line. It's something we have to be conscious of.
"Underground" is really just a term for the substance something has before the masses consume the newness, until it's commonplace. It's like when that new club opens and becomes the hot spot, before "everyone" hears about it, and it becomes trampled and overrated. And why does that happen? To put it rudely, fashionably astute people are constantly looking for the newest turn in the tide. The fashionably inept arrive too late to the scene, and they ruin it by beating it to death. Underground is a laboratory for the percolating dream, and above ground is where consumerism threatens to derail the train. Is money strangling art? What do you think?
We have cycled through periods of exploding goodness, and we have tumbled through periods of strange ways. We've had the Disco era, and we've had the Motown era. We've had the Renaissance, and we've had the Dark Ages. We've had John Steinbeck write a bestseller, and we've had Snooki from Jersey Shore write a bestseller. We've had Galileo condemned for seeking truth, and we've had Einstein glorified for it. We just can't make up our minds. We like the fullness and richness of genius, and we like the shallow hollowness of stupidity. We'll throw ourselves at either one.
So, psychologically speaking, what is different about underground art apart from above-ground infamy? Let's use the metaphor of an oak tree. While the seed is underground, not a lot of things notice it. There is water there, and soil, and all the seedling needs is to sprout and move upwards. It hatches from the seed husk and stretches towards that spotlight of the sun that all living things covet. We like to call new artists "groundbreaking", or "breaking new ground". So, the oak tree sprout breaks the ground and extends it's leaves in it's new environment. This new environment says a lot about the oak tree's success. If it starts in a forest, it just has to stay out of sight of the animals that will munch it. However, if it tries to grow in the crack of the city sidewalk, it's survival chances are slim. If it succeeds, it will grow larger, until it's noticeable, and then the birds may come and build nests and live on it. Once the tree gets high enough though, all you will see is the trunk. The birds that live on the tree will be up so high, that nobody can see them anymore. They are inaccessible. The trunk is the thing you see, and then it's one of many trunks in the forest. What we like to see most is the growing tree, that symbol of progress that's visible. Most of us in life are not giant trees. We're not celebrities that reside in mansions in gated communities who have a spokesperson and a lawyer. We like to see someone akin to us, that has extraordinary talent, who is noticeable, and whose fame is spreading. We tend to like the youthful energy of growth because the established finds it's niche and stays there. The hungry underground is hustling to pay the bills, and that energy is fascinating to witness.
There are things for whom the time has come, there are things whose time is coming, and others whose time has gone. It's the way things are. A lot of above ground art has become saturated with money and overexposure, and now fails to excite. There is a whole lot of art out there that is processed product, marketed to consumers, that is disposable afterwards. It lacks heart, and it lacks the drive, and starry-eyed idealism of an artist with their head in a cloud. Underneath it, though, is a rising plateau of entrepreneurial talent that produces on it's own, bypassing the established ways, and bringing it's art to the audience for the pure enjoyment of creation. If it's anything this economic downturn has to teach, it's that doing things for money's sake only, is to build a sand castle as the tide comes in. If you can't swim, don't get in the water. A great deal of the art, music, technology, fashion, and literature of the past decade is tied to a material era who's time is passing. We are now breaking the ground of new growth in the coming year. As those giant trees wither and fall to the earth, are you one of the sprigs coming up to take their place?
As this is my last article for 2011, I want to wish everyone a great year's end, and a happy new year! 2012 will be very different, and I'm looking to see what you all will do with it...have fun, everyone!!!