Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fame by the £1

Creative people, be they musicians, writers, painters, - I’ll use a generic term ‘artists’ - are usually broke. Except for the Damien Hirst’s of this world, creativity and income are often mutually exclusive.

Harvard psychologist Theresa Amabile found that a successful artists’ motivation is usually intrinsic and not driven externally by the rewards of money.
Ironically, she also found that rewards can lower creative performance levels.

Although money is welcome as it brings more freedom to create; opportunities to create and be valued for creative expression usually has precedence over making money. Artists will do anything for a chance to be artists but when there are more practitioners wanting this than people prepared to buy the end product; these chances usually mean forgoing financial rewards.

I have observed that the mechanisms by which artists come to market are very generally much the same for a novelist, musician or painter. In our capitalist economy, the market rewards a few artists handsomely whilst for the majority, money is always a concern, and especially whilst they undergo training or develop their skills as artists i.e. as students. Ambilie’s research also finds formal education seems essential in most outstanding creative achievements.

Students of creative arts are usually broke too. Tuition is no longer free and if self-supported, the time required to study usually precludes lucrative employment and by definition student artists are at the beginning of their careers so have not accumulated wealth by their art.

What basically motivates artists is recognition and the ultimate manifestation of recognition is fame and so creative people, especially those wanting to exploit notoriety such as Damien Hirst, have always been concerned with acquiring it.

Until recently, unless fortunate to be ‘discovered’ accidentally, fame was otherwise expensive to acquire deliberately and the destiny of mainstream artists was generally controlled by a smaller number of gatekeepers at institutions who influenced the sources of patronage and controlled the media by which fame was generated.

What has changed remarkably in the last 25 years has been the democratising of access to the media for artists to create fame enabled by the internet and the search engine.

Once upon a time your ability had to be recognised by the gatekeepers which were impossible for many to access. Until recently, the mainstream and alternative media was expensive. In Benjamin Franklin’s day, printing presses required considerable capital to set up and newspapers or pamphlets were cumbersome to distribute. Later, radio and television media did much to improve the speed and cost of dissemination but the gatekeepers to what the audience saw and heard were still those allied with the sources of capital.

Since the invention of the World Wide Web, the ability for an individual to broadcast to every available receiver no longer governed by a select few gatekeepers (as the Chinese Government have found out). We have undergone a “democratization of the media” where the agenda of public discourse is no longer set by Hearst or Pulitzer. Except that it is.

But whether peer-pressure to be cool, or acknowledgement that the internet enables communication of heretofore unheard of breath and depth, anyone who is creative needs to get a website. Publicity is the lifeblood of the commercial artist (and most artists or ‘creatives’ unfortunately have to consider commercial reality of a market for their work in order to eat).

One of the most critical things an artist needs is recognition, a reputation, a great number of people who know their identity and the nature of their work. Before the internet, artists needed to overcome the gatekeepers of the galleries and institutions and win over the media to inform the world of their existence but today with the internet, the artist is the media and with a web page and some effort can leverage slight recognition into fame. Britain’s ‘Super Solveig’
has shown us that a ten year old can do it.

Brighton’s Solveig.

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