Monday, October 15, 2012

Starving artists, fame and luck

"Grub", penned by Elise Blackwell, is the novel that I recently finished reading. It is a very engrossing and touching tale of struggling writers - wannabe celebrity authors and the pure artists who would rather die in obscurity and penury than write something below their dignity to just pander to the masses.

Intertwined in all this is, of course, their love lives. However, the novel also explores the publishing business, the complicated mindset of editors and publishers and how their ideas, preferences and tastes could literally make or break a budding writer.

Many people have said that the Internet is one of the most democratic media ever. Just take a case of this blog that you are just reading. I am able to air my thoughts freely for free, without any fear of censure or even having a career as a writer. I am happy that I can inform and entertain a few of you who care to set aside the time to read my rants and reflections. For that, I am truly thankful.

Some people even publish books online. It is a risk in some ways because, I feel:

1. Unless you have a well-established readership and some sort of credibility online, your material could get plagiarized and no one would notice. I am not sure how this works under the Creative Commons License and such.

Sharing general ideas on a subject while linking to other relevant websites, blogs and sources is one thing. Writing an original piece of fiction is quite another.

2. Money - How does one market something online? Some people have posted free content online and then requested donations, if their readers are willing and able. Sometimes, they release books chapter by chapter and all a reader has to do is pay online with a credit/debit card and download the content.

Check out for an example.

Online pricing can be far less than that for a paperback or hardback as publishing costs on paper and the distribution fee, not to mention, the salary overheads of those who work in publishing, are all added to the cost of the book.

Even with that, you have to find a way to make your work visible to people online. Not all good writers would be good marketers.

Imagine the number of good writers who never found a publisher for their initial work, got discouraged and just gave up on their dreams of becoming a published author. Then, reality bites in the form of rent/mortgage to pay, families to feed and clothes to wear. Some people can manage a day job and continue to toil away at their passions on the side.

However, many people, particularly those who have entered the married-with-kids phase (even without kids has its complications), time is a real constraint. Commuting to and from work, a full time job, housework or cooking in the evenings, socializing and outings on the weekends, etc. take up almost all of one's energy and time. And, if you happen to have a soft spot for your TV or the vast spider trap known as the World Wide Web, you probably have little or no time left for hobbies.
Days roll into weeks, weeks into months and you wonder, "Is it the end of summer already?" Maybe you look at a photo album that is just two or three years old and think of how much time has flown by.

Maybe that is the reason many people don't "do what they love". Despite the mantra circulating on the Internet and in popular culture, most cannot find the courage to quit a lifestyle of security and take a giant leap into the unknown, especially if they have dependents. You have to build up a foundation first before you make your hobby into a monetary pursuit, whether it means taking acting or piano classes on weekends, writing late in the evening or volunteering at a charity you always wanted to work for full time.

I have realized this all the more as I grow older, with all the constraints of full time employment, social life and maintaining the bare minimum of domesticity.

One of my favorite bloggers, the author of the Unlost, has a lovely post on this subject. Do check it out.


The book also raised the question of sticking to the high road of art for art's sake in a pure, unselfish way, expressing the creator's sentiments in their unvarnished form that will probably be appreciated only by a select few, versus trying to appeal to the masses, playing to the gallery. There is the middle ground where the artist tries to keep his/her soul intact while trying to charm the audience.

Most forms of popular entertainment try to walk this tightrope. Take Hollywood for example. While the industry makes movies such as the "Mission Impossible" and "American Pie" series, it also churns out numerous romantic comedies known condescendingly as chick-flicks. Then there are the truly serious and arty movies, sometimes made by studios and sometimes by independent film makers, which are not exactly mega crowd pullers. The Oscars are often awarded to movies and roles that the common public doesn't watch until the awards are announced or in the season preceding them.

"Finding Neverland", "The Reader", "The Good Shepherd", "Becoming Jane", "Atonement" and "A Dangerous Method" are some of the movies that I have seen in the last few years, which had both solid performances and stellar storytelling. Some of them probably were not as widely seen during a theatrical release as the Superman, Spiderman, Batman kind of movies.

There are some movies that touch one's heart and make it sing and still manage to garner both public adulation and critical acclaim. "Titanic", "Harry Potter" and "The Dark Knight" are some such films, in my opinion.

The same applies to other creative fields such as writing or music.

There is also an element of snobbery that comes with the territory. The reader who devours classics and discusses Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare will probably never be caught dead with a (gasp)"chick-flick". Heck, even "Pride and Prejudice" may be below his standards.
On the other hand, a person who loves to read anything and everything can be intimidated by the prose of Shakespeare or Thomas Hardy.

Some listeners may think of rap, hip-hop and even many pop songs to be populist and not worth their highly refined ears, confining themselves to classical and certain rock bands only. (I don't know of such types personally but I am guessing that it is a fair statement, considering the number of folks who tout the virtues of art films over mainstream cinema).

There is a fine line between tasteful discernment and pure snobbery.

I think I have decided to go with whatever touches my heart. There are popular films, books and songs that just flit by, leaving no lasting memory or making you vibrate with any sort of emotion other than temporary pleasure. Some popular entertainment may actually leave you with a headache and deep regret over hours of wasted time:).
However, there are several simple works of art that are composed with common words, sounds and mundane, everyday tidbits that truly get to your soul. Many of these are the works of lesser known artists. Popular movies and songs often lift you up out of a funk and look at the lighter, brighter side of life.
It is also quite possible that, sometimes, one just does not "get" a classic. Case in point - try reading Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". It is not everyone's cup of tea regardless of its literary merits.
For those who are familiar with Indian classical music, try listening to the notes of a Carnatic or Hindustani 'raga' (for my non-Indian readers, Carnatic and Hindustani are the two streams of Indian classical music, a 'raga' is a set of musical notes that can be used in different permutations to create tunes that belong to the same family). If you haven't developed a taste for classical music, you may probably switch to your iPod playlist, frantically searching for the top hits.

I myself face this tightrope as a blogger. If you have been following this blog for some time, you must have noticed that this is not devoted to any particular theme.


Another book based on the role of chance/luck/fate in success is Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan". No, this has nothing to do with the movie for which Natalie Portman won the Oscar. It is an excellent film, no doubt, but this book is about highly improbable events that leave a lasting impact on society.
Such events cannot be predicted. He talks about two areas, Mediocristan and Extremistan. Art, literature, scientific research all fall under Extremistan where one book or work that gets the right publicity at the right time, can eclipse many other equally good works. These are professions that have a kind of "winner-takes-all" setup though I personally believe that the term "winner" should not be strictly restricted to winners of prizes, be it the Nobel or Grammy or Oscar.

Initial publicity can lead to more work.  If the subsequent work is also acclaimed, the artist's reputation further solidifies, thus completing a virtuous cycle.

The only thing an artist can do, just like anyone else anywhere, is just focus on his/her work and not worry about the outcomes. As it is said in the Bhagavad Gita (rough translation), one of the holiest books of the Hindus,"You do not have the right to the fruits of your labor" (see Wikipedia for more results).

And that is easier said than done.


Note:  All movie links point to and book links point to and the rest to
Many thanks to all these web sites.



1 comment:

Astro Guru Vinod ji said...

Wonderful prediction share about astrology matching. Horoscope Matching is a process which has been practiced since thousands of years in order to check the compatibility of relation between a boy and a girl for the purpose of marriage or for the purpose of long lasting love relations.
Free Horoscope Matching