The Fight for Passion in a World Steeped in the Mediocre

The Fight for Passion in a World Steeped in the Mediocre

By Don Hall

Preamble

I am a very difficult person to partner with artistically.

Those who have worked with me know this. I am ridiculously entrenched in my own perception of artistic compromise and, even in collaborative efforts, I believe in having an incredibly high bar for excellence in the work. That's the description that flatters me the most. Less flattering is that I am an intentional Contrarian Asshole hell bent on reinventing the wheel every single time. Less narcissistic is that more people have thrown their hands up working with me and walked away from my almost manic need to sabotage any potential commercial success because right in the forefront of my cerebrum is the stencil EXCELLENCE is more vital than POPULARITY.

It is the source of my own perspective on art and it is also the reason I will never be famous or wealthy for creating art (aside from the fact that I believe if pursuit of the ephemeral is your goal, chasing fame and money is a vacuous and sadly typical goal that is both empty and illusory).

Rather than How or What, the operative question in determining the thing — the "thing" being defined as that creative endeavor you spend time to craft whether it is art or commerce — is Why.

Mediocrity: Gordon Ramsay and The Transformers

Knowing why you do these things cuts to the heart of intent. In the crafting of artistic expression, the tendency to justify our work by its popularity or lack therein is commonplace. It's sadly typical to meet someone who has great talent combined with the drive to use that talent to become famous and rich. It is also sadly typical to meet that tortured soul who has talent but no hustle for the business languish in obscurity.

Regardless of the commercial success or failure of a work of art (or body of work), I'd argue that the Why of creation is far more important in determining the intrinsic substance of the Thing than any amount of talent or craft, more important than any degree of fame or material gain. The intent is paramount. And if the intent — if the Why — is on money or fame or material success or status? The only guaranteed outcome is mediocrity.

Mediocrity isn't defined by production value or ticket price or venue. Mediocrity is defined by the ideas behind the creation of the art. It is framed by the Why. You can spend a shitload of money on marketing and costumes and a really nice proscenium theater but if your motivation to create the work is focused on appealing to everyone, the hill you must climb to be exceptional (or even remotely interesting) is gonna be too daunting.

Watching old episodes of Kitchen Nightmares on Hulu (I'm a Gordon Ramsay junkie) and the one constant is that these people invite him into their restaurants with the expectation that what they are doing is perfect but no one knows about it and Ramsay's fame will jumpstart their already perfect business. The delusion is that each restaurateur is doing a bang up job and that the only thing in their way to fortune is some good old fashioned marketing and maybe some nicer wallpaper. 

What ultimately comes out of the narrative is that each restaurant owner is thinking about profits over food. Bodies rather than quality of experience. And it's true that about 60 percent of the restaurants Ramsay saves go under inside of a year later. My guess is that the realization that creating a truly interesting product is really hard and mediocrity is just easier.

Mediocre art is easier to dismiss. It is easily replaceable. Think back: can you actually remember all of the plot details of any Transformers movie? Can you sing any single Justin Bieber song? 

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Beliefs

We are sold on the idea of mediocrity from the first days. We give attendance awards to children. We push them to regurgitate facts (and most often facts concerning history that exclude all but the whitest, landownerist information). We push each child to accept conformity and obedience to authority as virtues, and that meeting Minimum Basic Standards is good enough. We buy them McDonald's as rewards and train them to see material things as the highest form of happiness.

Mediocrity is the acceptance of doing just enough to get away with it without rigorous interrogation of value. And by placing monetary value over experiential value, we reinforce the idea that success artistically is defined primarily by commerce and popularity.

The pursuit of Perfection is just as pointless as the Pursuit of Fame and Fortune. Perfectionists rarely find joy in the act of creation and instead let the Ouroboros of Desire for Perfection eat the tail of Constant Dissatisfaction. The results are generally that there is much industry with no work to show for it because the work is never ready.

Manifesto: Art for Art's Sake

The sweet spot resides in the Why when the passion for the creation is motivated by the passion for the completed work without an outside factor coming in to play. 

I bake a cake and can declare it is a good cake because I tasted it and it was good. If seven other people taste my cake and are nonplussed, it is still a good cake but it seems my taste is not in keeping with the popular opinion. 

You bake a cake and in spite of how you feel about it, the cake is only deemed a good cake if those seven other tasters pass favorable judgment on it. It's only good if each of the seven buy a cake from you. 

Yes, we are, all of us, whores selling our most precious parts and skills to the highest bidder, sucking cocks in alleyways desperately hoping that Richard Gere will one day buy us a fucking red sequined dress. Dancing monkeys scrambling for a peanut, the System we live in is rigged to favor those who know how to make a buck rather than those who can create things that edify, educate and inspire ideas.

With that in mind:

  1. Create art for the sake of creation. Write the book you would want to read. Sculpt the figure that captures your mind's eye. Take the photograph that inspires you. Write the poem that flays your flesh. Dance from the electric heart within you. Anything less than this is a pander. Anything less than this is a product. Anything less than this and you might as well be selling zit cream or yogurt.
  2. Ignore authority. Better yet, create art that defies authority, that spits in the face of the System that dictates monetary value and popularity over purity of intent and authenticity of idea.
  3. Work hard to make a living, to feed yourself, to pay your rent but work harder to create that which feeds your soul.
  4. If it's never been done before, it's better than the tried and true.
  5. Surprise yourself. Shock your own mundane sensibilities. Push beyond what you think is acceptable or in good taste or part of a genre. Scare the shit out of your parents and teachers. Art is a sledgehammer that destroys the convenient trappings of the now and a glue that pieces the broken shards together to form the new.
  6. Learn the rules so that you can break them in ways unheard of.
  7. Art is the Magna Carta written on a roll of toilet paper — seek not permanence of the art but permanence of the ideas behind it.
  8. It doesn't matter if you are right as long as you are always moving.
  9. Never take yourself seriously. Remember, you are completely expendable, unimportant and your life span is a drop of water in the ocean. Take your creation seriously — the impact of art can change the world.
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