Friday, September 30, 2011

This Razor's Edge


(video contains language)

"Art is Dead" is my favorite Bo Burnham song by far, and it always has been since the first time I heard it. It's a song that Bo refers to as being both "a confession and an apology," which is "honest, not sarcastic" (from the description on YouTube.) It's definitely a humbling slap in the face for anyone who considers himself or herself an "artist." It forces us to look deep down and question our motives for being an artist. Are we trying to send a message? Are we just trying to make people laugh and cry and whatever else to make their day better, more interesting, or more meaningful? Or is it as simple as just saying "I want attention" and trying to make ourselves look more important or deep? Most artists want success. Comics, actors, visual artists, graphic artists, special effects artists... But with success comes art for the sake of a check or for the sake of attention and not for the sake of art itself or a message. Is it right? Is it a legitimate way to make a living? Are we just over-inflating ourselves and our ego? When we reach success, it's important to remember why we love what we do, to remember that we are completely undeserving of what we get in return for our talents in the face of the fact that there are so many people out there suffering or not using their talents.

One example could be this blog.

It started out as a project my senior year of high school for a World Literature class. We were to use our blogs as a way to discover how to present yourself on the internet and how to find your voice as a writer. Those of us who really had something to say or who were able to dive in and find a way to market it to others excelled in the project and outside of it. Lindsey Washall's blog Deliciously Awkward managed to get into a textbook for crying out loud. My blog started getting views from most of my friends and a lot of people from around my school. People of all grades. Whether or not you'd consider blogging to be an "art," the point is that I created something that is fueled by my own creativity so that I can write more and entertain others and send a message. The message varies with each post, but there's always something there. Some posts have been fueled only by the message ("Brainwashing," "Don't Forget to Be Awesome," "Angry Blog," for example,) and the only reason I care about their views is because I wanted people to learn something or get something out of them. They're important. When I wrote the blog about the Fact Sphere, I was just trying to create a resource for myself and other people out there who enjoyed the quotes and wanted them written down.

That's when things exploded. I rake in well over a thousand views a month now, and my blog is connected to so many other sites out there on the internet. Now when I write a blog, I find myself wishing all my more important posts could be as successful, and sometimes it's tempting to leech off the big news like Portal 2 or general Nerdfighting or Team Fortress 2 being free to play. It's hard not to write for views once you realize people are here now. I want more views. Everyone does, and it's hard to fight. I like the attention. It's a deep and dirty truth. It's just a trait that the vast majority of us artists have. Our thoughts and daydreams are often about ourselves. Or at least mine are. I have my friends or family in my thoughts and my daydreams, but they are always either about really interesting or odd things suddenly happening in my normal life or about all the "bigger questions" people talk about so much.  It's hard to admit, but I have trouble taking a backseat (or rather being less than equal) to other people in my own mind. I have no problem with it in real life, but inside I don't like to be just ignored. Sure I may want attention to spread a message or contribute to something or to do other good with it, but it's still wanting attention.

It feels childish to be like this sometimes. It makes me feel like I need to be dependent on other people to survive. Luckily, I have very loving family, girlfriend, and friends. If I really need something, someone will always be there for me. But sometimes I feel like I can't mature because of who I am. It's kind of a stupid irrational thought sometimes, but it's an important question to ask. And hopefully asking that question is what keeps me maturing. Maybe everyone else sees it and sometimes I can't.

Einstein apparently once said that the work of artists is more important than his own. We're taught that Greek drama was incredibly important to their culture. People have always looked to artists to tell them stories, to entertain them, and to make them feel something. It can't be denied that artists are important to society as a whole. It doesn't feel like we should be allowed to be, though. Especially if the ultimate goal for us isn't to make something beautiful, but to get hits on a website or make money. Most people outside of art regard it as being important, but often artists who have asked themselves the questions Bo has conclude that they are undeserving or unimportant. Andy Warhol apparently said "An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have." It's a big question to ask, and it's dizzying.

For once, an insightful YouTube comment.

If we sell out, we lose the art, but if we accept success knowing we don't deserve it and keep producing for a reason, we are honest artists. That is what I think Bo means, and that's what helps me to sleep at night, too. I say with all the sincerity I have that I thank you for reading or continuing to read, and thanks for bearing with me through this unorganized stream of consciousness. I hope you got something out of it.


  1. Van Gogh. I think sold one piece during his life?
    And look at how many he had actually produced that were paid no attention... just kept at it. He was working and expressing for much more than personal gain.

  2. Someone's got to do it:
    “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”
    S. Plath

    And what does money have to do with anything?
    "Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration;
    the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which humanity casts upon
    the present; the words which express what they understand not;
    The trumpets which sign to battle, and feel not what they inspire;
    the influence which is moved not but moves.Poets are
    the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

  3. I really enjoyed this post Johnny! I'm glad to see that you're going to be keeping up with you blog too... and thanks for the reference!