A Conversation with a Fellow Writer and a Visual Artist
A writer friend of mine was visiting and the topic of hype came up. He brought up a writer’s website he had recently visited. The website pissed him off because the writer claimed to have produced mountains of various types of work, but the content on the site was lacking. When he clicked on the link for photographs there were at least twenty photos of the writer, but when he clicked on the links for poetry, stories, and plays, there was nothing there.
My sister and I agreed this was silly, but my writer friend was incensed by it. He seemed to be taking the whole thing a lot more seriously than it merited. In fact, he seemed to be taking the hype on the website personally.
Eventually my writer friend admitted he was angry because he avoided hyping himself. He was a writer who believed he needed to reach a certain level of achievement before advertising himself. This writer friend had never submitted his work to any magazines or anthologies. His one publishing credit was because someone asked him to submit.
“Didn’t you finish your MFA,” I asked. “Yes,” my writer friend said. “Then you have a whole thesis, right?” I asked. “Yeah.” “And you never submitted it anywhere?” “No.” “Why not? What are you waiting for?” I asked. “I don’t know,” my friend replied.
Further conversation revealed my friend was suffering from the “I gotta wait until I’m good enough” disease. This is not to say writers should throw their work into the fray before it has reached a certain level of craft, but there are certain writers—artists—who will never acknowledge their work as good enough. Because they are so hard on themselves, they are not reliable judges of their own work. And there are other writers, like the writer with the website, who seem to be so in love with their own hype, that they’re not even concerned about their own output.
“Artists need a balance,” my sister suggested. In this crowded artistic and financial marketplace, artists who want financial success and public acclaim must represent themselves. Yet, when artists are hawking their wares, there is a danger of hawking the artist instead of the wares. In our marketing-crazy society, there is a plethora of people who seem to be thriving on advertising alone. It is one of the dismal realities of our world, artists who are so high on their own hype, they don’t even bother making art.
My sister recalled the film The Dark Crystal. The film centered around the tension between an evil group of beings and a good group of beings. At the end of the film, the good group of beings did not vanquish over the evil group. Instead the evil and good beings joined together and morphed into one being. As this new, balanced entity, they transcended to another reality. My sister saw this as a parallel for hype and content. That, for the artist, hype alone or content alone isn’t enough. Hype alone can poison the artist, and great content alone can be impotent. Together, hype and content can create new realities, as well as cause financial and artistic freedom for the artist.
As a visual artist, my sister has long criticized the separation between art and life. She believes life is the context for the creation of art and the artist must create a space for herself in life. “What sense does it make to focus solely on the development of the work without carving out a place for the work in the world?” she asks. Our conversation on hype and content helped her sharpen her decision to use her time in graduate school not only to develop new bodies of work, but also to experiment with ways to bring her art to the marketplace. Our conversation begs the question, is finding a place for artwork equally as important as creating the work itself? It is my sister’s theory that if creating a place for the work happens side by side with the development of the work, the artist could develop both the “hype” and “content” facets of themselves, thereby creating a more balanced artistry.
The dichotomy of my writer friend’s refusal to submit his work for publication and vehemence in criticizing the “all hype” website reminded me of a passage from Pierre Bennu’s Bullshit or Fertilizer. Pierre writes:
“There are a lot of people who have the audacity to be untalented or ignorant or unimaginative, out loud and in public. We need to be the superheroes we know we are in public, too. The world is falling apart and we choose to play Clark Kent. Sitting at a desk with a cape underneath our work clothes. You are here to create balance. All you have to be is you: out loud.”
Perhaps that’s the real reason my writer friend was so angry. On a spiritual level, he may be being charged with creating balance for exactly the activity that gets under his skin. Perhaps in response to the hype website, he is being challenged to send some content out into the world.
My writer friend is not the only person to disparage hype. Hype is looked down upon in many artistic circles. Every artist is familiar with the belief that real art will be discovered. In the purest sense, the only real job of the artist is to create art. Indeed, some artists are discovered while creating art in their own little corner of the world. For artists who are not concerned with earning a living from their work, hype is not necessary at all. For other artists avoiding hype becomes the hype itself. In a recent New Yorker article, visual artist David Hammons who talks about coming from an artistic community in which “If you showed more often than three years, no one took you seriously. Some people worked and worked and never showed at all. That’s what I come from.”
There are many good reasons not to seek an audience for your work. But if your reasons for avoiding the public are wrapped up in fear and paranoia about not being good enough, staying away from the public doesn’t serve you. Hype is not the devil—but it is empty in the absence of content.
Be well. Be love(d).
Kiini Ibura Salaam
==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
: : : September 2002 – present : : :
==KIINI’S ACCEPTANCE/REJECTION O’METER==
A story I wrote for Infinite Matrix, an online science fiction publication was accepted a few weeks ago. “Ferret” should be up on www.infinitematrix.net right now. It’s a strange little story I wrote as a freewrite from the words “dub”, “ferret” and “rattling”. So that’s my first acceptance for the new acceptance/rejection meter.
Also, I have applied to grad school again this year. This time to three grad schools whose programs called to me. I put more work into the essay this time. Also rather than applying solely to write, I am also applying with the goal of teaching creative writing in a university setting. We’ll see if this new focus has a positive impact on my application.
Kiini’s Rate of Acceptance/Rejection
August 2001 – August 2002
Publications: Acceptances = 6; Rejections = 6
Grants/Fellowships: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 1
Residencies/Workshops: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 4