For many years, great artists have depended for their flourishing upon the generous patronage of…blah, blah, blah, Leonardo. Give it a rest with the Renaissance Defence. Yes. Of course. We know: all art demands material support for its creation and survival. In this way, it is much like every single part of human life.
Art does not simply occur. No matter how transcendental its intention, the expressive work is produced in the muck of the real. The real, as we know well at Daily Review, is governed by profit. This is not, as many would have it, a natural form of existence. I mean, jeez. If you want to get into this whole “competition for profit as evolution” thing—which I really don’t, I’ve got a new podcast to hate—consider the figure of Bill Gates. Is this the Darwinian Giant fated by nature to dominate all other organisms? Or, is he just some guy who got so lucky with copyright law he was able to park an unexceptional operating system anywhere he pleased? Gates exceptional wealth is as natural as my eyelash colour. (Buxom Midnight.)
Survival of the fittest. Naff off. Do evolutionary biologists even believe this of a natural world clearly formed and changed by extraordinary acts of interdependence? Even if they do, who cares? My point is: there are plenty of very “fit” artistes unable to survive by profit alone. Our globalised market, as employees of Bill Gates’ investment company would tell you after a few wines, does not reward excellence. Supply something great and create great market demand? Seriously. That just doesn’t happen.
How tough must an artist, a writer or any sort of person be not to give themselves over entirely to compromise?
Doesn’t happen with a fizzy drink, won’t happen with an expressive work. Coca Cola will piss in the fizzy drink until it is no longer potable. The work is unlikely to be appreciated or even made in our era unless funded by a patron or a diehard who embrace risk or a private firm fixated by avoiding it.
All of which is to say, artists need money, just as arts review publications do. The acquisition of that money is not a simple matter. A job robs an artist of time. A private firm robs an artist of freedom. Creating “an innovative revenue stream” may rob an artist of the will to live. As for state grants. I’m all for them. But. Sheesh. State funding bodies do seem to form quite particular aesthetics.
So, blah, and, indeed, blah. What I want to say is: art, like all life, is interdependence. No one much gets to make what they want and no one at all produces in isolation. Compromise is inherent not just in art, but in every act of human labour as it is currently organised. But. FUCK ME. Isn’t there a limit, Henry Rollins?
If you’ve not heard of the bloke, here’s a crib: he’s about my age and became initially known as the person who shouted into a microphone to the accompaniment of US punk rock band, Black Flag. As a teenager quite fond of anything that appeared to advocate for the demolition of the state etc, I quite liked Black Flag. I was less fond of Rollins Band, the bloke’s next project, as (a) calling a band after oneself struck me as unseemly and (b) I was by then attending university and so became suspicious that Hank had been reading and interpreting Nietzsche in the worst possible way.
What next, though, for Hank? How can he, an artist whose chief work has been his persona, ever make anything of value ever again?
Henry then began to perform “spoken word”, which is the more brash cousin of “gentle comedy”. I.e. stand-up which is not that funny. A lot of white people I knew liked it. I was v pretentious, so didn’t. Also, I found it a bit hostile to my gender. Maybe my memory is biased, as I understand the man once devoted an entire “spoken word” show to describing my person, both physical and moral, unfavourably. This is what I have been told.
Still. You know. Cop it sweet, Razer. If the guy saw me as a powerful enemy of something-or-other, I have no objection to his public expression of this. I do imagine that the audience were bored. Still. Good on him for his anger. I am also an angry person wont to declare curious loathing in public spaces, even now in my advanced midlife.
But. Would I do it if sponsored by the Mercedes-Benz X-Class? Fuck, no. I mean, sure, it comes with halogen headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and a covert promise of cure for erectile dysfunction, a widespread problem for persons of our age. But, seriously? The television show and the podcast and the web presence of Rollins the car salesman might make him some sweet cash. It may be his view, and the view of others, that the interviews he conducts on the topic of “toughness” (get this: even women can be tough) is in itself good work. Actually, I will say I enjoyed the conversation with Briggs. But, I enjoy any conversation with Briggs (with Rollins in picture above). The man is not just a fine musician, but a funny and insightful fucker.
Let’s even say that this experiment has produced a good work. What next, though, for Hank? How can he, an artist whose chief work has been his persona, ever make anything of value ever again? There are, surely, those compromises in art that can devastate the artist.
The subjects of the podcast, which I presume will be the stuff of the television program, are quite interesting people. And, the idea that “toughness” can be defined differently is okay. I’d say that a musclebound former fan of the bad Nietzsche may not be the ideal person to explore this and maybe the luxury cab of a turbo-diesel vehicle made in a nation whose devotion, inter alia, to its automotive industry put Greece in the toilet of debt forever is not really that apt.
Tell me about your hardship, as we recline together in leather and enjoy the infotainment tablet display made possible by the monstrous Merkel and her surplus-sucking nation-state.
Fuck, Henry. I mean, there’s a limit. I don’t care if Nietzsche appears to be telling you that there’s not, Übermensch. It’s not that I am saying that your choice to actually, in your own voice, recommend a 50K vehicle to persons in a nation of mortgage stress and stagnant wage is morally wobbly. Or, that cheering for emissions is plain wrong. Or that merging heartbreak and real life struggle with the idea of a car is a corruption of what it means to be fucking human, you capitalist serf.
It’s you I’m worried for.
Look. If you need money, there’s ways to find it that don’t detonate your hard-won persona. Let me tell you some secrets. I once sold low-doc loans to poor people in a call-centre. (Well, I was unsuccessful and got the sack. Still.) I have written copy for beauty product discount vouchers, right up until the point I got that “skin lightening” job. Once, I attended a “webinar”. I believe this modern term is a portmanteau of “bin” and “God. Help me. I’ve fallen into life’s latrine.” (Perhaps not all webinars require participants to fall first into a fetid pit of despair and next into the PayPal account of some perky American who promises to (a) “inspire content monetization’ and (b) “fuel the journey of your brand”, but this one did.)
I mean, obviously, no one is asking me to flog their luxury ute. But, once, someone did ask me to promote a financial services product on my Twitter account. I’m a fucking classical Marxist living under capitalism, Henry. That’s my “brand”. Even if I had desperately needed the money (which I did) I would have no future means of making money, because I would appear not just as someone who compromises in labour—we all do that—but as nothing but a compromise.
Henry. We could talk about toughness, you and me. I have a podcast, too. I have no sponsor and I cannot pay you. But we could nut this thing out, right? How tough must an artist, a writer or any sort of person be not to give themselves over entirely to compromise?