I just watched an excellent documentary on the folk singer Ron Sexsmith at the Vancouver International Film Festival: LOVE SHINES by Paperny films. Putting aside the fact that you might never have heard of him and might like or not the music or even the style of music Ron Sexsmith is making ( even though I must admit I am starting to develop a tiny bit of an obsession with his music after watching the movie), this documentary is raising interesting questions of interest for anyone working in a creative field about talent, fame and commercial success.
To make a long story short, Ron Sexsmith has developped a web of very dedicated fans,almost a cult, is widely admired by music professionals such as Elvis Costello, Feist,Chris Martin the singer of Coldplay… but never had commercial success. He doesn’t have much money and is starting to be depressed about his lack of recognition from a wider audience. He has been “almost famous” for several decades.
So I have been thinking about this, in relation to my experience as a visual artist.
Being commercially successful
Why, in the first place would Ron or any artist (including me)would want to be famous or popular? Is it just for the money? is it for recognition and self-esteem? Is it ambition?
Or is the lack of recognition some kind of fear of success and auto-sabotage?
If it is ambition, should then I just could try to forget it, be more Buddhist , renouncing to desire and live happy just making art for the sake of making art? And perhaps think that one day a descendant of my children would stumble upon one of my paintings and find it great and that’s enough to make me happy? Or that my children and direct entourage or even I like what I do and that should be enough.
But then, music and painting are made to be shared. What would be the point of composing music in your home and never have anybody listening to it, or painting and never have anybody looking at it? A book is made to be read, etc… Art needs to be shared or it is loosing some of its meaning. It needs feedback and an audience.
One of the issue, when looking at the documentary on Ron Sexsmith is that you realize quickly that he doesn’t have a personality that will be easy to market, he is kind of shy, although he is used after all this years of playing in public to talk to an audience, and he is not sure of himself, not the alpha male you are used to see in that business, and also as a friend was noticing, the most sexy thing about him is his name (although this is not completely relevant, and I am not completely insensitive to the charm of vulnerability).
This is a quite common issue as well, lots of creative people aren’t at ease with the marketing and commercial side of the job. It would be so nice to just stay in the studio and have somebody take care of everything else, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way these days.
But then I was thinking about lots of talented musicians and artists, some of them have been known to be very weird socially, I am remembering this movie on Mozart in particular, and of a few visual artists. So is this a problem or are people expecting the artists being on the weird side anyway? Should they still do their own marketing?
I tend to think that in history, most artists were left to focus on their craft and other people were in charge of the commercial side. In a way, we are all incomplete and it is not surprising that if you excel at something you might lack skills in other fields.
But then we are in a time where everybody is its own editor, because you are free to do it, it is very appealing to try to do art, write something and the internet allows you to put it out there without any obstacle. It is a good thing because it is very democratic, and it is a bad thing because there is a huge quantity of amateurs and a few hidden gems.