Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On the Artist's Competition - It's Later Than You Think!

Nathaniel in Autumn

I've been enjoying reading the blog Createquity, written by Ian David Moss, a former Manager of Development and a recent graduate of the Yale School of Management.

In a recent post he wrote of the problems defining the new catch word "sustainability." In one section of this essay, Moss focuses on the issue of how the shrinking number of arts consumers parallels an enormous growth of people seeking professional careers in the arts. Below is a paragraph that introduced me to a concept I hadn't really considered:

In the past, this problem was “solved” (avoided, really) thanks to severe restrictions on who could become a successful artist. A powerful vise of racism, sexism, classism, and tightly controlled distribution channels conspired to dramatically narrow the pool of potential artists, meaning that competition was much lighter than it might otherwise have been. Markets were constricted as well, so indeed an artist’s life has never been easy. The difference, though, is
that whereas semi-successful artists in the past disappeared into poverty and obscurity, today’s artists must compete, often directly, with all those who have gone before. The artist of the past's claim to a share of attention, and therefore money, is no less legitimate than that of today’s emerging artist, and so the pie gets divided up among more recipients than ever before.

The way I read it is this:

When Arthur Miller was breaking onto the scene, he had to compete with his immediate contemporaries: Norman Rosten, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, etc.

However, he also had to compete with Euripides, Chekhov, Strindberg, Ibsen and Shakespeare.

Now, let's jump to the 1970's and 80's when Sam Shephard and David Mamet are competing against each other and, (just like Miller,) with Chekhov, Shakespeare and crew. However, Glengarry Glen Ross and Buried Child are also now competing with Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire and The Children's Hour.

In the year, say, 2030, writers trying to make a career in the theater will face their own contemporaries as well as Shephard, Mamet, Frayn and Kushner.

But the most interesting thing to me is the point Moss makes at the end there: Artists may find themselves competing with a writer who didn't enjoy large commercial success. In fact, a competitor may emerge who had dwelled in relative obscurity during his or her lifetime.

Right now, every poet trying to earn a living must not only battle Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost for shelf space, but also endure sharp elbows from Emily Dickinson.

Good luck out there, the jungle is a lot bigger than we think!

(As a note: This all is probably very obvious to most of my readers, so be gentle on me as the light dawns on Marblehead. )


Ian Thal said...

Thanks for reminding me! Really made my day!

Art said...

Sorry, Ian,

I meant this in the most positive way! :)

Ian Thal said...

As everyone knows, the only good playwright is a dead playwright, preferably one whose estate no longer collects royalties!