Ready for the Small Time

August has truly been a summer travel extravaganza for the Public family. During the weeks prior to our camping in the New Mexico mountains we spent 5 days each in Austin and Tulsa. Then after one day of recovery from New Mexico (and Carlsbad Caverns, which was beautiful both underground in the caves and on top of the mesa looking out over a hundred miles of desert disrupted by the sudden majesty of the Guadalupe Mountains) the four of us headed to DFW airport for our final summer trip to Salt Lake City. Salt Lake in the summer is so absurdly beautiful that it exists outside of my personal conception of time and space. Living as I have in Oklahoma, Texas, and southern Nevada, I cannot conceive of summer as being anything but mostly miserable outside. So, while our yard in Garland now has a fault-line of dry earth stretching across it, baked by intense heat and drought, the yards here in Utah are lush and dewy, water flowing copiously through the city’s network of streams and channels. It’s way refreshing.

On the plane heading out here, I opted out of sliding my credit card for $6 worth of Direct TV programming, but I did get to watch a handful of ads promoting the upcoming fall season of mostly reality programming. The X Factor and one of those Top Chef type shows both caught my attention. The bevy of talent-seeking programming is a sign of the times, obviously. The internet and our growing capacity for narcissism are part of this trend in which many of us can seek, if we choose to, our fame and fortune and vindicate our latent certainty that each of us has something special to offer the world. I am totally part of this trend.

However, I don’t want to be the next Kelly Clarkson or celebrity chef. My ego craves recognition, but my quality of life requires that I spend much of my time with loved ones, or reading, or making stuff. To be a superstar you have to make sacrifices; to make millions demands more than I’m willing to give. But, I do want to use the contemporary media landscape to transform myself into a ministar. To hell with megastardom: I’m aiming for a middle-class living here.

For me, choosing to be a visual artist is about working hard to make up new content all the time, to find an audience for it, and to make enough money that I don’t have to get a day job. It’s a lifestyle about maximizing work time, because the work is its own reward. So, if I can create interesting content and make it available in different formats for the enjoyment, edification, and purchase of a relatively small number of people in my local and internet communities, and I can pay my bills, then I have a the life I want.

The internet has the potential to redistribute stardom into a scenario in which the are many more of us making a far more reasonable amount of money. I love Gaga, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and a lot of other arena acts that have monopolized stardom in recent decades; I want those crazy fame-seekers to continue to blow our minds and make piles of cash. There is no Gaga without a heavy revenue stream to support the operation. On the other hand, and on the other end of the income spectrum, I’m eager to take my place among the broad, diverse scene of cultural acts who pull in an annual haul somewhere in the mid-five-figures. This would constitute a huge success for me and my endeavor.

The X Factor talent series, and those like it, represents one phase of the transition toward everyone having the opportunity to be famous entertainers. What people like me are shooting for is the next extension of that trend, toward a cultural landscape in which thousands of small acts work hard to make their art and to build their audience so we can make are modest living doing what we love.

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