Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fame and Fortune

Around 7:30, last night I found myself in line at the neighborhood supermarket, buying a gallon of milk, carton of ice cream and a frozen “French Apple pie” from the locally famous Pink Adobe Restaurant. As you may have guessed, it was one of THOSE evenings.

As I lay my items on the conveyor belt I noticed a familiar person standing behind me in line. I turned to say hello and stopped. “Is that Val Kilmer?” I thought. I know he lives not too far away, in Pecos, and frequents one of the neighborhood restaurants (Wild Wild Wok). I looked down at what he was purchasing – “Wow, Val Kilmer, must really like Sam Adams Beer, he has a 30 pack case”, I mused to myself. I left the store and loaded my car, as I began to pull-out of the parking lot; I noticed my “Val Kilmer” getting into a beat-to-hell late-eighties Subaru. So, I suppose it wasn’t really him; but for me that guy in the grocery store was famous for five minutes, even if it wasn’t as himself.

I read something a while back that stated one cannot seriously seek both fame and fortune, simultaneously. If you want fortune – go to business school. If you want fame, go to theater school.

Now in both fields there are definitely exceptions to the rule, but those exceptions are very rare. Donald Trump is a famous businessman, partially because he is heartless and partially because he has the world’s most obscene comb-over. Famous actors are also the exception – if they are on television or in major motion pictures. How many average citizens can easily name one or any popular stage actors that have not also been featured in television or movies?

The art world is similar. Fame is mostly a regional occurrence. While an area may very often have a number of locally famous living artists in its midst, how often does their fame transcend the immediate region for international status? In my current locale, only one artist comes to mind – Judy Chicago. In Montana, it was Deborah Butterfield.

Hitting some far-off plateau of contemporary fame is only important in how it allows me to find permanent homes for my art. The process of regular sales is directly related to fame, but primarily only influences my ability to continue to paint free from the constraints of divisive influences such as being continuously broke.

I have come to believe that artists boasting regional fame have a much harder road when it comes to maintaining artistic integrity and avoiding the trap of the unending loop of repetition in their work. If one attains regional success (which is difficult enough); it is difficult to chance the butchering of relationships with established galleries or collectors for the sake of artistic exploration. Hence change style on a local stage and the artist risks alienation from their only source of income; take chances on a national or international stage and the artist is either a genius or simply “playing around with fresh ideas”.

I'm reminded of a time a few years back in St. Louis, I was standing in line behind a rather large fellow at a bookstore. The cashier loudly asked are you on tv or something? Then the distinct nasal voice of Louie Anderson whined back an affirmative reply. He then told her he was on the Family Feud to which the cashier replied, "Oh that's not it, I'd never watch that show."

Not all fame is a positive experience. Not all fame is necessarily healthy for your career. – DN


Nicholas Wineman said...

so, does this mean, North, that by majoring in Theatre (a BFA no less) that I do it for fame? :) said...

I believe so, I dare say that was a large motivator for my decision to paint full-time (without a dayjob...) - DN