Songs for the Struggling Artist


Overlooking Shit Ladies Say

In Caitlin Moran’s most recent book of essays, she proposes a five year moratorium on having opinions about women. It’s a proposition for embracing everyone’s imperfect feminism – forgiving ladies’ dumb lapses of feminist judgment. …and just celebrating their kick assery. She suggests maybe not worrying about Beyonce’s weird choice of naming her world tour the Mrs. Carter Tour and just getting in formation, ladies.

I’m super down with this idea. I mean, just because I find the idea of putting a ring on “it” problematic and objectifying doesn’t mean I can’t rock the dance floor when “Single Ladies” comes on.

I started to think more about this proposal because I found that in the midst of this post-election terror, I need Michelle Shocked’s music again. I have a strong palpable need for her brand of feminist folk punk and nothing else will do. I know she said some incredibly stupid things a few years ago and very possibly fell off the deep end into crazy town. I’ve decided I’m going to enjoy her music anyway. I need 1988 Michelle Shocked. 2013 Michelle Shocked can be as crazy as she wants. And I don’t know what 2016 Michelle Shocked is doing. Hopefully getting her shit together. But meanwhile – I need her. I need Ani Difranco. Who, yes, did that dumb retreat a few years ago that was a pretty bonehead move. But I need her. So I’m letting it go.

If Janelle Monáe, who I also need really badly right now, were to go off the rails, I would forgive her, too – because she’s necessary. Luckily, she’s about as careful and measured as a human can be and being a freakin’ monster of inspiration. If she fell – it’d be a hard hard fall. I don’t think she’s gonna, she’s so careful. But – if she did…I’d forgive her.

And here’s the thing…women are usually pilloried for pretty minor shit, all things considered. It’s not like we’re overlooking ladies committing child rape – for example – the way millions of people were able to do while electing our misogynist in chief. It’s also not like we’re overlooking violence incitement, spousal rape or sexual assault. If people can overlook all that shit and still vote for a dude for president, I feel like I can overlook some dumb shit that some marginalized women said one time. I mean – let’s adjust our public shaming scale, shall we?

It doesn’t make any of the dumb shit my ladies said alright. It’s still dumb shit. But the sheer amount of intolerable behavior we’ve tolerated from our male artists is boggling. Roman Polanski’s raping a child? Fine. What a great filmmaker! Woody Allen sexually assaulting his children? Big deal! What a genius! Give that guy a TV show! Bertolucci ordered a real rape on screen, for Art! Big deal! And on and on.

Obviously, this “not having an opinion on women” thing wouldn’t be total. I propose that, in an emergency, we might write about something that women are doing; if a prominent female politician turned into some manner of malign she-werewolf and sold her children to Nazis, say, we could legitimately opinionize on that. But on nearly every other matter concerning a newsworthy woman…

It’s time to start an overlooking campaign for ladies. No more opinions about ladies’ opinions. For five years at least or at least until we iron this shit out.

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The Danger of Relying on Opinions

My theatre company’s crowdfunding campaign for Research and Development of our show got me thinking about arts funding and the way art gets supported. Generally, arts crowdfunding campaigns live or die based on the response to an idea, that is, the opinions of the people funding it. If a project’s friends and family LIKE the idea of the project, they fund it. If they’re not keen on it, like they think, “I wouldn’t want to go see that,” – they won’t. This is actually, at the gut level, often how grants get passed out as well. “Is this show, art-work, dance – something I’d want to see?” If yes – Stamp of Approval. If no – Rejection.

This basically means that whether or not something gets made is connected to the opinions of the consumer. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I decide whether to support something or not based on whether or not I think it’s a good idea. But I think this is problematic and symptomatic of an overly commercial sensibility when funding the arts. If you’d pitched me some of my favorite shows just as ideas, I’d definitely not have funded or chosen them. A stage version of the film, Brief Encounter? A one man show about tribes in the rainforest performed by a white dude? If you’d asked me to fund a show about a horse who goes to war, I’d have said that was an idea that was doomed to fail. And I would have been very wrong about that.

The fact is, whether or not I LIKE an artist shouldn’t preclude that artist’s ability to make the art. I don’t like all kinds of things every day. But I shouldn’t get to be the arbiter of what gets made.

We live in a world where Spiderman The Musical got made because Marvel had money to burn on it. We had Legally Blonde, The Musical because it was paid for. And I have to bet that not many people were truly passionate about making Legally Blonde the Musical. It was not born from a group of artists getting together to create something where there was nothing. A group of producers hired a group of writers to do a job and make some money using an existing property. It has all the hallmarks of a show put together by agents to showcase people at their agency.

Do we truly want a world where agents and movies studios decide what theatre gets made and artists like us – and like so many of our peers – have to send our ideas to the Idea Cemetery simply because our friends and/or granting organization didn’t like the idea? From Broadway all the way down to the smallest company, we’re letting the market determine who gets to make art.

This is why government funding for the arts makes sense. While no Arts Council is perfect, they at least aspire to a more equitable distribution of resources. They can keep their eye on inclusion and diversity. They can fund things that people won’t necessarily LIKE but really should get made and seen anyway. I’d rather have all kinds of work I don’t like funded, knowing that there are other metrics under consideration than whether the panel or audience thinks it’s a good idea.  I mean no disrespect to grant panels or audiences – but they don’t always recognize the good ideas from the outset. They tend to respond to things that are like something they’ve seen before. And this is not a great way to innovate in the Arts.

For the arts to thrive, we need to be able to explore a wide variety of ideas. We need to chase down the “bad” ones as well as the “good” ones. Good ideas sometimes make bad art. And vice versa. We need an arts funding culture that isn’t predicated on whether or not someone likes the idea. If we could, instead, fund the artists, fund the companies and fund the places that say to artists, “Whatever you want to explore, here are some resources.” That’s the way toward a vibrant, thriving arts landscape.

And, I think, that is why my company’s current campaign is going better than any crowdfunding we’ve done before. We’re not trying to sell the idea this time. We’re sharing a process. We’re looking to fund an exploration instead of a product. No one has to have an opinion about where we’re headed or what we create. And it is liberating for both artists and funders. We’ll save the opinions for the critics.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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