A couple of my artist friends and I, concerned with the well-being of our communities, have been trying to figure out how to balance out a desire to create the kind of art that contributes to building a better world while at the same time making it a financially sustainable career path. In other words, how not to be a sell-out while at the same time making a decent, modest living.
The tendency nowadays seems to be to create art mired in dichotomies. The song “Sweet Sixteen” by Destiny’s Child popped up on a friend’s playlist recently. It discusses the issue of teenage pregnancy, telling sixteen-year-old girls that they should “slow down” because “there’s so much ahead” of them. I completely agree with this message, but the song always rubbed me the wrong way. Because of the 17 tracks on the album it is featured on, The Writing’s On The Wall, eight are promoting sexual behavior of some kind, either through suggestive lyrics (“Confessions”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “She Can’t Love You”; “Stay”) or through video clips featuring provocative outfits and dance moves (“Bills, Bills, Bills”; “Bug A Boo”; “Get On The Bus”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “Say My Name”). No wonder, then, that “Sweet Sixteen” bothers me so much. It’s a demonstration of lack of coherence, kind of like a Public Service Announcement about conserving energy recorded by someone who drives a Hummer.
Coherence lends authenticity that makes an artistic creation resonate with so many for long periods of time. One thing my friends and I have come to realise is that our art has to be coherent with the message we are sharing and the life we are leading; if not the message we want to share with the best of intentions will be forever tainted, like a glass of pure water would be with but one drop of poison. In short, would you be able to take a post of mine on the importance of chastity seriously if I wrote an erotic novel?
It’s a lot more difficult to stay on the straight path than the beginning of this post makes it seem. There are so many temptations that shirk the line just a little bit, little enough that it might it wouldn’t hurt to shirk. I know for example that when it comes to writing, my posts on more serious matters such as this one do not attract nearly as much as those on fashion and beauty, nor as those on flying through a tornado. This means that I don’t get as much traffic because of the choice that I made. Which means less possibilities for me to monetize my blog.
And it’s not like I have to completely go to the dark side for the sake of monetization. When it comes to writing for example, it is very tempting to dip into that which will attract readers, even if it doesn’t convey the purpose that first inspired me to put pen to paper. Fashion doesn’t go against my personal values; neither does beauty. So writing about fashion as a form of beauty isn’t at all something that goes against my personal values.
But what door do I open if I start writing about fashion and beauty? There are a lot of readers who would much rather read about fashion and beauty; will I be able to resist the temptation of consistently getting hundreds of hits a post a day if the feedback that I get is “fashion and beauty trumps all”? There are also a lot of opportunities for fashion and beauty bloggers; what is to say that I won’t slowly slip into the fold and wake up one day in 10 years only to realise that my blog has completely morphed from its original purpose?
This might seem like a drastic approach, but I think the forces of society are very strong; we only have to look into research in the effects of violence in the media on our behavior and of the effects of viewing beauty photoshoots on our self-image. It’s all the more important to be careful of these forces as there are so many we don’t understand. Strict avoidance is neither needed nor wise; but careful examination of every step seems to be vital in ensuring that art remains coherent with the rest of an artist’s beliefs. And it is even more vital for consumers of art to support such artists.
Image courtesy of Death to Stock.