How to Avoid Being a Corporate Artist

(Normally, I aim to do updates every Saturday, but this is a subject that means a lot to me, and it took me a little longer to get things right, or as close to right as I could manage.  Sorry about that. The length is also a little longer, so you can get the main ideas from the words in bold if you prefer.)

A corporate artist is not an oxymoron. It’s what a creative-minded person can become when he or she pursues fame, money, or passing fads instead of the deepest things in his or her heart. That’s a tragic thing, but sadly it’s not an uncommon occurrence.

At its best, art inspires and enlightens.  It helps us understand each other, and it reveals the problems in our societies and the evil in ourselves.  A great piece of art encourages us to do and dream great things that are worthy of its company.   That’s why it makes me sad to see creative types become corporate artists who screw up the world in uniquely monstrous ways.

Plumbers do important work that requires training and specialized knowledge, but I’ve never a met a plumber who  puts his soul on display when fixing the sink.  (Perhaps there is such a plumber out there, and if he exists, I’d love to watch him work.)  In contrast, artists I admire, whether musicians, actors, writers, or painters, captivate me by putting at least a sliver of their souls into their work. It’s hard enough to show that part of yourself to the world, but it’s even harder to do when faced with potential rejection, criticism, and exploitation that comes with the territory.   If you think this is easy stuff, try going to work completely naked, and do your job while everyone else stays fully clothed.

"Ballet Class" by Edgar Degas

Ballet Class by Edgar Degas

I’m not trying to be provocative.  There is a point to the nudity.  It is not gratuitous, and so it meets my criteria for use here.  (I apply the same criteria when considering the merit of nudity in art.  It’s like Madeleine L’engle writes in her book Walking on Water, “A painting of a nude body can glorify the wonder of incarnation, or it can titillate and degrade.”  With that said, dear Hollywood friends, you don’t tend to err on the side of wondrous incarnation very often, so be careful.)

Anyway, I believe we were meant to live in harmony, with our hearts naked and exposed to each other. They were once naked in the Garden of Eden, were they not?   There was nothing to hide from each other, so Adam and Eve could be themselves without hiding behind lifeless, corporate facades.

Good artists do what they can to slowly nudge us back toward the harmonious state of being that was once found in the Garden. But it is hard to live with an open heart, whether professionally or just in general.  Try sharing that light long enough, and some vultures and villains are sure to notice it, and they’ll try to stomp it out or consume it for their own selfish ends.  There’s a real risk that these dark forces, whether outside or inside a person, will turn an artist corporate.

Take another look at the painting above.  Look at how lovely the ballerinas are, but the dark gentleman on the right isn’t very interested in their overall beauty.  He’s a little more preoccupied with a certain part of the ballerina’s body.  His compatriot in the picture doesn’t appear to be much more noble.  Note also the disturbing blotches of black that frame the dancers, trapping them in their confined space.  When these kinds of dark forces infect artists, they corrupt them and turn them into horrific variations of Britney Spears, who is perhaps the ultimate corporate artist.

Yes, Britney is a talented dancer, she looks hot, and she’s making a lot of people a lot of money, so what the hell is wrong with that, right?

I’ll tell you.  Instead of helping me better perceive truth and beauty, corporate artists like Britney Spears try to sell me on sex, popularity, and mass produced sounds and movements. I get a cheap thrill, but each time I indulge I’m trading against the possibility of future lasting happiness with a girl who has character, who doesn’t sell everything  to anyone who will make her famous.  You see, the more I listen to Britney Spears, the less convinced I am that there are still attractive girls with integrity out there.  That’s why I’ve stopped listening to Britney Spears.

It’s so easy for us in general and for artists in particular to do things just to validate our egos or to scratch a burning impulse or to overcompensate for insecurities. I’m just as guilty as anyone of that kind of thing.  When I treat a lady like she’s a mere source of physical gratification, I am taking away something from her that she could better enjoy with a man who truly loves her.  Maybe she’ll never get married, or maybe her future relationships won’t be as sweet because of the way I used her up.

Whatever the case may be, I’m ripping the social fabric, the unseen threads that keep our society cohesive, when I act only to satisfy myself.  With the wrong focus and the right circumstances, I too could become the ultimate corporate artist, but that’s not something I want to be.  Knowing that is half the battle.

I don’t want to come up with a list of dos and don’ts for art.  I’m just asking artists to stop making decisions just to make more money, build up street cred, or do anything for the sake of doing work.  Instead, dare to build a career by bringing the depths of your heart to light. I’m not arguing that every piece of art has to be full of eternal meaning.  There is a place for light romantic comedies, singable pop songs, well choreographed dance routines, scary films, and mystery books.  Still, all of these things can be presented using good taste within the context of a moral universe, or they can be built out of a narasistic, chaotic framework that is filled with pandering to the basest human instincts. William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Alfred Hitchcock could convey a moral universe even when exploring darkness.   Can you?

When you undertake whatever creative ventures you pursue, dare to stand for something.  Just because so many modern artists mistake vulgarity, cheap thrills, and chaos for artistic technique doesn’t mean you have to go along with that.

I don’t mind profanity when used with restraint to make a point, but if you use it in every other sentence, I start to suspect that you are compensating for a limited vocabulary.

Also, Grace Kelly never did a super-skank stripper movie for the sake of getting more exposure to new audiences, or for proving herself as an actress, or for whatever the preferred PR phrase is these days.  I think she still did OK for herself, don’t you?  She was attractive, but she maintained a sense of class, and that is much more alluring, much more sexy, than any of the shiny, transparent strings and sequins posing as clothes that the mass-produced Britney clones wear these days.

I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, but you can’t be everything to everyone. A writer may get acclaim for writing both family dramas and perverse sex books, but to me he is no longer someone with enough integrity to avoid writing a reprehensible book.  He’s just a corporate climber, doing anything for more money, power, and fame just like everyone else, and that will make me less likely to buy his next book.

Again, I don’t object to depictions of vice in art as long as the depiction is not the gratitious, glamourized selling point of the production.   There are prostitutes, thieves, and murderers even in the Bible, but they don’t get the glamour girl treatment, now do they? Context and purpose behind depicted vice can make all the difference.

The folks who come in to see your self-loathing play or art exhibit probably won’t know that you’ve been trying to get a break for months and months, or that you were going through a difficult divorce when you wrote that ultra-violent misogynistic film.  All they know is that they worked hard all week, faced their own difficulties, and gave you some of their money and/or time so that they could be entertained, inspired,  enlightened, or engaged by what you have to offer.  Do you really want to be the one who demoralizes them, with a reprehensible role in a reprehensible production just because you were desperate to get whatever work you could get? Is that really what you want your legacy in this world to be?

I can’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with your art.   You have to listen to your own conscience for that kind of thing.  But don’t be so selfish and so corporate as to not take into account how your “art” will affect other people. If a plumber’s shoddy work caused physical injuries to others, we would ask him to make amends, or we’d put him out of business.  And yet if an artist’s work strains the social fabric by encouraging infidelity and violence against the innocent, while driving people away from their God-given sense of dignity and faith , we smile and talk about the bold artistic choices involved.   That’s nonsensical corporate talk, worse than the stuff that comes out of the most corporate of meetings.

I used the word “Being” in the title instead of “Becoming” or something altogether different, because you can stop being one thing as soon as start being something else.   Just like anyone can choose to become a corporate arist by thinking only about themselves and their money and fame, anyone, even Britney Spears can choose to start being a true artist who creates from the heart and does so out of love for others.

America was once a land that inspired others with the noble sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Now we send the world works of hateful bloodlust, porn designed as story, and vulgarity masquerading as art.  Let’s fight to change that.  If you’re an artist, then make meaningful stuff.  If you talk about art, don’t celebrate reprehensible stuff just because it’s popular. Together, we can make the world a less corporate, and a more beatiful, more harmonious place.


7 Responses to “How to Avoid Being a Corporate Artist”

  1. 1 zach young November 16, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    good article. very true.

  2. 2 asexualmystique November 19, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    “Do you really want to be the one who demoralizes them, with a reprehensible role in a reprehensible production just because you were desperate to get whatever work you could get?”

    You wouldn’t be referring to a certain actress we’ve discussed before, would you?

    There is this line of reasoning reserved for art – “does it make you feel something? then it’s significant” – which doesn’t seem entirely valid.

  3. 3 badkittyartstudio December 24, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I agree with almost everything, which is no small feat in itself. I make art because I like making art, it makes me happy and if you like my art and you want to buy it because it matches your couch, or uplifits your soul…I am all for it. I agree that we must be REAL…but there is always the possiblity that Britney is as REAL as she gets, thats it folks…it takes all kinds I guess. Art is not scary, you can’t buy the “wrong” art, or whatever because it is also subjective. Meaning if you like it, no matter what, it’s good. I talk about this all the time at my blog, but I like yours much better. See I am a painter not a writer…my picture taking skills suck too…but that does not stop me from being what I am at all times…and that in all honesty the corperate world would never want anyway. Thank the Universe for small favors. I’ll be back to this blog, I enjoy great wordsmithing.

  4. 4 Lynn July 11, 2010 at 10:44 am

    You have written my every thought! My head was continuously nodding in agreement. So inspiring and refreshing to hear from a kindred spirit! Thanks for the post!

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