*This post arose out of a conversation I was having with Mackey. This is my comment on it, in addition to what he has to say below:
I like it, but I think you’re forgetting ONE thing — the tide of crap
really has already receded a lot. See, the aunt Toots of he world when they
fail to become millionaires stop posting. Then also become full of pride in
not selling. They will go on and on about how they’re too artistic (or too
holy) to sell. And that’s where “you sold out” became an insult. – and now I’ll get out of the way and let Mackey (who is selling very well indeed) tell it.*
Art and Angst and Aunt Toots – Mackey Chandler
A friend recently reposted a comment about the stupidity of thinking art is corrupted by paying the artist. I got the impression they thought fat happy people never make anything pretty. It takes the angst of a gnawing empty stomach to drive the writer of great lit*er*a*ture. The stress of cruel prejudice to create the Blues and Jazz, and the horrid squalor of New York City tenements or living in Akron Ohio to push a rock band to greatness.
Let me say historically art has always been tied to money. The great and famous paintings we see in public art museums were mostly commissioned by the church or a few really wealthy nobles. Let me assure you the peasants and serfs didn’t have oil paints in their hovels or murals decorating their walls or ceiling. Art might have been a fancy line of color in the cloth they were weaving or a little different pattern in basket they made to carry food. Only the rich could afford to have a huge hunk of marble delivered and feed an artist for months while he hammered and chipped and filed and smoothed to make a statue.
This means that the art we see was very restricted in subject. Since the church was paying the bill the paintings tended to saints and scenes from scripture. Although having no idea how natives of the holy land looked or how they dressed, some of the painting really need labeled for you to know it wasn’t some Dutch or German merchant instead of the Good Samaritan or John the Baptist. Books were rare and again tended to be religious or history. The history stroking the egos of the nobles and their ancestors. If you want an example read the dedication and forward to the King James Bible. It goes on and on kissing up to the King. After all he fronted some serious change for all these churchmen to try to make the Latin translation of Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic texts make sense and agree with church doctrine in the then current English.
Adventures and fiction were pretty much the reproductions of Greek stories that say more about the strength of wine in a warm sunny climate than any real historical truth. Some of the monsters are easily the equal of any alien we can dream up. Given the church we find that romance and outright porn seem to have a foothold in the Orient with different philosophies earlier than Europe. Especially anything with illustrations. I admit I would like to see what Medieval copyists could do with Asian porn for illuminated texts. Think anime.
Populist art had to wait the spread of printing presses. Even at the time of the American revolution the spread of subversive papers was limited, if only because it was mostly the well to do who could READ. Once presses became common for printing advertising flyers and boiler plate newspapers they could be used for things like ten penny novels. Before and after the Civil War (War of Southern Rebellion or War of Yankee Aggression depending on your ancestors) papers included serial stories to hook readers. Those serials could later be printed as cheap pocket books selling from five to fifteen cents. Just keep in mind a dime back then could buy you a pound of flour, two mugs of beer, an egg, or toll over a private bridge. Once a series of dime novels were written they would be consolidated in a ‘thick book’ – which reminds me of some current authors who constantly remix their shorts in various combinations as new books.
Art for your wall as prints or postcards or had to wait for lithography to become common at the start of the last century. That’s why people starved for something visually stimulating put up advertising posters for goods or traveling shows and political sheets in their homes. I’ve always thought the pictures of JFK so many black people had in their homes in my generation echoed this.
Just because art got cheaper didn’t mean it was GOOD art. That’s why some of the books were called penny awfuls or penny dreadfuls. Common subjects were stories of the western frontier or travel and military adventure in foreign lands. Often written by people living in New York City or Chicago who had never been past where the streetcar ran.
It’s true that modern society with its riches has opened the door to more artists. We are past the point ‘starving artists’ literally were in danger of going to an early pauper’s grave. And yet I am left wondering. Where is all the art from people on welfare or Social Security disability? We just had a lady die, Maya Angelou, who had a horrible early life. She grew to express it well enough to let others at least partially see what others suffered. She also acted during the civil rights movement to help not just herself but others. Yet where are all the other abused, disenfranchised voices? I deeply suspect she would have produced greatness even if she’d had a wonderful childhood and a comfortable life.
I’m personally happy the computer has opened the door even wider than the printing press. Without it I probably wouldn’t be published. Or if I was it would be so late in life I would have had far fewer books and I’d have been paid much less.
Some of the e-books are very much like the penny awfuls. You do have to learn to filter or let somebody review and help you.
Let me tell you about my Aunt Toots.
My favorite uncle like my father had many brothers. My dad’s were down in Alabama so I didn’t know them. My uncle Ben had brothers locally yet I rarely saw them. I remember once he did take me to see my his brother Buck and his wife Toots. I can’t remember their real names because uncle Ben was… eccentric. He never called anyone by their real name. I was ‘The Will’ (Wilson my middle name), my mom was ‘Crump’ (?), my dad was ‘Cake’ (used to be a baker). A famous scientist who he had take me in to see a running research reactor and gaze down in the water at the beautiful blue Cherenkov radiation was ‘Hambone’. The Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, His Excellency blah, blah, blah of about twenty names was… ‘George’.
When I was about 13 or 14 he took me to visit Buck and Toots, and their boy a year or two older than me. They were not eccentric. They were flaming nuts. The boy immediately showed me a rifle he’d assembled from parts, noting it had no serial number and if he killed somebody with it they’d never trace it. “Oh, and would you like to go walk in our woods with me?” Uh, no thanks.
Uncle Buck went all over the US to play in horseshoe tournaments. The one living room wall was covered with loving cups and plaques. Every time my uncle Ben visited he would whip Bucks butt playing horseshoes. He never went to a tournament saying it was a silly waste of time for a grown man. Buck had that wild eyed stare of the fanatic.
Aunt Toots was the prize of the bunch.
She wore a poodle skirt and bobby socks and every gesture, every step was theatrical. She would have been in her late thirties or early forties then. We sat and tried to have a conversation. She talked non-stop. I mean, if somebody sat forward or cleared their throat she looked actually afraid they’d say something. She gasped for air so she didn’t allow a pause for an opening. After about an hour she ran out of oxygen and her eyes rolled up in her head and she face planted on the carpet out cold. She simply ran out of air because she wouldn’t shut up. Buck didn’t even look surprised. Get the picture of this lovely family? There’s a reason I painted such a full picture.
Aunt Toots was a writer.
After “The Men” went out to weld something I stayed behind. I knew they’d weld with no protection and burn the crap out of their arms. I stayed with aunt Toots who felt she had to entertain me. She took me in her sewing room and showed me her manuscripts. Three full massive file cabinets of hand typed manuscripts as tall as I was. I’d never known a writer.
She showed me a couple and I read excepts. She’d been writing twenty years. They were all children’s Christian literature. Turns out she was a Sunday school teacher. She’s write a story for the week and read it to her class. Parents inflicted this on their kids to have a little free time every weekend. In fact in Akron Ohio they have what is known as the ‘Bus Ministry’. You can judge the success of a church by the size of its fleet of busses. Parents would give their kids a buck or fifty cents and send them off for spiritual enlightenment so they could go back to bed, get some more sleep or make the poor kid some siblings. Aunt Toots was as enlightened as they got for a buck.
Being young and having no tact and already seeing what she’d shown me was pure crap I asked the awful question. “So, how many of these stories have you sold?” – Not*A*One. She was however convinced that once she sold ONE, the floodgates would open and her back-log of thousands of stories would be worth a FORTUNE and she’d be on easy street. (facepalm)
Today it frightens me to think of her uploading five or six THOUSAND stories/sermons to Amazon. I mean, there must be a market in old maid Sunday School Teachers who would just LOVE her work. But some poor people would probably buy them by mistake. She was the sort who today would call the police and swear out a zero tolerance criminal complaint if one of her five year old students kissed a little girl on the cheek. If he kissed another little boy on the cheek she’d have him roped to the flag pole piling faggots at his feet in short order. Even then I wondered how they had ever had a child. The only thing I can imagine is that they did like their sauce a bit.
Given their age they missed Amazon by a couple decades. I’m sure aunt Toots’ manuscripts are compressed in a landfill somewhere, waiting for future archeologists to find them and open a new window on twentieth century Mid-western culture. I’m certain however if you do a careful search you can find aunt Toots spiritual successors on Amazon or other e-book sellers.
Back when the rich churchmen and nobles bought statues and oil paintings they had their own filters. Unlike today when people go to New York galleries and buy junk welded together or paint thrown at a canvas by monkeys as investments, if the painting made the Duke look like he had a big nose, or David was a bit too Jewish looking then the artist probably didn’t get paid. For sure he didn’t get a new commission.
When you browse through Amazon DO use the look inside feature. It’s to the point now where it’s just too easy to see a book only costs a buck or three and you can just click on buy it with one click and take time to look at it later. There are gems hidden that deserve being bought to encourage the artist. But please, please, the aunt Toots of the world don’t need encouragement.