Big Life


“You have to build a following,” she said. “I would advise you to build a big following for your blog and then maybe you can convince someone to produce you on a stage but its very hard.”

“We produce one thing every once in awhile that is really good. Then we bring out our cash cow— a shit show that everyone loves to pay for it. We have a payroll of 400 people to support.”

I thought of the Stanley Tucci movie—one of the ones he directed—Big Night. It is about two Italian brothers from Abruzzi (my mother was born there) who open a restaurant. One brother, Primo, the chef, is an artist. The other brother, Secundo, is a businessman who is worried about being popular and receiving the financial benefits of drawing a crowd. Primo is compelled to create Italian meals that are authentic and “un-Americanized” and far beyond New Jersey customers’ tastes. The brothers personify an obvious and common conflict between the need to make a living (or let’s face it, in most cases it is the desire to be financially successful…not really a matter of survival) and the desire to create authentic and pure expressions of reality. (In other words the truth. Truth is beauty and beauty truth. Something is aesthetically pleasing when it is made with clear-eyed honesty.) The businessman knows the value of a dollar. The artist senses that anything other than his genuine thought and feeling is a lie. Primo gets his way and cooks an exquisite meal one important evening for a newspaper reviewer and invited guests. (She liked to talk about her “big fat opinions.” Her “big, fat opinions” are the source of her at-this-moment blocked art—her expressions emanating from her true experience with the world—which she withholds from us in the name of “financial reality”—the biggest artist block of them all.) As a result of other plot complications, the restaurant fails. The art of that one meal, of course, brilliantly succeeded, even if it went unrecognized and couldn’t be sustained. Primo could be sustained and he lived to cook again as did Secundo in his own way. The brothers refuse to work for someone else and end the film with Primo’s arm on Secundo’s shoulder as they eat omelets that Secundo created.

I thought of Joseph Campbell’s advice to artists (which I have referred to in other contexts elsewhere in this blog). He said get a job teaching “a low grade version of your art. That’s your job.” Artists have skills that are practically useful to other people. Your work, as opposed to your job, explained Campbell is your pure vision and art. He praised the musician John Cage who stood alone and pursued a singular vision of his work for years with no money or recognition from it and just “knew and knew.”

I note to myself that is a great strategy. It places no financial pressure on your work. You limit your participation in business in a way that does no harm to your soul. You provide a useful service, have mainly cordial and friendly relationships at your job, and have the time to make your art. (She said that talented and committed artists often don’t succeed. She disagreed with my post about Goethe. I’ll go with John Cage on this one.)

Sometimes people misunderstand when I approach them exploring opportunities to have my work published and produced. Maybe I misunderstood a bit too at one time. I want to be published and produced to expand my work (more resources could lead to more developed expression) and find interested (emphasis intended) audiences and collaborators. I am not interested in branding and self-promotion for their own sake.

Ironically, I think there is a market for my work—or anybody’s work that is done with integrity backed up by effort and talent. I think pure artistic expression can make money—a lot of it. I’m not doing it for the money, but I know that I will get it. We live in a much more sophisticated world than it was yesterday and we are entering a new age of art where the dichotomy between art and business (making a living or a financial success) is vanishing. For example, Big Night is set in the 1950’s; there is a big market today for food prepared by master chefs who create their own culinary visions built on the tradition of old world Italian cuisine. I don’t have to compromise to be successful.

She continues, “It takes good ideas, hard work and persistence.” I think to myself it takes good ideas and persistence. People who talk about “hard work” are working for someone else.

I observe that this is a woman of great talent and intelligence and a genuinely kind person who knows what is good. She has had the experience of making good theater. And she is currently blocked by her need to “build business.” She is a special type—the artist who plays the role of entertainer. She is currently possessed by the rare archetypal carnival barker who knows better. She was born Primo, but something happened and she has temporarily transformed into Secundo on the bad days before he acquiesced on the big night when the perfect meal was served.

She’ll be back.

Copyright 2015 Richard Thomas

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