Watching Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl and at The Grammy’s last week was intriguing to me. I thought back to many times earlier in my life when I’ve watched both shows. We’ve witnessed timeless performances by greats like Prince, Elton John, Adele, Garth Brooks and many others like Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, U2, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Eric Clapton, not to mention kisses by Madonna and Britney or wardrobe malfunctions by Janet and Justin.
The list could go on and on.
Not to mention many one hit wonders who have performed and disappeared into oblivion, or perhaps top some cottage industry where they still travel making a living performing night after night the one song we still remembered.
Andy Warhol said everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.
That may be true…. But I’m not so sure. I actually think there are many greats out there that functionally go undeserved. There have always been starving artists. There are lists of those who never achieved discernible appreciation in their lifetime for their contributions to their craft. There are so many out there who produce great art that primarily goes unnoticed or at the very least is under the radar and definitely underappreciated.
Or fifteen minutes that not everybody gets
The newest film version of The Great Gatsby was on the other night and I got caught up in watching it. The grandeur and simplicity vs. complexity drew me in.
I was struck by it and as is my nature, I had my I-Pad in hand and began reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his novel. According to Wikipedia, my normally reliable source for all information: “In 1940, Fitzgerald suffered a third and final heart attack, and died believing his work forgotten. His obituary in The New York Times mentioned Gatsby as evidence of great potential that was never reached.”
I find it fascinating that so many who we now place on the pedestal of all-time greatness died feeling unappreciated for their craft. How can that be?
It seems that an element of fame is popularity and part of popularity is in some way reputation. This single element also travels by word of mouth. When local restaurants become the coolest new thing, even with today’s social media and Yelp and Foursquare and Facebook, much of the local enthusiasm is fueled by word of mouth. You share with your friends and they share with their friends and so on it goes.
The same is true regarding music, writing, theatre or any other artistic endeavor.
People follow what’s hot. I know that over the years after the Grammy’s have been awarded sales of the winning artist rise in proportion to the number of awards they win. Of course in some ways it’s just free advertising, millions of viewers have just been exposed to their art. But it’s also a matter of others saying, hey this is great stuff, buy their art!.
In contrast to this I am dismayed by our current celebrity fascination by so many that appear to contribute so very little to the world as we know it.
Think about it.
Perez Hilton? ( same guy- body make-over)
Are you kidding me? Paris was famous because of her birth line, her great- grandfather created the Hilton Hotel chain.
Other than his greatness and the family legacy- she became most famous for her sex tape… which apparently paved the way for Kim Kardashian’s sex tape release a few years later since Kim began her climb to fame as Paris’ stylist.
Kim Kardashian? As one recently said she is famous for posting different pictures of her ass.
Back to art… and fame. Apparently fame is not always connected to talent. Or at least talent and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
Recently I was privileged to view the fascinating movie Hidden Figures about the amazing contribution of three women to NASA in the early days of the Space Program.
Sadly, were it not for this movie I’m sure most of the world would bnever have heard the names of Katherine Coleman Goble, Johnson Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, and Mary Winston Jackson. Because of the book by the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly and the film version; young women everywhere can witness the mesmerizing story of overcoming seemingly impossible odds of male dominated professions and institutionalized racism.
Instead there are 50 million viewers for Kim’s big butt.
What a crazy world we live in.
Nancy Jo Sales says this in her book American Girls about the Kardashians:
“A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 51% of 18-to-25 year olds said their most or second-most important life goal was to become famous. 64% said their first or second goal was to become rich.
A girl waiting in line for Kim said, “I want her life.”
Behind the Kardashian’s lifestyle, there was a mother, but it wasn’t Kim; it was Kris Jenner, Kim’s own mother and tireless manager, who took 10% of all her daughters’ incomes. “My job is to take my family’s 15 minutes of fame and turn it into 30,” Kris once declared. That her family’s 15 minutes had begun with a leaked sex tape of her daughter and the singer Ray J didn’t seem to give her pause; in fact, it was just after the release of the tape that Kris started shopping her family’s reality show, a move she likened to turning “lemons into lemonade”.
And somewhere out there worlds beyond this popular culture of Bling for the sake of Bling there are artists struggling to create… Art for the sake of Art.
Elizabeth Gilbert achieved fame with her book Eat Pray Love which sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.
In her TED Talk about creative genius she opens with these words:
I am a writer. Writing books is my profession but it’s more than that, of course. It is also my great lifelong love and fascination. And I don’t expect that that’s ever going to change. But, that said, something kind of peculiar has happened recently in my life and in my career, which has caused me to have to recalibrate my whole relationship with this work. And the peculiar thing is that I recently wrote this book, this memoir called “Eat, Pray, Love” which, decidedly unlike any of my previous books, went out in the world for some reason, and became this big, mega-sensation, international bestseller thing. The result of which is that everywhere I go now, people treat me like I’m doomed. Seriously — doomed, doomed! Like, they come up to me now, all worried, and they say, “Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to be able to top that? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to keep writing for your whole life and you’re never again going to create a book that anybody in the world cares about at all, ever again?”
How’s that for encouraging friends? Ha!
The list of artists who produced masterpieces early in their lives is long.
Orson Welles produced his classic film Citizen Kane at age 25.
Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 at 30.
Harper Lee functionally only published To Kill a Mockingbird in her lifetime. J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye but never came close to the initial acclaim he gained with Catcher.
Some might say they never recaptured their early greatness for a variety of reasons: Fear of failure, difficulty living up to the fame and expectations, or perhaps just a dry well.
While some never appear to recapture the glory of youth, there are many who began at an early age and continue to grow in excellence with age.
Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Picasso, Cezanne, and Pablo Casals come to mind.
Michelangelo produced The Pieta and David before age 30 and was the architect for St. Peter’s Basilica at 74.
At 22 Ben Franklin began publishing The Pennsylvania gazette and at age and among his many numerous accomplishments he is credited with inventing bi-focals in his seventies.
I don’t know what the truth is but I like Elizabeth in her latest book Big Magic encouraging people to Do Art For Art’s Sake.
Do it because it’s in you.
“This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
“Through the mere act of creating something—anything—you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal, or important.”
What if you only write that one children’s book that you’ve often dreamt of? Who Knows? Maybe that one book will have positive impact on the life of some young person. You may never know about it. But the chances of that positive impact is lost if you don’t write it.
Wayne Dyer often said “Don’t die with your music still in you.”
Sadly, some have achieved various levels of fame while contributing little.
Equally as sad, many have achieved no recognition until years have passed and they have been re-discovered as voices needed to be heard.
I’m in agreement with Wayne.
Sing Your Song.
Tell Your Story.
Offer Your Gifts.
I’m with Elizabeth; we need more art for art’s sake.