by Dennis Daniel
"The need to make money discourages integrity in every field of work--in business, social services, art, etc.. You can't make a quality product because if it costs too much, people won't buy it. A cheap imitation will outsell the better original. Subtlety is pushed aside by flashiness. High ideals and the finest intentions are eroded away and replaced by commercial expedients, pragmatism and the need to keep up the car payments." --R. Crumb
I am at war with myself. Bombs are lobbing daily from the left side of my brain to the right and vice versa. "I am an artist!" "You are a hack!" "Uh...no, I beg to differ. I am an artist who creates visual images through the use of sound." "No, you are a vocal whore whose entire creative output is bought and paid for by schmucks who sell cars, insurance, pets, stereos, whatever!" "My creativity creates images!" "Your creativity sells crap." "No! I entertain and enlighten people as to the whereabouts of certain items." "You scream and yell about sales, savings, bargains and where to get laid!" "DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! I AM AN ARTIST!" "HACK! HACK! HACK! HACKITY HACK HACK!"
What am I? I'm a 36 year old man who has a wife and child to support. As much as I may like to think so, I do not control all aspects of my destiny. When I was a kid, I played with tape recorders, making funny noises, doing funny voices. I never outgrew it and it has served me well. It turned into a profession. It went from being just for me and my friends to hear into being "product." But, is it "art?" Do I have the right to be temperamental about it?
Did you ever see Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters? Fredrick (Max Von Sydow) is this 60 year old temperamental artist who lives in a New York loft doing his deeply involved and emotional paintings and drawings while listening to classical music. He is a real moody S.O.B. who hates mankind and never leaves the loft. He also never sells any work because no one knows about him. Elliot (Michael Caine), who is married to Hanna (Mia Farrow), knows Frederick because his young girlfriend (Barbara Hershey) is Hanna's sister. He arranges for a rich rock star client of his (Daniel Stern) to come to the loft and look at his work. Well, this is torture to Frederick! He's rude and horrified that this rock star is passing judgment on his work. The rock star is more interested in the size of the paintings so they'll fill the walls in the rooms of his Southampton mansion. He could care less about what the paintings may symbolize. Frederick can't even bring himself to look the rock star in the eye. He just listens to him babble with total disgust. When the rock star asks Frederick if he has any "big" paintings, Frederick says with utter contempt, "I... don't sell... my... paintings.. by the yard!" In the end, he throws everybody out! His young girlfriend eventually leaves him to have an affair with Elliot!
What can be learned from this scene? That in order to survive, one must walk the fine line between being an artist and being a businessman. When people pay money for something, in almost all cases, they want it their way! You are just the vassal by which to do their bidding. You are an "employee." Acting high and mighty, wounded or hurt because your "artistic integrity" has been compromised by some client is a lot of horse dung. It's just a commercial, right? It's just a way of selling something. The rock star character in Woody's film is your typical client. Some rich no brainier who thinks his wealth or success equals intelligence in all matters! If Elliot would have just bit the bullet and sold him something that was only gathering dust anyway, he'd have been richer and maybe still have the girl. Yes, it would have been wonderful if the rock star appreciated art and really was into it, but, ya gotta eat, right? Just as it would be great if a client really loved his commercial and understood all the nuances you put into it. Ha.
And what about the public? Do they really judge these hacked out screaming retail ads, club spots and what not, filled with compromised worn out ideas? It's just noise. If they need a car, a club, a stereo...they listen. If they don't, they tune out or switch stations. It has no meaning in their lives! Why should it bug you? If you don't cut the piece of crap, someone else will. Why shouldn't it be you? How often is the phrase, "My place was packed because of your amazing creative commercial" been uttered to you? Commercials aren't supposed to work! If they did, the client wouldn't have anything to bitch about. "Oh, we had a low turn out. No one mentioned the spot. Radio doesn't work, etc., etc...."
Just as R. Crumb points out, people don't want quality. Too expensive. Too risky. They don't want to entertain; they want to sell! This is why I charge my clients the same amount of money whether I'm creating a masterpiece or just shouting out sticker prices! A spot is a spot is a spot. You want creative? God love you! I'd be happy to oblige. You want screaming? No problem! So where does all that creative energy go? Thank God I have some clients that appreciate quality. Thank heavens I have some radio stations that actually want me to be a nut for them. True, they usually don't pay well but what price my creative soul? Besides, what Production Director has time to be creative these days? So much stuff has to be banged out your bound to compromise. I'm not saying creativity is impossible, just infrequent due to work load. Should you crucify yourself for this? Hell no!
The best kind of art isn't created out of a need for money. It's when the work is pure, from the heart, no strings attached. You want to feel good and artsy? If you ever get the time, write a cool promo or comedy bit. Do it on anything you want! Not because you have to, but because you wanted to. Play it for your PD and say, "Here's a gift for the audience." Come up with a great spec idea for a spot that's generic. Make up a client! Give it to you favorite salesperson and say, "Here, try to sell this idea. Just one rule, it can't be compromised! They either buy it as it is, or I'll wait till someone does!" Sure, some copy will change, but not the concept! It still has to work on its own original merit."
You can be an artist and a capitalist at the same time. All it takes is an understanding that to live in this real world of inartistic scum, you have to play their game and know it is a game. Don't let it get to you. Know who you are inside. Use the artistic outlets you have available, and feed your family. There's no compromise or dishonor in that.