Everybody say thank–you to Wikipedia for this wonderful gift, and be sure to check out Ken Crawford, too. Not for any positive reason; just because his website design is fucking horrendous. Good design isn’t hard! All it involves is looking at websites you like and ripping them off, and that’s just the bare minimum!
I would have liked to have every single entry in my artist pages, though that’s assuming that everybody deserves a spot under the page. To call anybody an artist because they took a screenshot from a video game, for instance, is cheapening the word, as if everybody who had ever published a photograph of nature is an artist and not just an opportunist, just the same as publishing a photograph of the artificial nature inside that game.
I consider an artist (as much as I change this definition month to month) as anybody who attempts to create work that has a meaningful impact on somebody’s life; though photography can be artistic in the subjects they depict, it is at its heart a utilitarian discipline, meant primarily to capture subjects and artistic considerations as second. While there are photographers who create work that creates unique emotions (a rare thing), they are still documenting images.
This definition of art as applied to photographs would rule out 99% of any decently composed image as “art,” the same as it would rule out some very famous examples of art (like the urinal). It blasts away at traditional norms, getting rid of technical achievements for the sake of raw emotion, with two shotguns and no blanks, a big “fuck you” to art elitism, and a welcoming hand to art that does something for someone rather than creating cultural noise.
So I wouldn’t consider Ken Crawford an artist, for though the work is pretty, it doesn’t particularly enrich my life. It’s featured here mainly for being pretty. I’m writing about it in the hope I may find may find less pretty things and more beautiful work. What is the difference between prettiness and beauty? To be pretty is to praise it for looks alone. To be beautiful is to have those looks be meaningful.
And for those of you wondering what the hell we do with things like pottery and photographs that serve utilitarian functions over any emotion… there’s nothing wrong with calling it a skill. They take skill to make. But I wouldn’t be on my deathbed figuring out what to do with my plant pots, and my last words wouldn’t have anything to do with that really nice mask I saw at the anthropology museum.
Now, I can talk about beauty. A bunch of philosophers have; all they did way back when was talk. Among the mysteries I suffer from is how scenes like snow and forests, so banal and worthless, be meaningful. How do I feel emotion from them, where there is no story, no character, and nothing to talk about?
I have defined beauty in three parts. To be beautiful is to be so novel as to earn your concentration. To be beautiful is to make sense and be sensible within the context of its own world. To be beautiful is to is to follow the principles of good design and good art as is in the eye of the beholder. When you see a novel cat, which is a perfectly sensible cat, and to see it constructed with proper technique, earns it some beauty. The same with
This definition of beauty applies to found scenes such as Splashdown, constructed scenes such as Valleyburn and Snow, and even silly things like Businesstem. They are all novel, sensible, and follow good art–making. As to what is novel or sensible or well–constructed differs given the cultural values of each person, and this is why people have differeing opinions as to what “good” art is, once you get past the baseline cultural standards of good design like composition and symmetry and colours and other shit.
Most people are dropped–jaw amazed at art which takes a long time to make but doesn’t offer anything novel, like this piece I dragged out from DeviantART’s front page. Well–made? Sure. But I’ve seen pieces like it before; there’s no character to make me fall in love with it, no uniqueness to make me wish I made it, no edge to make me hook onto it, and no style that inspires me to go out there and make my own work. It doesn’t make me feel a thing. Call me a harsh critic if you like. It means I have different values.
For the same reason that you wouldn’t call the mass–produced greeting card at your dollar store a piece of art is the same reason why all the Daily Deviations don’t blow your tits off each and every day. Seeing the fair–skinned European lady with a bunch of colours surrounding her with the bloom and the anime hair and overdesigned costume with the cool weapon with a cool pose and so on and so forth until it just becomes fucking insufferable and you realise that technical skill is in no way related to imagination, the same way that physical strength is in no way related to your ability to run barefoot through a gravel field.
The reason I focus so much on simple work from obscure sources and even more obscure artists is because there is so much more beauty in going off the beaten path and indulging what you have never seen before than you will ever find gawking aimlessly at what everybody in the world already thinks is cool. It doesn’t matter to me if a post on Tumblr has 40,000 notes, or a post on DeviantART has 25,000 stars. All that matters to me is how it makes me feel. I’m not a sheep; I’m a man. Sheep follow other sheep, and men know to be themselves.
Indeed, I am instinctually suspicious about anything that is popular, for what is popular appeals blindly to the most easily impressionable group of people who then share that work, and what is obscure appeals to those with more refined tastes. As refined tastes are unnatural, they do not exist too often. The work I like hardly gets popular. When I like a work that is popular, I end up wondering why. I would like to call it blind luck, but what we call luck is but a series of actions we have yet to understand.
By its nature, popularity is appealing to as many people as you can. This involves appealing to idiots, children, and those with no self–respect in what they consume or how they act, which is one of the reasons why the superhero movie fad, and it is a fad, as I predict that by 2020 superhero movies will be what zombies movies are now, is so popular. Spectacle without substance, a plot without the need to think, and an appeal to childhood wonder. Simple formulas make millions, because most people are simple.
Though the sheep metaphor is dated, it is true. You will find in life that there is a group of people who live without thought, and a group of people who manipulate them. The general public and the politician. The audience and the movie producer. The press and the celebrity. The zealot and the cult leader. The sheep and the shepard, and the manipulated and the manipulator. Though this is a cynical thought, I have found over the years that this is one of the harsh practicalities of the world I face, and no amount of rosy optimism can change this basic fact of our society.
Quality, beyond a minimum standard of quality, has nothing to do whatsoever with the popularity of a work. Popularity is based entirely around appeals to specific groups, and the most popular things appeal to the largest groups. A thing like Homestuck appealed to that demographic of hippies looking for spectacle and qqquirky humour, actual plot be damned. There were a lot of hippies. That’s why it’s massively popular. The same can be said of Adam Sandler appealing to those with (let’s diplomatically call it) an immature sense of humour, which is why he’s still able to release any movie and turn a profit, while Woody Allen is perennially broke.
(not to say Woody Allen movies are in any way good. he’s notable because he appeals to the lowest–common–denominator of people who think they’re better than the lowest–common–denominator. Woody Allen fans are like the hipsters who thinks they’re unique for using a typewriter while wearing a sweater vest and listening to The Beatles vinyl)
Though, this outlook is not as cut and dry as I state. We are a diverse species, and so often do things that break our clean philosophies. Sometimes really good things do get popular, such as Haruhi and Lucky Star being the Mecca and Medina for weebs. But it’s not because they were good; we have demonstrated that quality has nothing to do with popularity. They were successful because they, let’s face it, blatantly appealed to weebs. Haruhi did so more coyly and deconstructionistically (long word of the day) than Lucky Star, which was just a chaingun volley of moe moe moe. A bit like all of Kyoto Animation, actually.
One of Seth Godin’s revelations is that everything can be slotted up into niches, where there is no mass market but instead a series of extremely common niches that make up that mass market. There’s a huge amount of people who just want to watch cute anime with cute girls and simple slice–of–life plotlines, and those niches combine to make up a huge market of nerds who masturbate to K–ON.
The fact that the only way to get ahead in your field is to blatantly pander to a demographic and then keep pandering until your bollocks fall off says a lot about humanity as a whole, not wanting to take any steps whatsoever outside their comfort zone, and so end up indulging in the least controversial and safest bets for entertainment to watch, which is how Hollywood continues to profit.
Yes, “least controversial,” which the more savvy of you will see as a contradiction, seeing as controversial things tend to sell like hotcakes. Considering that Baby Fucker 69 isn’t controversial once you and all your friends check it out to see what all the initial fuss caused by moral guardians and astroturfing marketers is about, it makes sense that nobody would be excited to indulge in it after the fact and after they realise that it’s, on the whole, kind of shit. Remember that though quality is hardly a factor in success, something has to be at least playable to be popular.
An exception to the quality–popularity metric: when you’re seen as the best in the world. People like extremes. It doesn’t matter if Ocarina of Time isn’t the best game ever made, or Quake isn’t the best FPS ever made. What matters is that they were good enough that enough people espouse them as the best thing ever made, thus making them massively popular. They were great and revolutionary titles, no doubt in my mind. But that they were so revolutionary as to be hailed as “the best games ever” after twenty years of other games making them look older and older by the year, is a misnomer. Their reputations come before their actual quality, which is why you must never believe the hype about something before you indulge in the media for yourself.
On the flip side, being the worst in the world has its own special metric of attraction. Need I say more about the Star Wars Holiday Special? No? Okay, good. But if you’re trying to make a profit off of being the worst in the world, don’t. You will be the laughing stock of your industry, people will eventually stop buying your work as your reputation plummets, and you will be bankrupt within the decade and die in infamy. Unless you’re the United States president.
So this pandering hits artist particularly hard, in a saturated market where all advertising is done through word–of–mouth and social media, which are two extremely unreliable and huge, huge, fucking huge, and oversaturated ways to market yourself. An artist who creates work that only means something to them is an artist who will never be famous. Artists are forced to create work that panders to a demographic in order to stay afloat; whether it be something as simple as just having a style a lot of people like (such as Trout), or to create fanart in a growing fandom (such as Undertale way back in the day and Night in the Woods now), artists are not rewarded for originality. They are rewarded for making precise judgements as to what to make, and creating what appeals most to a wide audience.
When you see work on the front page of DeviantART or Pixiv which is indistinguishable from one another, what you have are artists pandering to as wide a niche as possible. This creates an oversaturated market where nothing is original, and where we have a culture that seems more like ripping each other off rather than an exchange of ideas. The fact that they are on the front page of DeviantART and Pixiv shows that they are successful. But they are not artists with integrity. I would hesitate to state them as artists, for art involves beauty, and beauty involves originality.
It matters not how good of an artist you are if you do not have a hook that allows people to see your work. The reason fandoms are absolutely critical to artists is because they provide easy vehicles to get known, for popularity is hardly if ever earned over time, but instead earned in a series of bursts of massive activity. Popularity is not finances, where you may save for years and retire rich. It is gambling; you either win all at once, or not at all, and the best gamblers are those who win all at once as much as they can.
If a writer creates a brilliant essay, but nobody is around to see it, then it does not exist. I will forever admire Art of Manliness for launching their work on such a brilliant vehicle as appealing to “the lost art of manliness” and thus a sizable population of men. I have appealed to extremely little, and though I have a fascinating hook with my 10kB Gallery, I am forced to treat this as a hobby and not a business, for though I create consistently excellent work, there is no vehicle for me to launch myself on and get known.
No cult of personality for me to surround myself with. No fandom of mine. This is why I created Degenerates. For today, I am unknown, and yet some time in the future, I will not be, and this will because of some famous thing I did which appealed to a lot of people. This is simply the way marketing works. It’s sad and cynical, but it is true, and I am sad for this.
Is it worth it for artists to be original at all if it doesn’t earn them popularity? Are we slaves to our popularity, for without it we are nothing? Is it more moral to live extraordinarily and die anonymous, or to live as a cunt and die famous? These are harsh questions, and ones we must learn more about.
So while Ken Crawford is not popular, nor does he pander, he does not fill me with beauty. Is his work beautiful? I do not doubt for a second it has the capacity to be. But as for me, with my differing view of artwork, who finds no interest in photographs of things I cannot experience or imagine myself experiencing, it is just noise. Colourful, colourful, cultural, noise.
Date: 2017–03–10. Size: 3,224 bytes. Colours: 3.
Upscaled Dimensions: 375×750. Original Dimensions: 125×250.