Throughout history, artists – be we novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, someone who plays in Silly Putty – have been portrayed as starving waifs. Unto each generation are the shining stars who become rich from their craft in their own lifetime but for the most part, for as long as there has been art there have been struggling artists.
I have been shopping a local(ish) independent bookstore’s website, browsing through their unique collections, looking specifically at the biographies and autobiographies and seeing the names of great innovators and artists who shaped their worlds, I wonder how will our generation be remembered in fifty, one hundred, two hundred years (assuming mankind is still around in two hundred years)?
What artistic innovations, revolutions, advancements are we making? I, personally, am going backward. My poetry reminds people of the beat poets or the street poets, depending on the cultural background and generation of the person reading it. My fiction, the majority of it in recent years, takes influence from the anthology television shows – Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt and the like. I have no concrete description for my longer works of fiction, save for one misguided gentleman who compared it to Stephen King. Of course we all show shadows of our influences in our art, regardless of the medium. I am not chastising myself for that. I simply understand that I don’t have a lot of hazard of being called an innovator.
But what – or who – will our generation of artists be known for? Is it because I am living in it now that I believe we have a harder road ahead of us because there is less unused space within which to blaze our trails and that I see the next batch of artists to follow having an even harder time? That I see electronic, technological advancement taking over where art once prevailed?
Fifty years ago, kids dropped out of high school or chose not to go to college to become artists, poets, musicians. Today, they are dropping out to become software engineers, to create the next Sims or Facebook because 16 is the new 30 and if you don’t grab it when it’s given to you, someone else will get it instead.
Maybe it is because I am an artist trying to eke out an existence in this new world that I see the trailblazers running out of trails to blaze. Art as a discipline has become disposable and sterile. Assembly line music, e-books, internet television webisodes, these things are all made so to be devoured quickly so that we may move on to the next course. Artists who still strive to make something that they hope will have staying power are criticized for being too slow, for not keeping up with the natural flow. Art is not supposed to be fast or disposable.
Please don’t take this to mean I think artists of old had it easy. There was probably some mouthy upstart just like me in the Renaissance or in the Romantic Period who had the same curiosity, who wondered has it all already been done? Is there anything new left for us to create to set us apart from those who have gone before us? Are we just recycling their old ideas and calling them new? (Of course my 19th century alter ego probably wouldn’t say “recycling” but you get the idea) They just had their curiosity on a more localized scale.
I look at Tavi Gevinson who is 16 and runs her own magazine. I envy Tavi Gevinson because I am 31 and run my own magazine but no one really cares. Everyone cares about Tavi. Because Tavi is 16. Because 16 is the new 30. I envy Tavi because she has tools I couldn’t have even dreamed of at her age. Because she has tools I didn’t even really have when I started bending spoons. It is not her fault her world is so vastly different from the one in which I lived at her age but I envy her all the same.
But Tavi’s existence has made it clear that there is a whole weird group of people in this world right now that is made up of amazing young creatures like her who are making a whole new set of rules and quarterlifers like me who still feel like being an adult is an elaborate game of make believe. What do you MEAN I’m not a kid anymore?! We still feel like we are in Tavi’s demographic; we don’t feel old enough to be her parents in a bad after school special. Our ideas are parallel to those coming out of the high schools but the candles on our birthday cakes tell the rest of the world that we should have had our ideas, that we have outlived our innovative eras and should now step aside and let the Tavis take over.
The world of the artist today, from where I stand, seems a very strange place where old art is new ideas, young minds exist in old bodies but the younger bodies have old souls… Or… something.