Stop Being A Child

Passive Guy, over at The Passive Voice, had a couple great posts this morning.

The first was a link to, and comments on, Sarah Hoyt’s continued discussion about why she dropped her agent.

The second was a discussion of comments on Courtney Milan’s blog (she has a couple excellent posts about the perils of agents acting as publishers, btw), and one in particular that was almost mindless in its blind trust in a person who calls himself an “agent”, even to the point of not caring if that person’s dealings are sketchy.  PG is astounded at that sentiment, as am I.

But I’m not surprised.

One thing I’ve learned about writers since I started this gig seven months ago is that a lot of writers seem to have a pathological aversion to common sense, critical thinking, and basic business.  I attribute it to the very silly and annoy tendency of writers to think of themselves as “artists”.

Before I go on, I feel I should expand on this particular label: “artist”.

I have a very low opinion of “artists”.  From everything I’ve ever experienced, people who call themselves “artists” are delusional, to one extent or another.  They either have this silly notion that somehow their “art” is going to change the world (yeah right!  Show me one painter, sculptor, musician, or fiction writer who actually did that through their “art” and I’ll give you a large sum of money.  Never happened.  Never will.), that their art portrays deep truths that others never saw before (also yeah right.  There’s nothing new under the sun), or that they’re somehow superior to other people because they make “art” (they see further than the rest of us, you see).  Basically, they put on airs to make up for a lack of practical skills, intellect, and capacity for reason by telling themselves they’re smarter and better than the normal people, that they’re better than they are.  It’s freaking childish, but I guess that’s the point.

Too harsh?  I think not.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  People who work in the “arts” are not special.  They differ from other people only in that they chose to focus their attention on honing skills that other people did not.  The same as attorneys, engineers, or the members of any other profession are not special.  In my experience, only “artists” have this need to place themselves on this pedestal of greatness and specialness, often in the face of all evidence.  I can only speculate as to why.

As soon as someone starts calling himself an “artist”, it seems like this becomes a license in that person’s mind to stop thinking, a lot of the time.  How else could anyone make such an asinine statement as the one PG quoted?

When it comes to agents, I’ve gone off on enough rants that I think I’ve made my stance pretty clear, particularly about the subject of agents acting as publishers.  I’ve got to say, though, that PG has been much more eloquent than I on this subject, and if you haven’t read his multiple posts about it, you should.  Read Courtney Milan’s as well.

I’ll go ahead and summarize, though.  In this day and age, I see no value whatsoever in an agent.  Particularly if that agent also purports to be a publisher, or to be a “self-publishing assistant”, or whatever euphemism they choose to use.  I don’t say that as some jaded writer who’s been screwed by agents one to may times, or who’s bitter toward the whole publishing establishment, or whatever.

Because I’m not that guy.

I’m just an intelligent, confident guy who’s been trained in business, management, and leadership and who’s learned a lot in the last seven months about how publishing works and how things are changing in this business.  And frankly, I don’t see the point of what an agent does.  At least, not for the money that an agent charges.  I’d pay a flat fee for the sales services that agents offer.  Maybe.  But a percentage forever?  Hell no.

Now I could be wrong.  There may be all sorts of valid purposes for an agent these days.  And I’ll happily change my tune if someone presents me with a compelling case.

But I sure as hell would never purport to trust an agent, or anyone in any business relationship, without question, no matter what that person does.

Sorry.  I’m not an “artist”.  I’m an adult.  And a businessman.

And it’s about time more writers started being the same.

0 thoughts on “Stop Being A Child”

  1. When I was a kid my mother would take us to the art museum and I’d wander around looking at all the pretty pictures. Some I would like, some I wouldn’t, some I just didn’t get (like Jason Pollack, I mean really, that’s art?). Then I took a couple of writing about art classes. This was the first time I had anything close to an art appreciation class, which these classes weren’t, but I learned a lot. I enjoyed them, and going to the museum, so much that I took a friend and her 10 year old granddaughter. They sailed through the museum, stopping for a few seconds at every picture, and clearly were completely underwhelmed. (This was the first time either of them had been to a museum). Meanwhile I stood for long periods at paintings and sculpture assessing and comparing what I then knew about art (which was, and still is, very little). In other words, I was seeing the exact same things they were in a very different way. They hadn’t studied art. They hadn’t learned to read art as more than color on canvas. Art has story, technique, and perspective (not just technical perspective but world perspective); it is history and symbols, and it often has meaning. I’m not just talking about painting and drawing and photography and sculpture– this includes writing too. Genre fiction is not art. Genre fiction has all those things that art has – story, technique, perspective, symbols, meaning, etc. – but it doesn’t have that fine nuance that art has.

    Yes, artists are people who have honed a skill that others have chosen not to pay much attention to in themselves. But anyone, everyone, can write a book, and not everyone can write a work of art, no matter how much they hone their skills. There is some indefinable something that turns mere words or paint or stone into something greater. It’s not just talent– a word that could have more of a biochemical/biological meaning than an artistic one. Art is not just skill, and not just talent combined with skill. To undervalue art (and artists) is to undervalue the fundamental nature of man. Creativity is fundamental to life. New perspectives, new ways of looking at old problems, negotiation, trying new things, rearranging the old, is how we make progress. I get what you’re saying about there being nothing new under the sun, and yet I look at my world 20 years ago and I look at my world now and am flabbergasted and amazed at how much new technology there is, how much things have changed, and at how the objects of life are evolving at breakneck speed. Without artists – be they of the painting/sculpting/writing/photographing/theater variety or the building microchip variety – we’d still be dishing up our food with our fingers sans spoon or fork. Although, come to think of it, we’d still be drawing. Even the caveman drew stick figures.

    As for an artist that changed the world: Leonardo Da Vinci.

    1. Kaleba,

      None of your points – all valid – change Michael’s basic argument. Being an artist is not an excuse for ignoring or hiding from the realities of whichever business you happen to be working with.

      Terry Pratchett – to name one genre author who genuinely is an artist and who does have the nuance and perspective you mention – is also a savvy businessman who understands that being an artist does not mean you get to escape all that icky math and business stuff.

      The truth is if you want to be a successful artist, you need to understand that icky math and business stuff a whole lot better than most people in the artistic fields currently do.

      (Came here via the pingback from Sarah Hoyt’s blog – thank you for the perspective, Michael – I agree with you and PG that writers need to grow up and stop playing at “being an artist”)

    2. Hi, Kaleba.

      You make a very valid, and eloquent point. It seems I wasn’t clear, so allow me to clarify. I by no means wish to sit here and cast dispersions on art. Art is important, and valuable.

      What I have a problem with is pompous asses who call themselves “artist”, but who don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain. Big difference there, I think.

      Interesting you bring up Leonardo. I agree he was a brilliant man, and a visionary ahead of his time in many respects. But did the world really change because of what he did? I’ll happily eat crow if it did, but I’ll also admit to not knowing the full story there.

      Thanks for coming by, and for commenting!


      1. For instance, I do not, nor have I ever called myself an “artist” — frankly, I’m uncomfortable with “author.” Is my stuff art? Who the heck knows? Not me. Yeah, I hope it has that something extra, or will sometime in the future. But what I struggle with is making a competent product… craft, not art. Why do I struggle with that? Because it’s a fight I can win. I can LEARN craft. I can’t LEARN art, no one can. Oh, I can study artists — PTerry is one, my friend Dave Freer is another (an underappreciated one) — and try and hope, but I can’t say I’ve achieved art. Shakespeare wrote to pay the bills and buy a new house — the art was due to the fact he was extraordinary. And Michael is absolutely right on using this to justify mental and financial laziness — it’s not acceptable and frankly in the times we live in it might be suicide. I had a friend long ago, who btw, only ever published a book, and who told me “I’m an artist and the universe will take care of me.” Since I don’t think the universe is sentient, I’m afraid I’m stuck with taking care of myself and doing the best I can. (G)

        1. Thanks for coming by and adding your two cents, Sarah. I dare say we seem to agree here, for the most part. 🙂 I’ve made that point about Shakespeare a number of times, myself. I’ll wager good money that if you look at all the greats throughout history, their motivations were similar. Of course, I could be projecting, but first and foremost folks gotta eat, after all.

  2. Calling yourself an artist does not give you a free pass to stop doing math, or to imagine you are not running a business. Art and business are not exclusive fields except when people make it so in their own heads.

    Both da Vinci and Michelangelo came out of a well-established guild system that, surprise, surprise, dealt with the skillset training and *commercial* aspects of visual arts, and worked under master artists with studios and other apprentices and in time ran their own studios under the guild system. They pursued commissions and payments as earnestly as they did their art.

    For more recent examples, Picasso and Monet were very financially and artistically successful in their own lifetimes and command high prices to this day for various reasons not entirely related to their artistry.

    In literature, Shakespeare and Dickens both wrote for the masses, for the patronage, and for the money.

    Eschewing solid business practices and commerce does not make one a good artist, and being (or becoming) a good artist does not mean you cannot be a good business-minded person, as well.

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