No obligation to be famous

Listening last night on a great piece by NPR on cult musician and publicity recluse Jandek. You can follow it here.

Great quote at end of piece on by music critic Douglas Wolk. It applies to us all: “There’s not an obligation to be famous,” Wolk says. “We live in a culture that has impressed on us the idea that everybody not only can be famous, but should or must be famous, and if you’re not famous, you’ve failed, and if you’re making art and the world doesn’t cheer you, then it’s a failure, and that’s just a lie. And it’s a lie that Jandek realizes is a lie, and he’s gotten around it his own way.”

Some readers might think that I have these very polyanna views about making art, and existing inside the vacuum, and if you get tons of success you are just a sellout. This is not exactly true, my point is more that accolades are fantastic, but making work that comes from your heart is really the most important thing. So just go on and do it already.  I’ll settle for big in Japan.


8 thoughts on “No obligation to be famous

  1. Can one do both?
    Can one be commercially successful and still have artistic credibility?
    I think Richard Misrach has hit that line.
    I think the Weimaraner guy had that for a while, for sure, way back in the earlier days.
    Warhol, yes, no question.
    Gursky, for sure.
    Anyone else?


  2. of course one can do both, the lesson here is that the motivation should not be about the fame, but about the work, fame needn’t enter into the equation for the work to be valid, an increasingly rare concept, it seems, and one that would put the US weekly’s and OK’s into bankruptcy.

    Of those who succeed, Irving Penn comes to mind. William Wegman/aka the weimaraner guy for me keeps repackaging the same material, but I did succumb in my errant youth to some wegman love, a lot of that has to do with my love of dogs, though.

    on the flip side, I think of Salvador Dali who was churning out $100 sketches at the end of his life to keep the cashflow going.

    So yes, you absolutely can be famous and produce great art, but you run the risk of having not so great art repackaged because you are famous. (Dog Days Bogota?) (Any film made by Robert Frank?)

    Just because no one ever heard of you, doesn’t mean your work stinks. It might still stink, of course, but it’s not a given.


  3. Awww…I liked the Dog Days Bogata book. Everybody in the blogosphere is on that guy these days…and dog books $ell alot better than books about potentially distastefull subject matter such as…oh, never mind.

    Keith Carter put out a killer dog book ( Bones )and hopefully made some money with it, and held his head high yet still entered the marketplace. But…this distracts us from your point, which was well made and well stated.



  4. i didn’t realize that everyone was picking on that guy, cause i certainly don’t want to jump on that bandwagon. nothing lives up to sleeping by the mississippi for me, but he’s still a great guy & photog, near as i can figure. my problem with dog days is probably more a problem i have with a lot of currently popular work, it just does not move me. cest la vie. i’m sure that when i’m dead, if not sooner (hopes), my particular photographic leanings will be popular – thank god that culture is not static (like a lot of modern photography).
    that said, i thought distasteful subject matter was huge. what’s that saying? sex sells. c’mon man – don’t let a few priggish art directors bring you down. perhaps you’re next project should be about vows of chastity. that will confuse the market nicely.


  5. I know some truly famous people. Writers and composers mostly. They seem embarrassed by their fame. And most don’t really care whether or not the masses (or critics) like or dislike their work, because, really they’re working for a small group of family and friends.

    I know one writer who keeps getting people coming up to him at readings saying “Your book changed my life”. It makes him cringe.

    Things usually go really wrong when the issue of making money off your work becomes the foremost concern.

    So much of this week’s photography is crap because it’s all gimmick and pretentious, people trying to make a buck (or a million bucks) … gee, all you need do is take pictures of some ads in a slick magazine and pass them off as your own. You too can be a millionaire these days.

    Or, am I just too grumpy?


  6. hi richard,
    i empathize with your grumpiness. it’s hard for some of us (me) to understand how copystand photography can fetch six digit plus figures in the art world (though there is a lot that confounds me there – much of it indeed attached to the idea of concept).
    well, i have a concept too. it’s called go out into the real world and capture “found” moments that express something i’m trying to relate about society.
    yeah, fame is kinda distasteful, but there is always the problem of sustenance and it/recognition/money helps to pay the bills. I don’t blame anyone who has it as much as the market that creates it.
    thanks for sharing,


  7. Hey Susana, I have no idea as to why it took me so long to get around to this post. I totally agree with the sentiment expressed. Years ago I read an article in – I think ‘Art In America’- which quoted a famous painter as saying that he thought that any artists who did what they wanted to do were successful artists. That has stuck with me and lifts my spirits now and then. Also thanks for looking at my web site – I am delighted that you appreciate the work.


  8. yowza christian, you are bringing me down memory lane here! i am all about being famous now. joking. yeah, i’m into the spirit of the works creation – why was it made, what motivated the artist, how, an alchemy that is not primarily motivated by the market.


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