Fame vs success vs being ‘cool af’ in the arts

We all know the story of Vincent van Gogh – the troubled but beloved genius who apparently only sold one painting (officially) in his lifetime and we (cool people who read art blogs like mine) draw inspiration from this. The term ‘starving artist’ is probably derived from his story, history books are unapologetic at how weird he was and yet you and I know he was cool and our hearts have compassion for him.

Vincent Van Gogh -The-Red-Vineyard

Vincent Van Gogh -The-Red-Vineyard -1888- the only painting he sold in his lifetime!

Vincent didn’t need a rock star level success to feel like he was doing good work but he did need positive feedback from his peers. This is of course why he took it so badly when Paul Gauguin didn’t turn out to be his best friend and champion after he was invited to live with Vincent in Arles.  Gauguin was probably just bored and frustrated with Vincent’s eccentricities which caused his sharp tongue to say things he wouldn’t have said if he wasn’t in a de facto domestic partnership with the poor guy.

Vincent didn’t hide his work away from the world and when he was given opportunities to display his works he took them – such as the the seventh exhibition of Les Vingt (The Twenty) that was held in Brussels from 18 January to 23 February 1890. The Twenty were the next generation of artists after the Salon des Refusés first held in 1863.

You could say, in terms of rock music, the original ‘rejected’ artists like Edouard Manet and James Whistler did what the Beatles and Rolling Stones did for popular music (exactly) 100 years later – they opened the doors to a whole new wave of artists – look at what changed in terms of what was acceptable on the radio from 1963 (when the Beatles got started) to 1990 – that’s the year Dave Grohl joined Nirvana.

Vincent wasn’t a lone freak with no one who understood his scene – he was just a cool kid in the cool kids club right before everyone wanted to be a cool kid.

Mr Bean accidentally destroys the painting called Arrangement in Grey and Black- Portrait of the Artist's Mother painted in 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Mr Bean accidentally destroys the painting called Arrangement in Grey and Black- Portrait of the Artist’s Mother painted in 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

The cool people you know from history were basically famous or infamous depending on where you sit and as you get deeper into the genre of your preference you find others who were equally cool but not so famous – for example most people who have heard of Michelangelo (the Italian Renaissance artist) haven’t heard of Giorgio Vasari but he was cool af (if you don’t know what the af means just ignore it)!

quote-as-long-as-art-lives-never-shall-i-accept-that-men-are-truly-dead-giorgio-vasari-136-73-98

Nowadays fame is meaningless – you can be famous for just about anything, it does not mean you did anything cool – and as for mingling with famous artists – yukk who wants to be so famous that the likes of Tony Podesta would collect your art – let me die before my peers are that ‘spirit cooking’ crowd!

Tony Podesta art collection Google search

Tony Podesta art collection Google search

Success? How do you measure it and where does that lead to? I’ve seen great local artists who scramble to fill wall space with sub par hurried work when they are given a gallery show – maybe they got a couple hundred more dollars with all that hard work but is that success? With that attitude at what point do you measure the money vs the amount of time you put into it and decide to get a ‘real job’?

Success can only ever be measured by how you felt about your work after it was done – it’s a bonus if someone else likes it. I wrote the following as a you tube comment for my favorite punk rock band Mean Jeans (hell, maybe they don’t consider themselves punk but it’s punk from my old school view point). The song is here (it’s their unsolicited unpaid jingle for Polly-O string cheese).

I know that most people don’t get it and that’s cool – most people aren’t punk rock in how they think – they are just punk flavored if anything. One thing is certain – the Mean Jeans pay attention – they listen and they not only get the hilariousness of copying a stereotypical sound or phrase but they can replicate it and even make it better. Would Mean Jeans exist without the Ramones and Screeching Weasel? maybe but I doubt what they made would hit the spot like this for me. Luckily the world is so saturated with media that the Jeans can’t possibly be as big as Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson but fame just ruins any good band anyway – it’s inevitable and as certain as death – but there’s a sweet spot where a band can do no wrong because they get it for what it is and they can see themselves in that moment and they can appreciate it. Since no one but perhaps the Jeans themselves will read this, guys it’s ok to have this amazing resume to show that you can do anything musically – when you want to do something different you’ll be successful in that too – you can milk it till it’s dry or flip to being something else entirely but your legacy as musical geniuses will endure as long as we have a means to playback these great first albums!!

Will today’s free spirited and fun loving Mean Jeans be tomorrows suit encrusted ad men or money grubbing record producers – maybe, but I suspect they won’t be playing the same stuff tomorrow as they are playing today – they are too creative!

You can be famous, you can be successful but it’s something else that makes you cool as fuck. I know that the term ‘cool’ has been around since at least the beatnik era – maybe it goes back before then (jazz era I suspect) but being cool is why we had a Grateful Dead and not some unknown blue grass cover band instead.

I don’t subscribe to the misery of religious evangelicals or crusty vegans who boycott everything except free range lentils due to the perceived evilness of everything fun (and believe me I tried to go there at one point in my life but it made me so uncool for a second that I hated myself) so I recommend you watch the Grateful Dead documentary on Amazon Prime called Long Strange Trip. Yes, I know Amazon is probably an evil company causing destruction and zombie apocalypses all day long but it does show that Jerry Garcia was cool as fuck because he just wanted to play and make people happy and when you are cool miracles can happen and the world is a better place.

Motto

I play it cool
I dig all jive.
That’s the reason
I stay alive.
My motto
As I live and learn,

is:
Dig And Be Dug

In Return.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
New York : A. A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1994
Edition:1st ed

 

Be cool and you’ll reap rewards far deeper than mere fame or success!

Let’s face it, you can’t have a cool kids club without the existence of not so cool kids – it’s all part of the ying yang – aren’t you lucky that you are in the cool kids club even if you aren’t famous or wealthy etc yet? You can’t buy cool as Mojo Nixon said!

My non-famous but genius friend Biff Brown wrote the following song for me because I am cool and so is he! 

My non-famous but genius friend Dave Moses wrote the following song – Nashville Fauxgrass. Just think, there are billions of people who will never enjoy this gem – too bad! 

And the following video is for all of us cool kids!

The following songs are cool as fuck in my opinion – go listen to the music you like now!