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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Quality and quantity and art

Someone once told me that creativity is also the result of quantity. You need many, many ideas before one will stick, you need many many many efforts for little results. Of all the efforts, you, the creator, have to be absolutely merciless in killing your own efforts, and keeping only - out of the vast quantity of stuff - only those that are worthwhile to share.

Of the thousands of artists, only a few will be able to get recognition. For every Van Gogh, there are hundreds of thousands of painters who lived in total obscurity.

Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dalí made dozens of drawings, trying different angles and compositions before they even started on their paintings. Many possible ideas and approaches. Van Gogh even over-painted at least one third of all his own paintings because he wasn't satisfied.

All that is well, but even after a careful selection of the quality things that were not discarded, you end up with stuff that no one is interested in?  Van Gogh made over two thousand paintings and sold only one during his lifetime : "The Red Vineyard of Arles", depicted here.

Sometimes I have the impression that the same holds true for avant-garde music.

The painting that was sold for the highest price so far is Jackson Pollock's  "Number 5", for a meagre $140 mio in 2006.

It reflects so strongly the power and freedom and expressivity of free jazz, that it's encouraging.

 Why do people come to accept with their eyes what they can't with their ears? I'm not sure Pollock's paintings are as widely appreciated as Van Gogh's by the general public, but at least he gets the recognition he deserves.

By the way, the original art work on Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" album has the painting "White Light" by Jackson Pollock. Coleman himself was of the opinion that "out of chaos, intuition and freedom, beauty will emerge". And I couldn't agree more!

On a more negative point, here are some statistics from literature and the world of books, as written by Michael Allen in "On the Survival Of Rats In The Slush Pile" (Allen himself could not find a publisher and so he became one himself)

"It is generally reckoned that, however carefully or otherwise the slush pile is read, it is rare to find anything in it which is worth even the most cursory consideration as a candidate for publication. The agent Pat Kavanagh, mentioned above, was asked how often she had found a book in the slush pile that was worth pursuing. ‘Never,’ she said. ‘I don’t believe it has ever happened to me.’ Barry Turner, in The Writer’s Handbook, once mentioned an agent who fared a little better than that, but not much. In 14 years of reading 25-30 manuscripts a month, the agent found 5 good ones. Another agent, at Curtis Brown, personally received 1,200 manuscripts in one year, and took on 2 of the authors as clients. One agent at perhaps the largest UK agency remarked recently that she was having to read 3,000 manuscripts in order to find 1 client. In 1989, The Times reported that the well-known British imprint Hutchinson was receiving about 1,000 manuscripts a year. One of these unsolicited manuscripts might be published every couple of years or so. Maybe. At Chatto and Windus the Times reporter was told that about 10 manuscripts arrived every day. Were they all read? Long pause. ‘Yes.’ Were any ever taken on? Long pause. ‘No.’ The largest publisher of romantic novels in the UK is Mills & Boon, or Harlequin Mills & Boon, to give the firm its full name. The Mills & Boon - editorial director has stated that the firm receives 6,000 manuscripts a year from hopeful and so-far unpublished writers. Out of these submissions, the company takes on, in a good year, about 10 new writers. In 1995, the owner of two small publishing firms in the USA reported in Publishers Weekly that he had received nearly 7,000 offers of books in the previous twelve months, and had decided to accept 12 of these submissions. A much larger and more prestigious American firm, Viking, agreed to publish only one unsolicited manuscript in 26 years; that was Ordinary People, by Judith Guest. The book went on to become
a bestseller as well as the basis for a successful film. Finally, the publisher Anthony Blond, writing in The Spectator, maintained that the acceptance rate of unsolicited manuscripts was 1 in 2,000, in both London and New York. And so on. Taleb rightly advises us against drawing general conclusions from insufficient data (the Baconian flaw), but it would be wearisome, and it is surely unnecessary, to go further. We can safely conclude, I suggest, that very few manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile – anyone’s slush pile, whether agent or publisher – with a view to being taken further. It follows therefore, as dogs follow a bitch in season, that a writer’s chances of achieving any kind of success are extraordinarily small. There is only the slimmest chance that a new and as yet unpublished writer will be taken on to an agent’s list of clients; even if taken on as a client, there is no guarantee of publication; and even if the writer is published, the chances of achieving any kind of critical or commercial success are also small."

It may be comforting that the other arts are subjected to the same publishing laws as music. 

© stef


Alemão said...

Awesome coincidence!! I've discovered and talked about Pollock last week and I'm also trying to get deeper on Ornette's music but with no idea of this relationship you've mentioned. Furthermore, I wrote a post about his work (I also have a blog, in portuguese/brazil), kind of asking why is he so admired. Up to now, I just can understand and appreciate "Sleep Talking" from Sound Grammar. We can go further if you want to. I'm a huge fan of your blog! Congratulations for the 500,000 views!!!

Stef said...

Hi Alemäo,

Indeed an incredible coincidence!

all the best

Morgen said...

Great discourse, Stef.
I appreciate your thoughts outside the review box.

As for Pollock's paintings... I think they are not really a suitable visual counterpart to Free Jazz. They don't tell a story. You could cut them into dozens of pieces, and the differences between these pieces would be not as great as if you'd cut a Free Jazz track into pieces and compare them.

Morgen said...

"Why do people come to accept with their eyes what they can't with their ears?"

With a painting, people have more freedom to introduce their own scope of design.
A painting they can situate in many different ways, combine it with surrounding elements.
A painting is less obtrusive if you are not in the mood for it. It's only part of a room - whereas music is inescapable.
And from a painting there exists only one original, hence it's an object of value that you can trade...

alexandru mircea said...

Anyone can write down his/her thoughts, while not anyone can play an instrument. In France, where I live, a recent statistic revealed that almost a third of the country's population has written something at some point in their lives and consider themselves "authors". So IMO the situation is not at all the same in music and book/writing industry.

Seven said...

I think stef makes an excellent analogy; 'also believe music to be the 'highest'(superior) of art-forms.The effort required to enjoy/comprehend,'improv',is not one most people are willing to take...