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Criticism, Digital Media, Fiction, Genre Fiction, My Novel, Publishing, The Writer's Life, Writings

Taking Art to the Streets

Recently, the writing community exploded over what some artists consider a scam—a publisher, BlazeVox Books, has begun asking authors they select for publishing to contribute $250 to offset printing costs. It was first reported by author Brett Ortler and has been commented on by several bloggers, including Kelly Davio and Christopher Higgs

Debate rages over the ethical implications of such a practice. But let’s face it, independent publishers, and many larger houses are in financial crisis. The vast majority of books published do not make an adequate return on investment. Publishers increasingly turn to some kind of fee (submission fee, reading fee, contest fee) and ask writers, the people who can least afford them, to pay.

The bigger issue, to me, is how disconnected the creative community has become from the mainstream world. Most art (books, opera, ballet, symphony, plays, etc.) is ignored in favor of faux art (movies, TV, pop music). The result is islands of artists forced to fight among themselves for enough money just to continue existence, to come up with clever contests and semi-scams designed to squeeze a few more pennies from fellow artists, the people they’re supposed to be helping.

Have we completely lost faith in our ability to communicate with the general public? Do we have nothing to say to them? Nothing that might entice them to read a book, attend a play, visit an exhibition of art? (I’m not taking sides here, only raising the questions. It may indeed be that the gulf between the art and mainstream worlds can no longer be bridged.) If it’s money we want/need, that’s where it is. The question is how do we access that resource.

Granted, the task will not be an easy one. The public is now weaned and raised on mass media, and rarely experiences real art, or even an opportunity to experience it. Case in point: I was listening to an NPR program on which people were relating their memories of 9/11. Two teachers came on, and both remembered that their schools asked them to turn off the classroom TVs during the attacks, so as not to stigmatize the kids. Turn off the TVs? What the f— were the TVs doing on? What are TVs doing in the classrooms in the first place?

This is what we’re up against, guys. We must consider the choice: we can turn our backs on that world and live with the current situation, risking irrelevance and oblivion (and bankruptcy, btw), or make an attempt to reconnect with the mainstream. Do we want to? (Come on, who doesn’t occasionally dream of writing that best-seller?) Are we willing to fight that fight? Get down in the muck and wrestle with the mainstream?

Yes, I can hear the purists already: the mainstream is the very world we reject through our art. We need to be separate from it to maintain our creativity. No argument there—but what I’m saying is that our finished products need to find a way to that market and show the public that creative, thoughtful alternatives exist to the pabulum dispensed through the mass media.

Okay, how? There are creative, guerilla tactics we can employ. For example, a dance company in Seattle visited large workplaces unannounced (with employer permission of course) and performed during lunch breaks—a free preview of their shows for dozens or hundreds of people. Sales skyrocketed, simply because average people got to see something they’d never experienced before, something outside the mainstream. At the Los Angeles Review and here in Michigan, we’re discussing a similar idea using writers.

On another front (and I almost hate to admit this, but it’s an idea that has promise), I recently wrote and self published a book (with two colleagues—long story—just check it out in print or ebook form) called Cyber Styletto. It’s a cyber thriller. It’s not my usual literary work, but because I am a literary writer, the work is infused with slightly higher concepts and language than would be found in many books of this genre. One of our team is a ferocious marketer, and he’s using his contacts to get the book reviewed or promoted on radio, TV and in magazines that appeal to techie nerds and other traditionally non-readers of literature. My hope is that this book might make a few want to try something a little more involved, maybe even a literary book someday. And if it works, I will make some money from the endeavor, and I will use that money to continue to pursue the art I truly want to create, as well as to help other artists pursue their goals.

We have the creativity. Perhaps we could designate a little of it towards increasing the size of our audience.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


6 thoughts on “Taking Art to the Streets

  1. great point, Joe. I suspect that we are operating in some very vacuous, and historically inaccurate sense of the “literary” when avant-garde work has always — since the 19th century — announced its importance through very public means. Whether it’s the self-erected Pavilion of Realism (placed by Manet, when the academy didn’t like his paintings) or the gyrations of the Dadaists in the Club Voltaire, artists who weren’t in it just for the money or the fame have always been very active about finding ways to SHOW and SHARE what they do. Perhaps what the ruckus is a wake up call and we need to stop fighting each other in our tiny shark tank and go out on the town.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | September 13, 2011, 3:56 PM
    • Thanks Stephanie,
      I’ll bet there are millions of potential readers out there who are dying for a break from the mind-numbing stupidity that gets passed off as “art” in the mass media world. We just have to find a way to bring it to them.

      Posted by jpon | September 13, 2011, 4:57 PM
  2. Yes – We can accept being marginalized or fight our way back into some level of public consciousness. The 100,000 Poets for Change on Sept. 24 may open a few chinks in the wall worldwide.

    Posted by Val Nieman | September 13, 2011, 4:39 PM
  3. Let’s hope so. For those who haven’t heard about the event, here’s a link: http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/

    Posted by jpon | September 13, 2011, 5:05 PM
  4. But what exactly are you saying about the $250? A necessary evil? An affront to writers of literature? Is the world of literature devolving into little more than a series of vanity presses?
    For me, the money is not an issue. It is the suspicion that the publisher was a little less than legit.

    Posted by jonzech | September 14, 2011, 2:31 PM
  5. Those who want to be heard have always had to find ways to get their messages across; today it’s harder, not only because of competing messages, but how they are delivered. I guess we have to pull our sleeves up higher and work harder to cultivate our audiences.

    Posted by Felicia Elam | September 15, 2011, 12:31 AM

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