Sondheim, with the help of Barbra Streisand on this version, has been rolling through my head persistently as of late. My friend Jennifer Lovett Herbranson often touches on this push and pull of the artist’s marketing dilemma on her blog; she approaches this tug of war with passion and expertise, all writers should check her out. Because, “Otherwise you’ll find your composition, Isn’t gonna get much exhibition.”
When this song was originally produced in the musical, Sunday in the Park with George, it appeared – on the surface – to focus on the marketing of art, “Advancing art is easy- Financing it is not.” However, that’s not all old George/Stephen/Barbra talk about here.
There are three layers. 1) Marketing. Then 2) Commentary on the public’s expectations: “All they ever want is repetition.
All they really like is what they know.”
Commercial = Viable
Sigh. Kendra Merritt (another blogger I am a fan of and you should be too) discussed the book to movie phenomena. She discusses the merits of movies and books each as a medium to a story, and asks, “Why do we insist on making our most successful stories into movies?” To me, it comes back to Sondheim: “All they ever want is repetition. All they really like is what they know.” Oh, did I say that already?
Do consumers have the time to get to know a new character? Or patience to learn to relate to a new hero? Pop radio gives us bands that sound like the last band but tout a “Fresh, New, Sound!” Oh, plueeese.
OK, but that hoity-toity rant aside, I get it. I L-O-V-E generic pop. Really. When an artist rhymes their way into my blood with a foot tapping beat and sing-along-able melody, I am happy. And I give the artists that do this both my admiration and my gratitude for giving me a moment’s release from the day’s drudgery.
This is true of all art. There are commercial books that I will never read, because I don’t like a particular genre, not because I expect art to be bigger or better. I am all for getting lost in a book and I do not ever hold against the book its commercial success. Friends, don’t ever worry about hiding your book cover. Whatever you read for pleasure – read it! For example, like many of you, I’ve read every book in the Harry Potter series, and believe it or not, I was a few years past “middle grade” when JK Rowling started us on that adventure.
However, no matter how thankful we, as artists & writers are, to JK Rowling for breaking open the industry and getting kids and adults to read again, we now find ourselves in a new cycle of commercial is-it-as-good-as Rowling’s work for YA, for wizardry, for adventure, for commercial viability…The industry had to be convinced that Harry Potter was viable. Now it is all part of the cycle.
So where will my story fall into all of this? At the moment at Sondheim’s third point:
In theory, I shouldn’t care. I need to write the best story I can. That’s how it all started. I had a story, a giant what-if, burning under my skin and it came gushing from me. Then I began learning everything I didn’t know, I don’t know. I’ve been tuning my craft. I’ve analyzed and read and run my head right up against a giant stone wall. The words that once flowed from me are now choking in my throat. All of the demons that writers know so well are included, for a rundown of these Chris Mandeville shares the list with pictures even!
My dear husband reminds me that this is all part of the process. Thank goodness he too is an artist and knows to baby me, bring me fountain Coke, and let me curl up into a ball of self-pity when I cannot face the page, the screen, or the world.
Because, somehow, it actually is all part of the process. One teeny tiny bit at a time brings me to the next stage. I must remember to stay true to my vision. It’s not a commercial story, but it must be told. It’s not a typical arch, because it’s based in truth. It comes from within me and outside of me. It is built from years of fears, hopes and love. It comes from both imagination and observation. And really, it’s not even my story, it’s a bigger, bigger story than that.
And that brings us back to Barbra Streisand & Stephen Sondheim to remind me,
“A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head…
“The art of making art
Is putting it together, bit by bit
Beat by beat, part by part
Sheet by sheet, chart by chart
Track by track, bit by bit,
Reel by reel, pout by pout
Stack by stack, snit by snit,
meal by meal, shout by shout
Deal by deal, spat by spat
Shpiel by shpiel, doubt by doubt
And that… Is the state of the art!”
She sings this pretty fast, the complete lyrics here. If you are a Broadway and/or Streisand fan – I highly recommend the album this is is taken from.
Are there songs that keep you in check? Poetry? Other art?
What shakes your artist self up and brings you back?