Friday, June 18, 2010

pt 1 - from Exhibit "Portrait of Success as a young Failure" curated by bonniekate

Essay by Justin Rigamonti

The obsolete definition of success is “outcome” – curiously replaced by our current connotation: “the achievement of wealth or fame.” These days if you are successful, you are kicking the world’s ass and getting noticed for it. To be successful means to be making heads turn, to be pulling in fistfuls of cash. Etymologically speaking this is unfortunate, since success derives from “succeed”, as in the succession of events –

one thing following after another. To have a success in this sense would be to have events follow one another in the way you hoped they would, resulting in an end situation or product which you intended, expected, hoped for.
Are you looking to be the next hot shit? I suggest hollywood. If you are looking to know what it means to be human in an organic and changing world, to begin to understand this time we have been given of talking, building, and eating, all leading up to death… make art.


The problem with success as we now define it is that it misdirects the mind away from what matters. If you are trying to be successful, in the tricked-out twentyfirst century sense, you are going to lose. Meaning what?
Look – if you are trying to achieve notoriety and the wealth that follows in its footsteps (which I think is a fair assessment of today’s definition of success), you are going to begin to realize that there are certain things you can make, certain ways of acting, that will achieve this. Madonna dressed up like a prostitute and sang like a siren and made a millions dollars doing it, and ever since we’ve had a series of young girls doing the same thing. It’s called mannerism. A celebrity will do some new bootyshaking and get America’s attention, or an artist will produce a piece of art that is recognized as compelling or beautiful and will be lauded for it, and soon every capital-savy shmoe will be making their own little rip-off versions, be bootyshaking in the same exact way. Why? Because it works. It makes a success, in the contemporary sense.
And if you are thinking that you want to achieve this fame and fortune, I’ll pretty much guarantee you that little copycat habits are going to start infiltrating your work – you’ll put the daub of paint like so, because you know that’s how they are doing it these days and people are eating it up.
Bowing to the machine just to be successful will make you forget about your craft – you’ll forget about making art. You’ll forget that making art is a thing that has to do with you, the people around you, ideas, and being alive in the world.


Desire for success betrays bad motivations. You might argue that you mean success in the classic sense – that you want to make art because you love making art, and you want to make lots of art that is satisfying to you and those around you. But rarely will you hear someone describe what they mean by desire for success without adding “But I think its okay to want a little fame and fortune.”
Yes, it’s okay to be motivated by greed, but insofar as you are wanting fame and fortune you are not wanting to make art. Even if you are telling yourself that you just want to get enough notoriety to feel good, and enough wealth to live comfortably, you have begun to use art-making itself as a tool for your success. In that sense, art-making isn’t the end product anymore – success is. Are we all so damn blind that we’ve swallowed this vain materialistic dream of renown and wealth, of comfort and peace through money and fame, and given up entirely the goodnessess of art-making: making it for its beauty, making it for its ability to communicate ideas, making it for its profound impact on our lives and the lives of those around us?


Those who want success in the fame-n-fortune sense should take a moment to reckon with death. We are going to die. All the praise and petting we desire so much out of fear - all the power and wealth we desire, because we want so much that kind of security- all of it will be gone.
Write or paint to be successful, try to be successful in above sense in the arts, and you lose in three ways:
1. You forget about death, and therefore the goodness of life before it – and the best thing it consists of: that is love.
2. You lose yourself - to be successful, you must aim your rhetoric always toward some target, and in as much as you do this, you are aiming it away from an honest growth and expression of the person God has made you to be.
3. You’re art itself gets put on a back burner.
I agree that one could say a symptom of "success" is “going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”, but this implies that success is something, that it is a happiness that is not attached to the product: either praise or perception on others part, but not on the goodness of the work, the excitement of it. Life. If you are bouncing through the failures this way, guess what – you are likely not thinking about them. You are likely thinking about your art, your craft, the thing you do.
Success is hunger's vain dream: a dream of freedom from fear. We will always be hungry until we have "learned the secret to being content in all things". Which is what?
That we do not have to be afraid. That God has made us, flesh and bone, and loves us. That we can love him, and love those around us. That we can open ourselves slowly, over this life, to one another and to him, and to ourselves, to show the beauty of what he has made.
Success is freedom from success.

“Conversation 2” 2006

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