Letter From the Editor
When I first brought the topic of commercial art to the table, I felt a certain reluctance or, at the very least, a hesitation from the writers to start a discussion on the topic. However, by the end of our brainstorming session, I had to cut the conversation short to not go overboard on our time frame. Today, I bring this vivid discussion closer to you. To get ready for what is to come, let me tell you about how we prepare things. After all, when I started this project, I created this concept of the letter from the editor so I could address myself to you every month (yes, you might have heard from ‘letter to the editor’ or ‘note from the editor’, but I bet that ‘letter from the editor’ is more of an unusual thing). And so, it is my goal to bring you, dear reader, closer to how everything is produced from behind the scenes.
Our brainstorming sessions always begin with me giving a brief summary of the reasons behind my choice of the topic followed by an extremely purposive vague question. It usually goes something like “what do you think of the topic?”, or “what comes to mind when you think of this topic?”. It is the type of question that everybody dreads to answer because nobody knows what is expected of you. And that is exactly why I do it. I settle an uncomfortable or uneasy feeling around the (virtual) room, hence the reluctance. I believe that it’s a very effective way of hearing things I don’t expect. And that is what I want. I don’t want to hear what I think, I already know about that. No. I want to be taken places where my mind did not think of leading me.
Early on in our conversation, a certain controversy around Scorsese and Marvel was brought up. Although Marvel is a given when we speak of commercial art, what is not a given is to put it on the other side. What if Marvel is innovative? What if it sought for inspiration in highbrow art practices? The franchise has used its creativity and energies when it comes to designing marketing strategies, that is undeniable. But what if Scorsese’s claim that “many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption” was, in fact, intended to be nuanced?
At this point, the writers cleverly remembered sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the cycle of a cultural product. Any artistic practice that is currently mainstream has to go through a process in which they start by being labelled as the newcomers, innovators and even outcasts. The canon, at this point, needs to either discredit these newcomers or incorporate their changes, as they are the first sign of a threat to the mainstream. But I guess here lies the difference, one that is crucial to make. Mainstream is not the canon. While the canon is recognized as culturally rich, enjoying the prestige of the critics and a high symbolic value by the audiences, the mainstream is commercial. Its glory is in the numbers, in the masses queuing to watch the next blockbuster. Let’s admit that this is a rather elitist vision of the art world. The cultural universe ought to be more complex and dynamic than that.
One thing is certain: people do rush to buy the ticket to see a popular artist on stage or to watch the latest James Bond film. After all the hustle, they either leave with stars in their eyes, impressed by the brilliance of the account, or disappointed with the tired repetition and lack of originality of the work. As an audience, we have expectations. We need to see the frames we are familiar with present in the art. At the same time, following the same recipe over and over again is not enough. We need something more, something new, but not too much deviation from that familiar frame.
It is a given that we touched upon the topic of money and its role in commercial art. Sometimes an artist is stuck between financial ruin and following their artistic convictions or giving them up for financial success. These two can go together sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But, more often than not, companies, producers or even audiences’ pressure get to someone’s aesthetics and the difficult decision has to be made. Or, we also have the famous case that once a creator becomes acquainted with success, they cannot stop and end up overdoing it. I am not going to lie that at this point of the conversation, J. K. Rowling’s name wasn’t heard as a whisper in the shadows.
After many cinematic examples, the visual arts were brought up, starting with the infamous question “what is the price of a banana taped to a wall?”. In a world with a lot of conventions, the value of work relies on details invisible to the eye. The name and signature of an artist can have an incredible weight on what the work is worth, sometimes even more so than the particular work’s quality.
At this point, I was obliged to stop our discussion to continue the meeting, or else we would go on through the night speaking about all sorts of examples that popped into our minds. At the end of our meetings, we go on to a pitch session where each writer tells their ideas for an article. But this part, I am sorry to inform you, I am not going to share here. The good news is that you will be able to discover the fruits of this discussion throughout the month. Curious? I guess you will have to stick around to find out.