Originally posted by NicholasWyche:
Not only is this statement simply ludicrous on the sheer surface, it also implies an insanely bad knowledge of the history of the arts.
True quality is almost NEVER recognized by the mainstream until years after it's gone.
shows "an insanely bad knowledge of the history of the arts. Chaucer was popular as soon as there were printing presses to make the word "popular" a meaningful word applied to literature. In Elizabethan times, Shakespeare was tremendously popular, his early contemporary Kit Marlowe and his late contemporary Ben Jonson slightly less so, and who do we read today? Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson. Miguel de Cervantes was hugely popular, and is today to the Spanish tongue what Shakespeare is to the English.
Even Charles Dickens, who came along after the relatively new notion that being successful is bad, became tremendously popular and is still read today both in college courses and by people who just want to read a good story.
Or take Opera, particularly in Italy, where the great composers like Verdi were tremendously popular with the common people.
The whole notion of "true" poets and artists starving in garrets because the lumpen proletariat is too dumb to appreciate them is a product of the Romantic Movement, the dark side of that movement I might add (the lighter side caused Romantics to publicly encourage and enthusiastically embrace democracy, while the darker side revealed the elitist snobs most of them were inside).
Really, aside from Van Gogh and Emily Dickinson, even in the last 200 years while this spurious notion has taken root it's hard to find a truly great artist in any medium who has been a complete failure commercially.
In comics, "Maus" has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" was at its height the best-selling comic book DC was publishing, the Hernadez Brothers have made enough money to live comfortably, though not enough to spend $3 million on baseballs.
It's true that if you set out with the intention of maximizing the profit potential of your work, whether it's a movie or a comic or a book or a painting, you're likely to end up making compromises that will not allow you to achieve what you might have if you stay true to your vision. But it's also true that many would-be artist's vision is so idiosyncratic and, frankly, off-kilter that the reason they are commercial failures is the same reason they are artistic failures: there work doesn't touch something deep inside anyone but themselves.
If something of quality achieves mainstream acceptacnce it's almost always very rare and it is still only an incredibly small percentage of any media being produced.
This holds true for comics, books, movies, tv, and music. Arguing that it doesn't merely indicates the lack of recognition of quality on the part of the individual doing the arguing.
This is going to surprise you, but I don't necessarily disagree with this. It's the historical "it has always been this way" that you're wrong about. The reason what you say is mostly true is that we live in a culture where ALL the arts are dominated by commerce. In the early days of cinema, elitist art critics used to look down on film because it was a collaborative medium, while a great work of art needs to be the statement of a single artist. But that is not only not necessarily true, the fact is that no artist ever works in isolation. An artist is always part of a collaborative effort. In the so-called "fine arts," the artist works with an agent and with gallery owners and with patrons -- and when patrons start buying the paintings he does in this style and no one wants any painted in that style, guess which style the artist starts to favor? And this is NOT a bad thing, necessarily -- it could be simply that the patrons are RIGHT, and that the favored style is, in fact, BETTER.
To some extent, this has always been true, and we failed to realize it, but it is certainly far MORE true now, in our commercialized culture where everything is translated into transactions involving money, and in a medium like film hundreds of careers and millions of dollars can be riding on the success or failure of a single piece.
And so, yes, given those pressures, given the incessant drive to pablumize and homogenize the work to keep it from offending anyone because that might damage its profit potential, it has become very difficult for works in some media -- particularly film and mainstream comics, I think -- to be tremendously popular and at the same time to have real artistic value.
But not impossible. Again, I mention Gaiman. And "The Godfather." Moreover, while "Titanic" and "Die Hard" may be commercial crap, they're very well made commercial crap, incorporating the lessons established by more ambitious and exploratory filmmakers into an entertainment that doesn't cheat the audience, and is quite worth the time and money spent on it, for all but the jaded elitists who can't see the value in entertainment, but must always have High Art.
True story. When "Rocky" first came out, playing in only a few cities as an almost underground film, it got rave reviews as a return to the great moviemaking of yesteryear, and Roger Ebert, among others, compared Stallone to Marlon Brando.
Then it started picking up cities and audiences and money. Within a month or two (movies weren't released all over the country on 3,000 screens back then -- only the biggest studio blockbusters had blanket releases, and then only on a few hundred screens, the rest took their time meandering around the country), the film would be arriving as a known quantity, and that known quantity was a Big Hit.
And suddenly the rave reviews dried up. All the critics in the NEW cities saw it as a lame, commercial cliche-ridden collection of hokey scenes from lots of older, better movies.
Now, whether the first critics were right and the second batch wrong or vice-versa isn't the point. The point is that the critics' perceptions of the movie were colored by their perception of its place in the commercial pecking order. Those who saw it as a little independent film, for the most part, loved it. Those who saw it as a commercial blockbuster, for the most part, either yawned and said it wasn't bad or detested it. But they were watching the same film
I think too often the alternative comics folks, particularly those at TCJ, come off looking and sounding like the second batch of Rocky critics, knee-jerkily pooh-poohing anything "mainstream" just because "if it's commercial, it can't be any good."
statement, in my opinion, is the one that is simply ludicrous on the sheer surface.