We are all Mad Men now

Prayer Flag (Manganese Blue)
2020.  Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 in.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be participating in the Morongo Basin Open Studio Art Tours this October.  In anticipation I’ve been doing a lot of reorganizing in my studio, discarding and updating.  That process is interrupted now due to the cooling problem (still with us, but very close to solved).  In the meantime, I’m working on some of the ancillary tasks, ones that I can do in the cool of my office, such as designing greeting cards that I will have for sale at Open Studio.

These cards will include several images from the Prayer Flag series that I completed in spring of last year, such as the Manganese Blue pictured above.  At that time I sold 10 of the 12 Prayer Flags through Facebook, in a very short time and without having intended to.  I’d never done any “marketing” through social media.  But of course, it was covid, galleries were shut down, and I had started posting my work more frequently in response.  Folks liked them and asked if they were available for purchase, and so that happened.

Marketing rules in America these digital days.  Rules all, pervades all.  Marketing of self, marketing of brand, marketing of product, marketing of cause…it never ends.  As soon as Americans got their hands on the technology, the all-consuming self-promotion began.  As an artist I’m supposed to be marketing…theoretically the work, but really, in the current style, myself.  Forget the artwork, I’m supposed to get you to like me, to relate to me, to…I don’t know, want to be like me?  Own a piece of me?  Self-promotion is an end in itself now, ubiquitous, weird…grotesque, frankly.  Rude to say it, I know, but seriously:  grotesque.  In my best moments I see it as sad but tenderly human.  But my more common reaction is a combination of nausea and fright.

And I’ve done it myself.  In the earlier days of the internet, and the earlier days of my career, I was pretty good at selling myself.  Ultimately, though, it made me recoil with a kind of loathing.  I felt trapped by my own “brand” and by the tyranny of the performance.  (Hence, my continual tiresome ambivalence towards this very blog you’re reading now.)

I don’t want to judge my fellow Americans just trying to survive in Late-Stage Capitalism.  We all gotta make a living.  But I think there’s a lot of self-selling these days that does not result in a living but at most reaps a kind of dumb fleeting attention and at worst results in being celebrated for one’s ability to self-promote and literally nothing else.  The celebrity, of course, being the apotheosis of this sad scramble.

The model is not a healthy one, my friends.  Not healthy for society, not healthy for individuals, not healthy for the earth and other living things.

This is not news, I know.  And it makes for a gloomy post.  But I’ve been wrestling with it, because I have to make decisions on how to promote my work at this stage in my career, at this stage in my life, and at this stage in American virtual culture.  I don’t like the array of options I see.  One longs to “opt out”. 

Consumerism has consumed itself.  Let’s see if there’s any place for the spirit in the vacuum that remains.

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