The Crossroads

Let’s speak candidly now, and understand that this paper is for your eyes only. Not in any sense of intimacy, but in its stead for the blinding goal of matriculation. I have no desire to graduate with a utility belt: portfolio’s of this and that, connections in the world of business, equations to uncover those words god has or has not spoken into physical law. I seek only the degree which eludes me to such an extent that my head start has landed me squarely in the middle of the pack. My intended audience is the only person who may be reading this now. You’ve heard my voice. Hopefully you speak my language. In any case this is what I don’t have to say, except when forced to do so.

★ ★ ★

Art as truth has been betrayed by those accolades which seek to reinforce those in its pursuit. Those recognitions bestowed upon those upon us who’ve bared all have lead to the impossibility of artistry without first the the very antithesis of expression. It is my standing, stolen, as many understandings are, from another, that for an individual to be be truly recognized through their creation, they have to first create something so lifeless and far from themselves that they might prove their worth as a part of a whole before they’re allowed to venture into a more personal endeavor. Its in one’s uninhibited expression that there is value in art. It’s been said that any attempt to create is an attempt to have one’s individuality recognized and confirmed by the outside world, and it is through our system of recognition that any individuality in art is hindered. Looking to those great artists of the past and present, we can see with certainty how harmful this unyielding hazing of burgeoning creatives is on the process of expression.

Its no secret that a great many artists have been lost to the annals of history, or may simply be gone without a trace. Their loss in not just tragedy for them, in their inability to be seen, but also for us who may never see the fruits of their labor, and may never understand what they may have been to us. Though I cannot provide any such example of such a great person who is not even slightly remembered, I can speak to those who lived without that recognition. Franz Kafka is a name that unfamiliar to few, but in his own time there weren’t many speaking his name with any great esteem. Kafka’s work is recognized now and his legacy is enduring, but he is made the victim of our artistic frameworks. Kafka’s style was uncompromising, from Metamorphosis to A Report to an Academy, his voice was distinct. His creation was nothing short of his own, and his ponderings are magnificent. Effortlessly toeing the line between the disturbingly morose and the philosophically complex, there is a constant discussion within Kafka’s texts that show a need to understand the nature of his own freedom as it is bounded by his personal obligations and their moral weight. The validity of his work has little relevance to the nature of this discussion either way, what is decided is its intimate nature. Kafka has torn a piece of himself off to present to the world, and he was left to go quietly into the night, only to be seen as a genius long after his passing. 

When we turn our eye to another prominent literary figure, Gertrude Stein, we can see a similar trajectory. While Stein had admirers amongst for her entire career, it was not until late into her journey as a writer that she garnered widespread acclaim. It was with the release of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that she was truly seen by the public, and not for any good reason. The particular work was one that wasn’t driven by desire for expression, but in her own words out of a desire to make money. Stein wrote the book to be digested easily by the public, and to line her pockets after a far less lucrative and more creative career as an author. This particular work however, inspired a great deal of interest in her previous works. There is no deeper disappointment than to see that an artists expression is received weakly until they make an attempt to be received without expression at all.

In this great field of literature, I’ve cherry picked two particular authors to support the damage that reception has done to expression. The artist who is unwavering in his being was left to die quietly, while that artist who went out of her way to open the door to audiences was rewarded with great admiration in her lifetime. There is a definitive problem in our approach. 

We’ve found ourselves not recognizing those artists who take paths entirely of their own. The individuals like Kafka are left to live entirely devoid of the acclaim they may deserve because they haven’t put in the extra step to create an approachable stepping stone to their collected works. This exact idea is on full display with Stein’s incredible widespread acclaim following her attempt to creat an artistically stunted work that she believed, rightly so, would make her wealthy in a way that nothing she had done before had. This idea is not nearly restricted to Literature, it extends to all mediums of art in only the most depressing way.

When one is asked to think about the most recognizable visual artists of all time, Vincent Van Gogh is likely to be among those whose images are conjured. The man is seen today as one of the most influential and unique painters of all time, but in his lifetime he, like Kafka, was left to live without being seen on the scale that many today would say he deserved. While it is true that he did begin to see acclaim while he still lived, this wasn’t the case for the vast majority of his life. The beginnings of his rise to the status we know him to have today began only in his last year, and took many years after to fully develop. His devotion to the very specific and innovative style of his work was no help to this matter, he was outside the artistic framework that many at the time were expecting to such a great degree, that he alienated audiences. There was a far easier path to fame and fortune for the man, if only he had decided to play by the rules and create the uninspired before he showed off the immense talent that all today know him to have had.

The path from predictable to unpredictable and acclaim is no clearer than in the example of Jackson Pollock. While not remembered today for his early works, he began his career in surrealist abstraction establishing his capacity to play the game, before moving to the infamous action painting he was known for. Pollock had a clear understanding of what it takes to be recognized in this art culture, and followed the exact blueprint for success. He proved his worth to critics, and then he ventured into a burgeoning artistic wave, and the critics followed on the faith that what he was doing was entirely intentional and calculated because of his capacity to succeed in a risk free way. Although there are many today that still don’t like the works of Pollock’s later career, its undeniable that its been accepted into the pop cultural canon; his action painting pieces have fetched hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

Lets look to one more artistic medium, as far as music goes, no song is more infamous within a band’s discography than Creep, by Radiohead. The song was written to be a chart topper, as admitted by frontman Thom Yorke, and its become despised by the band for doing it so successfully. For years the band has refused to play the song in concert. Thom Yorke publicly despised the acclaim that came with the success of creep, the song is their most popular of all time, and in the years after its release, it was the reference point for everything they wrote. The song did catapult the band into stardom, but its a mark on their career that they aren’t particularly happy about. The song isn’t representative of the band’s sound, but it is still to many the first that comes to mind when Radiohead is brought up.

Acoustic ladyland, in all of their magnificence, has a career of critical acclaim without maintaining even two thousand monthly listeners on spotify. The band was born out of the desire for a few musicians to create some jazz covers of jimi hendrix songs, hence the name, but from their they embarked on a beautiful journey creating some of the most astounding avant jazz, and punk jazz ever recorded in my humble opinion. For these efforts they have many accolades to their name, though the band hasn’t been together for over 10 years now, the members have each moved on to new musical ventures that are far more commercially successful. It is this band that drives me to believe the way that we see art is so deeply wrong. My taste may not be everyone’s taste, but surely there are more than a few thousand people on planet earth who have ears to tolerate such an innovative work of industrial and noise influenced jazz riddled with beautiful harmonies and gorgeous songwriting that is on display on their album Skinny Grin. I’ll cut myself short as I know I have too much to say on this particular topic, but in short Acoustic Ladyland has created a masterpiece that is enjoyed by far too few, and their continued ventures into avant jazz after didn’t create the accessibility that the band needed to receive widespread notoriety. 

The path to mainstream success is clear in many avenues of art; create the expected, do it well, and then you have free reign to do as you please. It is, in my eyes, painful to see that artists are asked to sell their firstborn, in exchange for the freedom to express themselves truly, and to externalize whatever they wish. While its not a problem that is easily solvable, its not a problem I can even propose a solution for with the exception of awareness. If as a collective of consumers of art, we can all understand what it is that we are doing when we ask an artist to give up their artistic liberty at least once in their career, we may be able to recognize burgeoning artists better before they are crammed inside of our easily understandable box.

Works Cited

Ewell, Philip A. “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame.” Music Theory Online, 1 Sept. 2020, 

This text informed my perspective on the musical framework with which we judge a pieces validity. It also corroborates the ideas of a defined understanding of good art within our culture, creating room for artists to be boxed in when in search of recognition.

Ekelund, R. B., et al. “The ‘Death-Effect’ in Art Prices: A Demand-Side Exploration.” Journal of Cultural Economics, vol. 24, no. 4, 2000, pp. 283-300. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Apr. 2023.

Provided me with the idea of a measurable increase in value of art when its progenitor is diseased. This makes recognition more easily achievable postmortem, and thusly more difficult in the artists lifetime, requiring additional steps as described within the paper.

Kirsch, Adam. “The Fight for Recognition.” Poetry, vol. 193, no. 2, 2008, pp. 143–48. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Apr. 2023.

This text provided that stolen understanding that when one creates art, they seek to be recognized as an individual by true expression, with which they hope to be seen and acknowledged. In tandem with the framework they are subjected to, they must now create what they are inspired to create as well as what must be created for their truest art to be lent credibility.

Conrad, Bryce. “Gertrude Stein in the American Marketplace.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 19, no. 2, 1995, pp. 215–33. JSTOR, Accessed 10 May 2023.

This article shows stein’s intention in writing the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, ie mainstream popularity for the sake of monetary gain.

Dorn, Roland, and George Keyes. “Van Gogh Face to Face : The Portraits : Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890.” Internet Archive, 1 Jan. 1970, 

There’s evidence of Van Gogh’s desire to innovate, while being met with only critique in his early career, without being stunted. He continued on this outsider path without seeing much encouragement at all with a few notable exceptions.

Malins, Steve. “Scuba Do.” Vox, Apr. 1995, pp. 16–20. 

This article puts on full display Yorke’s contempt for Creep as well as its affect on his career and mentality in the years following.

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