How Often Are Our supposed “Artistic Decisions” Really “Business Decisions” in Disguise?

Or vice versa?

I recently saw an excellent documentary on Frank Zappa, that just came out, and always admired is artistic commitment. He loved music and making music, but never had a drive for financial success. In fact, others around him made a point that he purposefully did NOT want to make a hit record ( although he did with his daughter Moon Unit called “Valley Girl”, kind of by accident).

I was drawn to his quote ( and I’m sorry I’m paraphrasing ). He was being interviewed about a symphony performance of one of his pieces he composed, where he had to hire the London Symphony because I couldn’t find a symphony who would put it in their line up:

Interviewer: When you had the idea to do this performance, did you expect it to make money?

Zappa: No.

Interviewer: Why would you decide to do it if it wasn’t going to make any money?

Zappa: Because then it would be a business decision and not an artistic one.

He was all about artistic freedom. And if somebody else liked it, then great. If not, thats fine too.

And does it say something? Do you have anything to say?

Planets aligning is when an art project melds with something a network or other business is looking for. And then the real planet fluke is when it crosses into mainstream success ( Like Spongebob). Steve never planned for Spongebob to do what it did. He approached it as his art project. In fact when big money starts getting involved it can mess with it. Your ego takes over and takes you out of inspiration.

I read an article about Peter Frampton that illustrates this so well. (for those of you who don’t know, Peter Frampton had a huge live album in the 70’s. I owned it, as well as everyone else I knew at the time.) What was funny is that all of the songs on that album were previously released on studio albums and only did moderate sales. Frampton was happy with his musical life, loved writing songs, made enough money to keep doing it for a living. But when his live album hit it big, it was fun for a short while, and his bank account was the better for it, but he suddenly found that he couldn’t write songs anymore. All of the big money people pressured him to do another album like that one. But it never came. He no longer wrote for inspired creativity. It was not longer an artistic decision. It became a business decision. Sometimes big success messes with the things that are really important in life.

Some artists do very well with juggling the commercial success with the artistic.

I, for one, had telling experiences. whenever I panicked and started making business decisions disguised as artistic ones, they never worked. But when I made artistic decisions from spirit, the money was always there ( as long as I wasn’t spending it on things to please my ego). The projects were mostly not commercial successes, but were enough to keep doing them.

We all need money to eat and have a roof. But think about the other choices you make in exchange for a fulfilling creative life?

Follow what you love without expectations of the outcome. Whatever happens is supposed to happen.

“You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you care about. Then, if you are lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it is meaningful.” – Susan Kare.

5 Responses

  1. Was there a statement you were driving at about Spongebob shen you said the big money messing with the project thing right after? Don’t post this comment if it feels invasive; I just couldn’t tell if you were putting something out there for us to interpret.

  2. Steve stepped away from Spongebob after it became a huge success to work on a personal animated film. Steve was incredibly unaffected by the success of Spongebob except to be more generous whenever he could. He finished his film and it’s great. Now what Nickelodeon would do with Spongebob after Steve left is another story and open to interpretation, but I know Steve would not be happy with a spin-off of Spongebob.

    1. Yeah that was really cruel about doing the spin-off when he was so clear without any ambiguity whatsoever he never wanted them to do that. And announced right after he died! And yes, of course many hard working talented people put in a lot of effort in the period after Steve left in 2004 but it was clearly not the same show. And its not just from me being an older generation. I’ve talked to older teenagers born during or after the original Hillenburg run and they say even when they were young they noticed a stark contrast between the first three seasons and the ones after (not that they would’ve even realized the chronology of when the episodes aired at the time). Some neighborhood kids around age 8 started telling me about their Spongebob halloween costumes a couple months ago and when I asked them their favorite episodes I was amused that they all cited 99-04 ones. You should poll your kids on favorite Rocko, Lazlo, Luna and Spongebob episodes someday and tell us, that’d be interesting! (Spongebob included since you’re its godfather haha)

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