We -- meaning friends of mine, the folks at Fan to Pro and other places -- have been talking a great deal about originality lately, with me circling back to Dale Peck's insight of how people value the idea of the original more than the original thing itself. Was Jackson Pollock being an original when he stood over his canvases dripping paint onto them, or when someone else came into the room and saw what he'd done and felt, if only in the most distant and proxied way, a hint of the discovery he had just felt?
What makes something original -- a cultural shorthand for "good" -- is also what can make it difficult, intransigent, or forbidding. The most damning label for something original is unmarketable, which has turned out to be a more important issue than I originally imagined, and not something you can brush aside as mere vulgar capitalism.
Marketing is how people know you exist, and without that you're stuck mostly on the level of word-of-mouth, waiting for some magic to happen that you have little influence over. A truly original piece of work may be enormously worthy, but the way markets work, that makes it all the more difficult for anyone to ever know about it unless a good deal of money, time, or effort is thrown at the problem. And when you don't have any of those things, you either give up or find someone else to do that work for you.
But all this makes me wonder: what exactly is meant by "unmarketable"? I suspect what people really mean when they say something like that is "I don't know how to market this in a way that would be worth my effort." If it's your own work and any effort is worth it, then it's not unmarketable anymore. I imagine Crad Kilodney was told his work was "unmarketable"; he proceeded to prove everyone wrong by standing on Toronto streetcorners and marketing it with the most hilarious taglines possible ("ROTTEN CANADIAN LITERATURE $5"). That's a hell of a thing to devote one's life to, I must admit. Or at least one's spare time.
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Other Lives Of The Mind