Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Taxonomy of ArtPrize Entries

I've devised a crude taxonomy of #ArtPrize entries.
(If you don't know what ArtPrize is, come to Grand Rapids, MI and find out!)

1) The unkind title of the first category is Refrigerator Art. Some people took Garrison Keillor seriously when he said all the children are above average. And the unhappy truth is that some people have no business entering their work in ArtPrize. Though everyone is God's special unique snowflake, not everyone is able to produce something worthy of display. I'm not saying anybody should be excluded, but maybe loved ones could stage an intervention.

2) The second category is the Monumental. Some artists have genuine talent and they deploy this talent in the service of The Cause. In Soviet Russia, these would be larger than life depictions of the New Soviet Man, working in a factory or driving a tractor. In China, you'd see a five-story Mao leading the Long March. But in Grand Rapids, MI we've got a number of competing religions, like Sorting Recyclables, Empowering Disadvantaged Youths, and Restoring The Ten Commandments. Each of these partisan interests inspire larger-than-life submissions.

3) The Propaganda category combines the worse elements of the first two. It beats the Propaganda drum so furiously that it never gets around to executing any good-looking art. It's just there, declaring some message in the most heavy-handed way imaginable without the slightest breath of humanity or humor. It can be produced by a crowd of 6-year-old draftees or by some too-earnest "artist" toiling away in his garret. Is it Art? I dare not deny that, but you can't deny it's propaganda.

4) My favorite category is the Science Demonstration entry. The Good Lord put some really beautiful phenomena in the laws of Mathematics and Physics, and some boffin will find a way to render that tangibly in an ArtPrize entry. Bravo to you. You've got my vote, because I'm a boffin wannabe myself. Same goes for the engineer who lashes together software and hardware to make some pleasant interactive blinking lights and sound effects. These guys are like the Wizard of Oz, tweaking their balky devices to make them work while saying, "Pay not attention to the man behind the curtain." I salute the man behind the curtain.

5) Then there's the Crafty Art category. What can you make with an unlimited number of toothpicks, ten-penny nails, coins, legos, cigarette butts, win corks or push-pins? Anything! And they usually look wonderful. They're a gimmick and I love gimmicks.

So far, I've described categories of ArtPrize entries that have varying chances of winning. Now I'll describe the one category that is a Sure Fire Loser

6) The Sure Fire Loser category is different from all the other categories. Entries in this category reflect something appealing in nature or humanity. And they do so beautifully. But what makes them a Sure Fire Loser is that they could easily fit on a wall of my house. Nobody is going to vote for this over a 10-ton flying pig, or a 50-foot woman. I could never put a Public Service Announcement over my couch and entries in this category won't attract the partisans' votes. I don't want to dust a million toothpicks formed into the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog no matter how cool that would be. But that painting of a bucolic pasture or that stained glass rendering of dogs playing poker would be welcome additions to my home.

That's where I think #ArtPrize is the best. It takes guys like me who would never consider buying anything from an artist, and it puts the notion of Buying Art into the realm of the possible. The artist who executes a Sure Fire Loser will give his or her card to someone like me. I'll never be able to buy a Rembrandt, but Rembrandt is dead and there are starving artists who'll benefit if their universe of customers expands to include fellows of questionable artistic pedigree such as myself. These artists should be numbered among the winners of ArtPrize.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Publishing, Ebooks, and Saving Money

The world is changing. Used to be that a few large corporations held unassailable monopolies on what you could read. They decided what got published, and what didn't. Since they were in the business of making money, they reasonably made decisions to maximize profits. Thus some amazing prose from some obscure genius would get tossed out of the slush pile while some porn star's ghost-written memoir would be fast-tracked. I'm not ragging on porn stars, just pointing out that in the traditional model, the corporation had a limited number of opportunities and it chose what maximized profits.

Is this what you want?

If you don't yet own a Kindle or a Nook get one. If you've already got a tablet computer or smartphone it'll cost you nothing to download the Kindle application.

No, go do it now. I'll wait.

OK, now that you've got a Kindle you're going to want to put something on it. And if you don't have a bunch of free ebooks from Project Gutenberg, you're missing out on a huge value.

When you go out looking for free ebooks from Project Gutenberg, you may notice some other ebooks are for sale. Amazon sells lots of them and most of them are about $9.99 (or they were until Apple won the right of traditional publishers to charge more). If you keep looking, you'll see there are tons of books that are free. And others like my story, The Aristotelian, that are $0.99.

There are a LOT of ebooks for $2.99 and under. A whole lot of them. It boggles the mind how many. How come? Because of Kindle Direct Publishing a lot of writers are bypassing traditional publishers and selling directly through Amazon. All the jobs that traditional publishers did are being done by the authors themselves. Or not being done.

Traditional publishers have a name for this kind of thing, vanity press. And since it undermines their profits they've done their best to discourage it. Oh, Mr. Bookseller, you don't want to carry that title, it's self-published. Same for newspaper reviews. Like it has cooties.

And there's a grain of truth in that narrative. A traditional publisher pays for editing, an editor is supposed to go through the text and do proof-reading to flush out any typos. Self-published work can sometimes skip this step, and statistically, you're more likely to find typos. Moreover, an aspiring writer may be so in love with his story, s/he'll disbelieve any report that it's not wonderful. Writers are dreamers who tell lies for a living and before they'll tell you any lies, they tell themselves lies about themselves and the quality of their work. If any writer says otherwise, reread the last sentence. Hence, some self-published works are unworthy.

You can find lots of cheap ebooks, but you won't necessarily want to read all of them. Whereas $0.99 much money, there's time. An ebook must be worth the time it takes to read it. Plus the time it takes to decide to buy it, plus the time it takes to find it.

What to do? The Traditional Publishers have a solution they'd like to push on you. Simply pay them $9.99+ and they'll decide which titles are worthy and which are unworthy, and they'll decide what you will like, too. And they'll tell you to do things their way or you'll drown in an ocean of self-published dreck.

There is another way. I go to flea markets, yard sales, and thrift stores to save money. I also sort through bins of CDs at Dollar Stores. Looking for bargains is like hunting. You take what you find with no guarantee up front what you'll find. You have to enjoy the hunt to sort through nicknacks at an Estate Sale. If you watch American Pickers, Cash & Cari, or Antiques Roadshow on television, you'll understand. I realized just recently that schlepping through a long list of cheap ebooks is just like this.

But there's a difference. When you're at an Estate Sale, and your search turns up some unrecognized treasure, you snap it up for yourself. If there's two, you grab it, too. And you brag to your friends at what a great find you acquired. All they can do is envy you. Conversely, with ebooks there's no limit per customer. You can download it, and your friends can, too. Or your friends can report to you what treasures they've uncovered!

Everybody wins, except traditional publishers who'd rather charge you $9.99+ and tell you what to think.

Those more worthy than I: