I did something impulsive last night. I couldn’t sleep because of panic attacks, so I got up and looked for a distraction. While wandering the internet like an old lost hobo, I stumbled across an article on the Kaiber A.I., which generates images based on prompts and created a video out of them. Well, I’d just rendered a test version of “This Old Dawg” to show my wife how it’s progressing. I figured I’d give this a go and see what Kaiber can do. The video embedded here is the result.
This is mostly a study in futility. There’s certainly a part of me that wishes for positive feedback, but I’ve long since accepted that’s now how any of this works. As it is, the experiment itself is enough for me. I feel like we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what A.I. generated content can do for us, and none of us know how its going to embed itself in our culture, in our music, artwork, and literature in the coming years. I have to admit I’m fascinated by the possibilities. So I’ll take my little video and be proud of it, whether or not anyone responds to it at all.
I can’t help thinking about one thing which all artists are no doubt familiar with. At least those whose faces aren’t on magazines or stare down at you from a display in the fragrances section at the local Walgreen’s. It’s the pathological indifference of our friends and family. This video and its song are not something I expect friends or family to respond to. They haven’t in the past, really, and they won’t now. This isn’t particular to me. Every artist experiences that. It’s almost as if you dare to have dreams in any way, shape or form, your friends and family sort of avert their eyes. Somehow we all embarrass our friends and relatives, no matter what we do. If we’re not grinding out our days celebrating our weekends at the local Applebee’s, drinking weak mixed drinks and eating mediocre food, they somehow resent anything you write, draw, paint, or record. It’s fascinating, really, to watch how determined friends and family are to somehow miss it when you posted that new song, drawing, or video that you’re proud of, even though somehow or another they saw your post about the corn muffin you had that morning at Cracker Barrel.
It is what it is. While we all would like attention and adulation, most of us artists, especially those of us above a particular age, have long since faced the fact that we’re invisible, and we’re always going to be invisible. And it’s the true irony of any artist that most of us will toil away in anonymity and relative poverty during our lives. But some of us will be revered once we’re gone. Of course, once you’re gone you become an abstract idea, and if you catch on some corporation will come along to monetize the work you left behind. That’s when you become an icon, once you’re dead a corporations can make money by putting your face on t-shirts and other merchandise, and churning out mass produced copies of your work for their own profit. No one in your family or circle of friends gives a fuck about you, really, and they never will. But boy, the corporations sure do, once they’ve found a way to make a profit on your corpse.
Okay, that’s a tangent. No corporations are going to be scrambling for my content any time soon. For one thing, I’ve only just really started putting together anything worth putting out there. And in the unlikely event that I actually finish my album and short story collection, I’ve already accepted that I’ll put it all out their to sit in the deafening silence to follow, and my wife will tell me how proud I should be of what I’ve accomplished. Then we’ll put these silly things away again, and we’ll find some new series to stream on Netflix or HBO, and we’ll slowly fade. That’s fine for me. I know that’s how it works.
But some desperate part of me won’t let go of that delusional need to think “Maybe this time” someone will actually see me work, and see me, even though I know this profile doesn’t fly in popular culture. On my Facebook feed I see the sponsored short reel videos peddling whatever gets peddled through those, and they’re almost always beautiful women pouting at the camera, most times wearing something skimpy, or a in a bikini, or showing you her epic cleavage as she pretends to flirt with you through the camera her unemployed friend is filming her with. Yeah, I’m well aware of what the marketplace wants to see, because they’re not shy about it. Beautiful women with epic cleavage is guaranteed to generate at least a modest amount of attention, even if it’s just from curious people who want to see if your boobs are real or not.
There’s no place for artists careening toward retirement age. Our culture seems to be embarrassed that people like that are still out there, so we’re sure not going to check out their work. It’s a relief to me, in some ways, to embrace that, and find reasons to keep doing the work anyway. At this point it’s not about fame or success, because those things will never be (and it was never about that anyway, as cliched as it is to say that). But I once thought stranger things had happened, and sometimes folks find success just be sheer coincidence, being in the right places at the right time, or the right person stumbling across their work.
But yeah… at some point you have to find more realistic reasons to keep on going. Mine is simply because this keeps me above ground. As long as it serves that purpose I’ll keep doing it, whether anyone ever notices or not. Which is funny. As I was typing that I thought of that random bird we’ve all heard who’s out there in the dark at night twittering away like its broad daylight. I guarantee you that bird isn’t singing for your enjoyment, but for its own. There is a certain nobility in that. Sometimes you just do it because you have to do it.