It was hard to join. You had to know someone. Or be really, really good with words. Even still, they only took a certain kind though. Cool kinds. And if you had to wonder, you weren’t.
It made sense, in a way. After all, Coolness is the sincerest form of pretence. And you needed to pretend the effort to join was worth it. You needed to pretend the recognition was real. How else could you keep going, late, late, late into dead ends, with nothing else to show in the morning apart from drug muddled stories of what could have been?
Once upon a time the status and recognition were all that mattered to you. It had always been for the competitive artist; the semi-precious, so from the beginning it was about impressing a select group of people that you saw yourself in, with the rest of the population being unfortunately necessary. Because while you only cared about what the other writers thought, they only cared about how many people who didn’t care about it had seen it. Pretty cool, hey.
Because getting your work up was what was it all about. A wall, a bus stop, a train, a billboard, a book. Anywhere public. Anywhere you could get a reaction. Because obviously the only prerequisite to a reaction was for it to be in peripheral vision. And here’s the really cool part: You wanted lots of people to see it, to care about it, but not necessarily get it. Requiring the piece to be decoded made it clear who it was really for. So the driving goal was for everyone to see it, but only a few to get it. Making someone glance up from their commute, see your piece, but not being able to understand it. Gotcha. What a thrill.
If you could balance earning this thrill long enough with earning rent and food in less thrilling ways, the late and lonely nights working on your craft might be seen by someone who could get you an in with the big crews.
A three letter acronym to add to your name. BWP, THC, DCK, DDB, BBH. They spelt that you had made it. The kings had noticed you. They would grant you access to the walls and spaces that you could not tread as a mere soloist. The stakes got higher. The recognition became political. Being surrounded by experience, equal parts fervent yet jaded, began to have a curious effect.
It started to dawn that you were painting over names. Names you had once revered by lamplight in underground journals and shaky youtubes not that long ago. Where had they gone, you wondered? Looking around, some where here and there. Most looked older than their years, the partying now too visible to make them invited to any.
It got even harder once you realised that even if your work could be seen from space, no-one outside of these jealous friends really cared about it enough to justify the sacrifices that had gone into it.
You went to an old head that didn’t appear so burnt out. Told him you were over this same stuff you’d been doing since school, this making people look business. That you had managed to spend some time outside of the bubble of the scene and that you didn’t feel as cool anymore. This was it, you were out, going straight.
He had looked at you for awhile before deciding you were worthy. The next level. The new angle. Did you want to be a part of it? He had smugly went on to explain:
I know. The gotcha shit gets old for everyone eventually, no matter how cool you are. Selling out, I mean finding a real job – yes – is always an option, but trust me, you’ll end up doing the same shit with less status. So, if you want to double down on this, I mean really get pro about it, you need to find a cause to show you can care.
He hadn’t needed to go on further. It had finally all come together. A way to validate the visual pollution that you had caused in pursuit of fame. All you had to do was to create work that signalled you understood the problems that people who weren’t you faced. The beauty was, the work didn’t need to actually solve anything for anyone or work in any practical sense. Just impress another group of kings who had made a career of this. The more crazier the concept, the better in fact.
You pledged to change the world, to combat fires and sharks, to finally make humanity stop hating each other. The audacity of it all once again energised you. It had come full circle. Before it was about affecting the public who saw your work even though they couldn’t understand it. Now you had to convince a few in private that you did care about the public with work that would never be seen. The best part is, you can make a real living with this and stay cool. But it’s best not to think about it too much.