Occasionally, I like to pretend I'm cool. I used to be cool, at least that's what I tell myself.
Back in my senior year of college, in perhaps my greatest feat of salesmanship, I was able to sucker a local nightclub into hiring me as a DJ. It was minimum wage and I didn't really have any skills as a DJ at all, but I learned quick, it was fun, and for a minute I got to pretend like spinning top 40 hits was my life's calling. It wasn't, but it made me feel like I was doing something cool and interesting beyond my days of historical research and writing. If anything, it allowed me to connect with people with a couple beats.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn't matter. The intent does. Art is a personal act of courage; something one human does that creates change in another. ~Seth Godin
So fast forward to July of 2011. Gregg Gillis, the DJ known as Girl Talk, was set to headline Friday night of the annual 80/35 Music festival in Downtown Des Moines. Gillis is known as a hefty mashup artist, that is to say someone who takes a few tracks of hip hop and mixes them in with classic rock and modern pop hits. It's not uncommon to hear him spin some Elton John's Tiny Dancer with the Notorious B.I.G.'s Juicy, and pushing the envelope with bits of humor and unexpected pop tunes mixed with metal. The whole experience of listening to his albums is like a big fruit salad topped with marshmallow fluff and a dollop of Nutella for your ears.
I'd been a fan of Girl Talk for a few years, even catching a show of his at a club in Des Moines, so I was psyched for his performance at 80/35. I met up with a good friend who was in the middle of a conversation with a friend of his. This friend of my friend was in the middle of some serious Girl Talk smack talk.
"Oh man, I could totally do what he does! He's a hack! Man give me $35,000 and an afternoon and I'll mashup some junk. Come on, I'm skipping this show."
Rather than sit there and argue, we just said our goodbyes and went in venue and took our spots near the stage. The show was fantastic. 90 minutes of high-energy fun. I left the show sweaty and happy at what was a strong piece of unconventional art.
(Here's a video from part of his performance at 80/35. Warning there's some NSFW language in the music):
Beyond the aftereffects of the loud music, the words of the friend of my friend still rang in my ears.
Could someone just sit in their mom's basement and create something just like that to move that many people? Could they do something personal and connects with thousands of people? Can't anyone just do that?
You know those times where you're thinking about a conversation an hour after the fact? You always seem to think of a great comeback and you sit there kicking yourself for not saying it? That was me right after the concert. The conversation with my friend's friend reminded me of the person on the basketball court who talks trash about how he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one, or the painter at the community recreation center who, after painting a pretty good flower, is convinced that Rothko wasn't a real artist because he only painted rectangles.
Sure Girl Talk isn't the greatest DJ in the world, and who knows if the friend of my friend could create something better. The point is, he hasn't. So if you're so sure of yourself, you should be at home, trying to make yourself better. The same is true of almost ANYTHING. The fact is, it might not be your style, but (insert name of random artist/DJ/musician/top co-worker here) is actually delivering on creating great art that moves people.
Be the person who moves people.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that so many of us are so quick to criticize someone else for going out on a limb and creating something interesting and unique. Very few of us are willing to take the risk necessary to create real and lasting art. I believe it's possible to create art in everything -- from the CEO leading someone to make an employee feel special and empowered -- to the customer service rep who time and again makes the person on the other end of the line feel human.
So... Take a stand. Make your work mean something. Who cares if someone is there to hate and disagree with you. Your art is a part of you and you should create it because it's important to create something unique and meaningful without any expectation of return.
Because your art is a gift to the world. And occasionally, it makes you look cool.