The Reverse Engineering of Fame

I recently stumbled upon a social media post that contained the following question, posed for discussion:

“What makes an artist relevant?”

What followed was a discussion among aspiring artists in various fields, detailing the desire for relevance, what constituted relevance and what one should strive for to achieve relevance. As the importance of social media continues to grow and we become more and more reliant on this virtual digital world that we cave created for ourselves, artists who are at the beginning of their careers are feeling ever pressured to  make a lasting impact on the world and to be ever more relevant. This pressure seems to have shifted the focus of the very nature of the making of art for these young creatives; the impact, the relevance, the celebrity seems to come first, the creation of the art comes later.

I recently saw an ad for a choreography job. The ad made it quite clear that in addition to a resume and video submission, social media following would be a primary consideration in the selection process. 

This reverse engineering of fame worries me.

Artists are now attempting to cultivate  a social media reach that establishes their relevance and makes an impact, BEFORE they have done the actual WORK. And what is even more worrisome is that the industries in which they are working are placing such great importance on this “relevance” and “impact”. I have seen videos by students at the Vaganova Academy that aim to achieve reach. How can it be, that for a student coming out of the legendary Vaganova Academy, the dancing, the making of art, isn’t enough to secure a career?

I am aware that I trained in a very different world, and more and more, as I write these articles, I find myself pining for the past. There once was a time when artists longed to make art. They were consumed by their vision. They were consumed by the training required to bring that vision to fruition. They were consumed by exploration, innovation and experimentation. And they created. And the world was astonished; or not. But the ideas of relevance and impact was not part of the process; they were bestowed by the audiences and critics who experienced the work. 

So many artists and teachers of my generation, in every field of the arts, are feeling a decline in the quality of what is being produced. And I do believe that this is more than simply longing for the days when we were young. The wonders of the internet and social media have changed the world and I believe that most of us would agree that this change is most definitely for the better. But as our artistic communities continue to place ever more importance on this fabricated relevance and impact, I worry for the future of the arts. I can only hope that the industry will once again see the importance in vision, innovation, work and integrity. And I can only implore young artists to search for their voice and commit to the tireless work and integrity required to bring that work to the world. For it is too late for me. I started dancing too old and I stopped too young and I could never have had the chance to be the relevant artist who could impact the world. But to the young artists who stand poised on the threshold of a career, consider carefully how you tread, because you are the future, and the survival of truly great art lies in your hands.

4 thoughts on “The Reverse Engineering of Fame

  1. I beg to differ on the point you raised of “started too late … finished too young..” I reckon you are far from finished William … but on every other point I once again agree with the validity of the message behind this post … I myself have even thought “what can I possibly do that is so audacious it brings me to the attention of the world …” … I know, bonkers … it’s all a bit askew isn’t it?! These young performers are worrying more about their social media “performance” than actually honing their craft …

    Bringing this back to the issue of the ageing artist, I think the older dancer is finally being recognised as having a valid contribution to make to the arts … mentoring, inspiring, conspiring, promoting and simply saying … “we have a voice, we can still speak from the heart with our bodies & the experience we bring to the table …”

    Another thought provoking post …

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  2. I imagine the generation of my own teachers – Stanley Williams, Alexandra Danilova, David Howard, etc – may have felt similarly about my generation. This bewailing of loss of integrity by a younger generation is the lament of every passing older generation. When have passionate dancers not pursued fame? The desire for success and recognition is frequent and ubiquitous among young artists. That in itself does not demonstrate a lack of attention and awareness to their craft. The internet is not going away. I’ve been privileged to teach many dancers and I find their passion, enthusiasm, and creativity to be quite astonishing and wonderful. True, the added pressure to be know and recognized early may derail a few. But many have used the internet as a springboard to fuel their creativity. Back when I was a student at North Carolina School of the Arts Stuart Hodes came to set a piece called Banners. We had quite a few conversations about success as I had a great hunger to perform and to be a good dancer. He said to me “Lavinia, there’s always room at the top. Cream rises. Just keep working.” These young dancers and choreographers- they’re just working and doing their thing within this new paradigm. Let’s help them be the best they can be.

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