When Tom Waits was asked what was, according to him, the strangest thing ever happened in an odd place, he told a story:
A Japanese freighter had been torpedoed during WWII and it’s at the bottom of Tokyo Harbor with a large hole in her hull. A team of engineers was called together to solve the problem of raising the wounded vessel to the surface. One of the engineers tackling this puzzle said he remembered seeing a Donald Duck cartoon when he was a boy where there was a boat at the bottom of the ocean with a hole in its hull, and they injected it with ping-pong balls and it floated up. The skeptical group laughed, but one of the experts was willing to give it a try. Of course, where in the world would you find twenty million ping-pong balls but in Tokyo? It turned out to be the perfect solution. The balls were injected into the hull and it floated to the surface; the engineer was altered. Moral: Solutions to problems are always found at an entirely different level; also, believe in yourself in the face of impossible odds.
Many artists become clones of each other to be likeable by the mass public. They copy the behaviour and image that they know are popular to get easy money. Others though keep going on their track without getting influenced by the world around them, almost as if there was noone but their fans they work for. They choose not to get hit by what’s fashionable and by negative criticism from others. Surprisingly, it’s the latter kind of artists that stands out from the mass public and floats to the surface leaving others underwater, despite the risk of appearing ridiculous.
I admire the artists who instead of building their creations around the expectations of others, build them around ideas that can seem intellectually uncomfortable or sometimes even obscene and embarassing. Being uncomfortable, these creations form an immediate mental shock that can frighten because of the lack of reference which would prepare us to embrace the creation itself. The fact that we can’t compare them with anything seen before, creates confusion and often brings out prejudices, since we simply don’t know how to react.
The public is fortunate. Everything pleases them: icecream cones, rock concerts, singing, swinging, love, hate, masturbation, hot dogs, country dances, roller skating, spiritualism, capitalism, communism, circumcision, comic strips, Bob Hope, skiing, fishing murder bowling debating, anything. They don’t expect much and they don’t get much. They are one grand gang.
This is how Charles Bukowski in his book South of No North describes how imposed tastes and habits turn a man into a robot, a victim of the massified phenomena. What we really need is a bigger diversification which – you are right – depends on the customer awareness, but in the end it is really the artist who must stand naked and offer himself entirely to his public.
This is the reason why the great artists have become great, because only by remaining loyal to their inner voice they have managed to create a reasoning public which wasn’t bought with the preconceived masses but rather with the… ping-pong balls.