“We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. Yet it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities but its own talents as well.” (Bruce Lee)
I can't tell you how many times I've been told by people I love and respect that I'm talented.
During my job search over the last year, it has become a common descriptor for me. I'm humbled to be considered talented and truly am thankful for such a gracious compliment, but I've discovered that talent really doesn't guarantee anything but madness.
People tell me "not to worry, it'll work out" during my troubled times, shake their head in wonder at my struggle, but most of these people have never truly lived on the edge of the cliff, tip-toed on the border of oblivion. In less poetic terms, they've never had to fight to survive, never had to pick themselves up after multiple tragic falls, never had to rebuild stability. Over and over again.
Talented humans shouldn't have to fight to survive. It's a real tragedy of the human condition that we appreciate celebrity more than talent. A celebrity doesn't need talent to survive, just a pleasing frame or persona or angle.
Like unrequited love, talent seldom leads to what the blessed hope or expect. As with unrequited love, talent "is a one-sided experience that can leave us feeling pain, grief, and shame." Talent may get you to the doorway of success, but luck offers the handshake that brings you through the threshold. Paradoxically, the more talent a person amasses, the less human they seem to the masses. The more unique an individual is, the less like the flock they are.
The Way of the Wizard
Talent is the energy that separates the mundane from the magical. We celebrate certain magicians for their wizardly ways, but most talent is met with apathy or antipathy. Talent is expressed in many different ways - physical, mental, professional, creative, a mix of all … However, translating talent to measurable momentum and survival resources is easy when you're in the spotlight or limelight, but feels like circular madness when you're not.
In fact, when you're consistently told that you're talented but are unable to use that talent to turn the applause sign on in your life, what good is it?
Talent becomes an exercise in cognitive dissonance: you're told that you're awesome, but not awesome enough to be a person that is embraced, shared, or lifted as a necessary talent. You're told to believe in yourself, believe in your talent, exercise your abilities and expand the limits of yourself, but when you do that you can stretch yourself into someone unfamiliar to the world.
I read a recent article that talked about how important friends are to the success of an Artist. It makes total sense to me, and is validated by the metrics of my life. By follower counts, I have grown a social media following close to 50,000 for my Art and art brand over a decade. By engagement counts, I have a social media following of 50 on good days, mostly made up of people I've met in person.
The Great Good People
Talent is grandly taken for granted in our digital age.
We've lost our great good places and tangible ways to appreciate the creators amongst us in the era of covid. Sensations are created overnight based on trends and tribes. Now, many people are able to oversell their talent and capabilities with social media or digital technologies. The deep-fake, digital evolution has given everyone a platform upon which to fight for attention.
If the cage fight were a balanced match, I'd feel better about my odds, but it's less about the talent now than the stage itself. Consider,
Elisa Lam spent years on Tumblr and killed herself in a water tank on the top of an L.A. hotel. She's a Tumblr sensation because of her attention to reflective content and "deep thoughts".
Amanda Gorman read a poem full of timely poignant words during the Inauguration of Joe Biden and instantly became an internet star, signed to model agencies, and a feature at the Super Bowl. Evidently, the "Youth Poet Laureate" title was created for her. I don't remember Maya Angleou getting such treatment. I revered Angelou in college, and she deserved her platform.
Is Gorman talented? Sure.
Is Gorman special? No. She is just a creator who was gifted special platforms and audiences. As a Harvard grad, there was no way for her to fail. Her success and celebrity were guaranteed based on her platforms.
When I was a writer at a state school fighting for attention and dreaming of getting published by a Publishing House, I wasn't offered special platform, title, or treatment. Why is that?
It wasn't for lack of trying, just as it isn't now. It is about the popularity contest, the heart of the great good show, where impressions and clicks matter more than integrity and quality.
I guess this is what it's truly like to be a self-publishing, self-sufficient, self-centered artist in the digital age: I have enough time for a small circle of friends and a content calendar that speaks to a mostly apathetic audience, but since I have to plan, create, and share experiences outside of the lines of a normal human life, this is the best I get.
Talent for another time, if I make it that long.
I realize the odds are against me. I don't have children or a large extended family, don't have a protected class or status, don't come from affluence or a place of great stability. I don't hold popular positions in this Christian nation, or in any place where trust is put in God first (and not the talents of humanity). My views are fervently opposed by millions in America. In order to truly gain attention now, I have to be partially vilified.
Be the antagonist. Lurk and snipe. Shout my stands from the tallest platform.
But I have chosen not to walk that tightrope, be that person.
Now, our political lines affect our lives more than ever - what we consume, what we endorse, what we share. What was once boycotting of products and experiences has been rebranded as "cancel culture". My way of canceling people nowadays isn't to get in their face with my opinion; my method is to unfollow. But from this point forward, everyone will have a "blacklist" of cultural creators or experiences that don't align with their personal beliefs or stances.
And they will be chastised by some, celebrated by others. I know I dwell on some lists, and have my own list of artists I don't support due to their personal or political leanings.
Such is the case of Gina Carano, an American actress who was fired from the Disney show "The Mandalorian" for inappropriate and insensitive comments in social media. Depending on which side of the argument you fall, she is either an example or a martyr. Regardless of her level of "talent", the stage has decided her path of success. I'll boycott Carano's future projects because I think her message was deeply divisive and insensitive.
But she'll power forward anyway, and people will follow her, celebrate her "talent".
I don't think she deserves to be an embraced artist. But because she took a stand, the ignorant will line up to support her. Just as the ignorant fell in line in the 80s and fought against certain types of styles of art.
And fuck Nazism and white power and privilege.
I think every "American" needs to spend a month in Germany and Poland in some sort of culture exchange. That month would involve touring beautiful Feudal towers called castles that once protected and dominated the populous, and will involve hitting every single site of Nazi atrocity that can be visited - Eagle's Nest, Auschwitz, Dachau, just to name a few. Visit Berlin and see the remnants of a divided time. See what remains of the violence that once cleaved a country in two.
I saw it in person when I was a kid. The walls. The wires. The turrets and bombfields that forcefully separated a country.
Some culture, such as Nazi culture, deserves to be canceled. Visual and written propaganda was the backbone of a successful Nazi run. Very talented people in Germany created amazing works of art to sell the Nazi way of life, and the German people fell prey to the wizardry of Adolf Hitler, the talented artist and creator. In no way is that absolution of Adolf Hitler and his diabolical approach to humanity; it is an observation that before we knew Hitler as we do now, he was a talented, productive, brilliant artist.
Along the way, something triggered his talent in a malevolent direction.
Inside the Electric Circus
These days, the talent show is overwhelmed by automated propaganda machines and feed manipulation engines. No strategy matters if people don't see your content. The reach of my content is limited based on the resources I put into spreading my message. The engagement of my content is restricted based on the political or personal leanings of the beholder. The sharing of my content is abysmal based on the placement of my content in the feeds of my audience, by the sheer chance of attention.
That isn't to say I don't have a core circle of people that appreciate my work. To them, I offer my love and complete gratitude. They are the reason that my artistic focus and brand have survived for 14 years; they are the reason that I continue to communicate my works and share myself with the public. The reality is that my stage is much smaller than I view it to be, and my talent is as obscure as the art I create.
Sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes forgettable.
This year will not determine what I do with my talent in the future, but it will determine how I move forward with supporting the machines that work against me and if I continue to be an "outward artist" or "artrovert". The expression of my talent seems mostly wasted on the mechanics of marketing and audience engagement. This art is bigger than a couple of clicks to a website, and the metrics only serve to remind me how unpopular I am in the great talent show.
If luck is my only way to a bigger stage and show, then I'd prefer to focus my magic on the works I create than the experience of the audience.
The circus of madness really isn't worth it.