Discovering Talent and The Artistic Dream


Very early on in my muddled career, I worked in what is called “The A & R Department” of a record company: that is the department which received all the tapes from would-be recording stars. There was at least a sack of tapes a day, so your chances of being listened to were remote. If you were heard, and the song did not grab our attention in the first two bars, it was the bin for you, and no letter saying “We are sorry we cannot pay you more attention at this time but we were already bored by the fourth note.”

On the back of this, with a friend, I started a side-line professionally recording  songs for hopeful artists, using ourselves and session musicians we knew: all great stuff and loads of fun.  What struck me, even then, was the amount of amazing talent out there, and that there was far too much of it for the record companies to deal with, or the public to absorb. Naturally, a greater number of the people who sent in material were horrendously self-deluded, and a sound-proof shower would have been the best place for them to express their dream.

Now I have joined that throng as a “published writer.”  ( Short pause to do a bit of modest bowing here before I realise no one is watching ). Once again, although in a slightly different situation, I am in a place where those who dream of being heard may write at will, and be self- published if they so wish. As with my previous experience, I am astonished by the numbers of people sharing this dream and reports that about 300,000 books are published or self- published a year. ( This figure may be wrong because I am too lazy to check it). To be successful in these circumstances takes talent, marketing and a possible smile from Uncle Miracle.

Over the years, especially when I was younger, I came across many people who wanted to be ‘Artists’ without really appreciating what they were saying. Examine the life of many famous artists and you will see a history riven with chaos, sadness, difficulties, poverty and isolation; mental if not physical. It is the perspective they often gain from being outsiders, which drives them  to seek for sense or balance in a world-view unvisited by common experience, and discovered through misfortune or their own recklessness. A circumstance which drives them to look where others have no wish to, and to seek for understanding in places shunned by their more circumspect neighbours.

Great art seldom comes from a long successful career, marriage and retirement in a seaside cottage. It is more often the last gasp of those left only with the need to understand the world from a perspective none of us would choose. When people say, “I want to be an Artist” I always reply “Be careful what you wish for”. Van Gough, Herman Melville and John Keats, got little recognition from their work during their lives, and day to day might well have settled for that sense of peace enjoyed by their less-reflective neighbour. For those who need cheering up, study the life of Edgar Allan Poe who wrote brilliantly, drank copiously, lost his wife early and struggled for money constantly before dying unknown at the age of forty. Of course, if you want to be an entertainer, that is quite another matter.

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About Peter Wells aka Countingducks

Trying to remember what my future is
This entry was posted in character, creative writing, Environment, faith, Life, Peter Wells, poetry, Talent, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Discovering Talent and The Artistic Dream

  1. ksbeth says:

    congrats, peter and you hit the nail on the head with the artist’s motivation and definition i think. )

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  2. mimijk says:

    And for some pursuing art is akin to a mermaid’s call – it cannot be denied. I’m so glad you are an artist I follow.

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  3. Wanting to be an entertainer and pursuing it is just as ghastly – I speak from vast experience!

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  4. Jade Reyner says:

    You make some great points here and it is very true that we are many of us, guilty of underestimating just how much work is involved in writing and publication – whether that be musical or literary – and indeed being realistic about the level of success that we may achieve. I enjoyed this post greatly and there are no concerns about me ever becoming an entertainer! 🙂

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  5. I believe, my friend, that art is only followed when it takes the participant somewhere they have not been. You cannot lead the way if you have not been there yourself. To create great art you must travel where most have not tread. Your work takes me places I like to visit; others will find the way.

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  6. An excellent post, both accurate and poignant in equal measure. I do believe that you are correct when you talk about people ‘wishing to be an artist’. In many ways Art, in all its guises, is a personal way to make some kind of sense of one’s life, and should be regarded as such. If it touches another then that’s great, although their interpretation may be aeons from what the ‘artist’ intended. As a life style? Well, the old adage ‘don’t give up the day job’, probably holds a lot of water! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  7. Art – the illusive dream. Having been a part of the arts, in so many genres for 28 years, I can attest to the struggles and disappointments. I think Chris Nelson’s comment is on point – Art, is a personal way to make some kind of sense of one’s life. But, the dream has to be followed despite the struggles. A very eye opening post for anyone who doesn’t realize the arena they’re entering.

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  8. It’s quite amazing when you realise how many of our best known artists, writers etc were only appreciated after they’d died. It just goes to show that good work can and has been hidden in anonymity. I know that when I decide to pursue publishing I’d do it more for myself than for the fame, but all the same, I can’t imagine that the lack of recognition would have motivated people like Van Gogh and Poe onwards…

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  9. dansandman says:

    Brilliantly put, thanks Peter.

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  10. Ina says:

    Lovely write. Being an artist against all odds myself, I suppose you don’t apply for a job as artist, but you find yourself doing stuff that makes you one. lol xx

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  11. Dylan Hearn says:

    A great piece Peter and nice counter-point to my earlier post and the conversation we had afterwards. Yes, it’s all very well having the opportunity to do something, but you still need to be able to do it well and have the ability to catch people’s attention.
    The problem with any role as this (A&R man, agent or submissions editor), is that due to time limitations mistakes are often made (look at The Beatles, or in publishing how many times famous authors have been rejected). It would be interesting to know if you had any tapes you passed up on from artists who later made it big.

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  12. Caroline says:

    Think J K Rowling…………………………

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  13. I end up watching ‘The Voice’ occasionally on my way to a different show–and often find myself transfixed by the talent they have. You understand, but to me, so much amazing talent that will likely end up a soloist in a church choir.

    Like you, it makes me wonder about my writing future.

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  14. catterel says:

    I also wanted to be an artist and great writer (oh yes, both at the same time) – till I was about 11. Occasionally, I wonder if I could have made a mark if I’d taken that route instead of the “safe path” – probably not.

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  15. Catnip says:

    Its taking me my whole life to discover I could write. I’m proud of you.

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  16. A lot of the “digital changes” that affected the music industry are now affecting the publishing industry. Those in the publishing industry put themselves in a more secure position by studying the mistakes of the music industry made, thus not repeating them….

    The same digital revolution that allows authors to self-publish allows musicians/bands to distribute their work directly.

    We all now have our own corners of the digital world, obscure or famous as they may be. 😉

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  17. Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
    I am proud to share Peter Wells’ brilliant blog post about what “art” means.

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  18. Hemmingway.
    Plath.
    Sexton.
    Van Gough.
    Dickens.
    Dickenson.
    Woolf.
    They were all semi crazy.
    …but perhaps they would have been CRAZIER had they NOT had their ART))!!
    Love visiting you, my dear Artist Peter. xx

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  19. Bruce Goodman says:

    You’ve certainly tickled my brain cells here, Peter, but I’m not sure if I entirely agree (or not). I think the lives of most people could be written as tragedies if we wanted to. On the other hand, J.S. Bach (I think) lived a fairly comfortable existence. Is it not a Romantic notion that one must suffer for ones art?

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    • I am sure you are right, and the “suffering artist” may be a whimsical cliché, but there are a number of famous examples such as those quoted above. Funnily enough, as far as I know, Bach was known, and earned a decent and stable living as an Organist, but his music was largely unappreciated until after his death. ” For 80 years Bach was quite forgotten except by a few opinionated musicians” according to sources.

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      • lynseywhite says:

        Thought I would weigh in with a few more examples as this is a subject dear to my heart! You are indeed right about Bach, who was ‘discovered’ as a composer about 100 years after his death, although well known as an organist during his lifetime: I believe he had 22 children, so life can’t have been too easy… Beethoven’s woes are well documented, as are Chopin’s ill health and Mozart’s poverty, but peer a little deeper & the classical music world is teeming with neurotics and depressives: Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov all suffered mental breakdowns (Schumann died in an asylum; Tchaikovsky threw himself in a river intending to die); Berlioz was tormented by mood swings (and once planned to kill a cheating partner); Bruckner had OCD (and was particularly obsessed with viewing corpses); Debussy remarked that he would have killed himself if not for his daughter; Scriabin descended into syphilitic madness. And, last but not least, the ending of Satie’s only love affair left him with ‘nothing but an icy loneliness that fills the head with emptiness and the heart with sadness’. He was crippled by lifelong shyness and died from cirrhosis of the liver after years of heavy drinking. Cheery stuff.

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  20. You’ve really got me thinking with this one Peter and all of the readers comments are just as provoking. Creativity is a primary force and driver in all of our lives. Whether we express that or not, in what way and at what level, is another matter. I personally do not believe we have to suffer for our art, but that perhaps some of the most dedicated artists have. The psychologist in me can’t help but think ‘long periods of time spent alone, isolation, crippling perfectionism, financial constraints due to not having a ‘real’ job, possible lack of exercise and even sunshine….how must this affect a dedicated writer’s spirit and wellbeing in the long -term?

    I think I’ve taken this on a completely different tangent, but….as I said, you got me thinking!

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  21. Judy Amy says:

    Well said. Living a creative, artistic legitimate and honest life is often a lonely one. I know it all too well.

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  22. I am a writer. And one day I will be published. Congratulations on your hard work and much success wished to you.

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  23. araneus1 says:

    I really wanted to add something here because this is a discussion close to my heart but I’m a bit worn out today…………… fill in something witty for me?
    Terry

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  24. ___ says:

    Mr. Wells, you write, “I came across many people who wanted to be ‘Artists’ without really appreciating what they were saying. Examine the life of many famous artists and you will see a history riven with chaos, sadness, difficulties, poverty and isolation; mental if not physical.”,

    I can’t disagree more. Seek and ye shall find artists who are also filled with the opposite, that is order, happiness, ease, wealth and nice social surroundings.

    Just my silly opinion but I thank you for yours. It’s always a fun read! I’m certain by the way if you checked your stats of visitors you will find that on sheephearder in Croatia is now on his ipad probably reading your website.

    Julie

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  25. 1WriteWay says:

    Point taken, Peter. I choose to say I am a writer even if I get little writing done because, frankly, I’d rather keep the well-paying job I have now than give it all up just to find myself living on food stamps and cat food while my novels are rejected for the 1000th time. I’m not cynical. I just think that one wants to write first and wants to publish second. Good luck if it’s the other way around. That said, I do hope Uncle Miracle smiles on you not once, but many times. You are indeed a writer of exceptional talent.

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  26. 1WriteWay says:

    Goodness, I’m leaving a second comment because I read Julie’s comment after posting mine and, while I agree that she has a point (not all artists are starving), I do believe that we have more artists starving than we have artists living in palaces of gold. Just sayin’ 🙂

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  27. herdthinner says:

    It’s largely why I describe myself as a “writer and artist with employable skills.” Not to disparage those who are making a living from their passions, but because I have no business acumen at all, I would most assuredly be a Starving Artist. I’m addicted to not starving and need group health insurance, so I have a bill-paying job while I spend as much time as possible off the clock alternating between writing, sculpting, and other artsy-craftsy things.
    Also, if I tried to make money off my passions, they would become… jobs {{shudder}}
    Not to say that I’ve *never* made money off my stuff. Just nothing that would keep me off the streets.
    For those who can and do, I say bravo, kudos, and general well-doneness!

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  28. restlessjo says:

    You’re right, Peter (and you ‘write’ extremely well!) There are so many people out there, reaching out, trying to see if their experience can find common ground. We’re a funny lot aren’t we? Fascinating and sad in equal measure.
    I have a 24 year old son who loves nothing better than to mess about in recording studios, recording his own stuff and other peoples. It’s the dream to find a job which would pay him to do just that but it’s far too competitive a world. He’ll always have his music, and, I hope, I’ll always have my scribbles. Thank you for your many visits to my home turf. 🙂

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  29. Great stuff in this post Peter! Im not really bothered how many people buy my book (that’s a lie), yes Im going to self publish this year – I just want an ISBN number! Like Ive always wanted a degree, which wont happen now cos I cant be bothered but I can be bothered with an ISBN!! 😄😄

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  30. nelle says:

    It is a crazy ride, done for the love of. Samuel Clemens made a fortune more than once, and he endured a strong of tragedies along the course of his life.

    I love how you refer to all the arts, because so many of us just love to do. The business and marketing side, not so much, and really what a shame that we ask of our artists they jump all over those things, it detracts from where their skills lie. Let marketers do their thing, and we can have a happy if occasionally contentious relationship.

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  31. jguenther5 says:

    A good post, very perceptive, if a little depressing. I’ll be back.

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  32. The difference is being an artist and being a celebrated artist (while you’re still alive to enjoy it). The thing that always catches us up is that wretched hope. You hear the stories of the author whose one book got recognized and is now a motion picture. You hear stories of the person who never bought a lottery ticket except this one time and hit the jackpot. I have to stop listening to stories and stick to writing them. It’s writing them that makes me an artist. Fame would probably befuddle me anyway… 😉

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    • Firstly, how nice to get a comment from you, and I hope. I’m always intrigued by the “Mute inglorious Milton” line. I think the difference between what I would call an artist and someone who is ‘creative’ is quite hard to distinguish in day to day life, except that Artists often seem less social

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  33. Do what you love with passion and perseverance, excellence and endurance, and it will find its way along its specific path. Today’s society puts too much emphasis on success in terms of numbers and money. That is why it is always good for artists to keep the day job. Great art and writing and music has been and continues to be overlooked in its time and, perhaps, ‘discovered’ later. I know as a writer who is published and about to be again, the real goal is to keep writing … which means keep living. Thanks for offering your perspective, Peter!

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  34. I agree that artists of any kind benefit from the perspective of being outsiders in some way or another. But that doesn’t always mean they are unhappy, or cut off from society or anything else. Very interesting post!

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