International Federation of Failed Artists & Musicians (IFFAm)
Call for Membership
According to exhaustive historical research, 94.86% of all living and dead artists are failures. We, the silent majority, have suffered too long in ignominious obscurity. It's time for the rejects, has-beens and wannabes to crawl out of the footnotes of history (and your mother's basement) to wear proudly the glorious crown of failure!
FAILURE IS BEAUTIFUL. WE ARE THE WORLD!!
To start, fill out the questionnaire below. It is a quick way for you to determine whether you are truly a Failed Artist (FA) and thus qualify to join our ranks, or not.
This may well be the most significant step in your miserable life up to this point.
I _______________ the undersigned testify that I have not lived up to my dream of gaining fame and riches through my art or music or writing or dancing or what have you, that my work is either unjustly neglected or rightfully ignored because it’s crap, or because I have never even tried to publish it, or because I don’t have any work, or because no one remembers my past glories (sob, sniffle).
I further testify that this is the last time I will feel sorry for myself and henceforth I will be proud to uphold the age old tradition of failure and declare myself to one and all as a Failed Artist (FA).
As a member of IFFA I promise to support my brothers and sisters in failure wherever they may be and deeply scorn the few freaks who “make it” and the multitude of delusional success junkies. I will endeavor to ignore any temptations offered to me by Hollywood studios, Broadway producers, publishers, MOMA, and the New York Philharmonic.
Terms of Membership
Welcome to IFFA. Congratulations on finally coming to grips with who you truly are as an artist. As a member of IFFA you will have the continuous moral support of a worldwide fraternity and sisterhood of fellow losers. You will have a platform to voice your opinions and exhibit your fiascoes to a sympathetic audience. You will proudly wear the IFFA symbol of unfulfilled potential, and never again have to invent fictitious awards and non-existing book deals.
Membership however entails one important obligation, to resolutely renounce the craving for recognition and resist the temptation to make it in any shape or form.
Remember - your continued membership is contingent on continued failure. Should you at any time succumb to the lure of a one-man-show, a premiere, a part in a play or a movie, or a book deal, your membership will be suspended for 6 months and your work placed on a “wall of shame”. However, once your career attempt fails (as it surely will) your IFFA membership may be reinstated. Be aware though that after 3 such suspensions you will be declared a “failed Failed Artist” and banned forever from IFFA.
Call for Submissions
Send us your rejection letters, your crumpled drafts, your torn canvases, your half-baked symphonies, your mold encrusted photographs and movie scripts. Let us shine the light on the failed promises of your dreams. Here in the vast archives of failed artists you will gain the obscurity you deserve and bury once and for all any vain hope of ever being discovered. You will walk tall, free from the burden of having to prove yourself, proud in having found the real YOU - a Failed Artist, a proud link in the unbroken chain of flops and losers that reaches all the way back to the cave dweller who smudged the bison on the wall and never painted again.
Uploads are free and not juried.
IFFA is a worldwide movement of artists who are excluded or have excluded themselves from the marketplace of commercialized art in all its forms. The federation has chapters for various art forms that include the:
Activities & Publications
Success is just failing to fail
My friend Kent, a wonderful painter, wants to be a professional. He says that he wants to be able to make his living from selling his paintings. He wants to be recognized, famous even. He wants a big-name New York gallery to represent him. He just had a solo show in the local library, had many people told him how wonderful his work was, but he sold not a single painting. And he hates that.
Kent is 66 and has been sculpting and painting all his life. He now hired an art consultant to help him make it.
The art consultant's verdict was that my friend is “not ready” for the big time, that he needs a “body of work”. I suppose the 18 paintings in the show and the dozens of canvases stacked in his garage don't count. Kent now plans to spend the next year adapting himself to “the market” in the hope of becoming “a professional”.
It’s a strange business being a professional artist. In a society of merchants like ours, in which selling-power is the measure of all things, being a professional of anything separates the respectable from the dabbler, the accomplished from the dilettante. Or at least that is what most people believe (including my friend Kent). I say it’s a strange business because making art in and of itself is not a business at all, and for most of human history was not considered as such. Of course artists were paid (sometimes), but the motivating impulse to make art was not to manufacture a commodity. Artists in a society of merchants (like today or in Northern Italy during the Renaissance) lead a schizophrenic existence, swinging back and forth between their traditional role of expressing human consciousness through beauty and their desire to be accepted by their fellow merchants. There is nothing new about this. What is new is the notion that unless you sell you are no good, that unless you are “in the market” you are an amateur, a lightweight, not to be taken seriously.
I beg to differ.
First of all, the term amateur originally had none of the derogatory connotations it has today. The word derives from the Latin Amator “a lover” from which the French Amateur came to mean “someone who does something out of love”, and presumably not for gain. For centuries some of the best and most respected artists, poets, and scientists in Europe were amateurs. In the 17th and 18th century, to equate an artist with a “professional”, i.e. a tradesman, would have been taken as an insult. Professionals were cobblers, carpenters, and later bankers.
But leaving history aside, there are logical flaws in the very assumption that just because you do not make your living from your art it must therefore be of inferior quality.
The most common argument espoused by artists for wanting to be “professional” is that they want to devote all their time to their art, and the only way they can accomplish that is by being full-time artists. The alternative, of taking a part-time desk job and doing art on the side, is considered at best a stepping stone en-route to full-time professionalism. But take a look at most “full-time” artists. Do they truly devote 100% of their time to the very thing they love to do? Of course not. Much of the time of a professional artist is devoted to business, to promoting, marketing, negotiating, and setting up galleries. In other words, full-time artists are also full-time by name only. Their second, money making occupation (promoting their art) has little if anything to do with making art. Let us say that all this merchandising takes up 50% of the artist’s time. What then is the difference between this full-time professional and an “amateur” who also spends 50% of her time painting and makes a living with a part-time office job?
The second flawed argument defines a professional artist as one who gets paid for what they do while an amateur doesn’t (or gets much less). The assumption in the art world today is that the more your art fetches the better it is. In other words, a painting hanging in your studio is nothing more than an artistic potential not yet realized. If that same painting gets sold to a customer for $5,000 it’s probably not bad. But if Christie’s sells the very same painting for 3 million dollars it has miraculously transformed itself into an unquestionable masterpiece. A painting does not seem to have an intrinsic value according to this argument but like a stock or a bond fluctuates in its artistic merit according to its market price. By this reckoning an amateur’s painting which may not even be for sale can never be very good.
The absurdity of this argument is best illustrated by listing names of such artists who by this definition should also be considered amateurs (i.e. never got money for their art) like Schubert, Emily Dickinson, Kafka, or Van Gogh.
The third argument for professionalism in the arts has to do with having an audience. Even if you concede that an amateur is not by definition inferior just because she only paints 50% of the time and never sold a canvas, there is still the issue of sharing the work with the world at large. Most people, including artists, consider spending inordinate effort on an arts project that is not for public consumption as a waste of time. But is it? Private art, the musings of the soul, a lifelong dedication to perfecting one’s skill, somehow count for very little according to this argument If your work is not seen it might as well have never been created.
But is it a given that just because an artist chooses not to exhibit her work her work is necessarily inferior? Consider this, during the one hundred years in which Bach’s St. Mathew Passion lay in some dusty library stack with not a single soul knowing of its existence, was it a lesser piece than after it was discovered and performed? Wasn’t it the same masterpiece unchanged by its exposure?
It goes back to the Zen Koan: “Does a tree falling in a forest unobserved make a sound?” I have no doubt that it does. Being there to witness it would make not the slightest difference to the tree.
There is nothing wrong with choosing to combine being an artist and being a merchant. Just because you are a good hustler or look gorgeous doesn’t mean that your work is trash. But the opposite is true too. There is nothing wrong with creating work that will either be sold nor perhaps ever be seen by anyone. The greatest symphony ever written may have been an unpublished work by an anonymous composer we have never heard of.
The ratio of unpublished to published works, known to unknown artists, is so staggeringly huge that it is not only possible but downright probable that the greatest works we venerate are just pale reflections of far greater works we will never know about.
There’s something delicious in swimming against the current, in doing things the hard way, in reinventing the wheel. I can’t help it. That’s the way I’ve been ever since I can remember myself. I remember my piano teacher writing out clever fingerings in one of my pieces that she knew from experience would make the playing easier. What did I do when I got home? Tried every conceivable other fingering I could think of, including some preposterously ridiculous ones, only to return, defeated, to the fingering she suggested in the first place.
In Maurice Maeterlinck’s fairy play The Blue Bird, the children travel all over the world looking for the magical blue bird that would fulfill all their wishes, only to return to their bedroom and realize that the blue bird was in its cage in their room all along. Was it a wasted journey? A Yoga guru I knew once said that you can never return exactly to the same spot no matter how hard you try, because by the time you returned the spot will have changed and you will have changed. You can never walk in the same footsteps twice. The moral in Maeterlinck’s story is that it is precisely the seemingly futile journeys we take with all their attendant experiences that allow us to come back to the place we started from and see it in a fresh light.
Impractical trips, blind alleys, re-inventing the wheel are not things an MBA would recommend. Our business-centered culture looks on them as a waste of time. Wasting time is anathema to a business culture. Business says: The best route between any two points is the shortest.
As an artist I thrive on inefficiency.
By the time I finished my futile exploration of all the fingerings my piano teacher didn’t recommend, I had gained a much deeper understanding of the one she did. Not only that. In the process I not only acquired her solution but "owned" it. It was no longer received wisdom, which as we know is no wisdom at all. It was a discovery.
Next to received wisdom "majority opinion" is the greatest enemy of thought. There is something fundamentally screwy about trusting the judgment of a majority on any issue. We all know how unreliable our individual judgment can be. When you compile millions of the same flawed judgments into public opinion you do not correct the underlying flaw, just make it louder. One misguided person is a nuisance, millions are a menace. When a vast majority of people ascribe to something we forget how unreliable each of their individual judgement is and accept their combined folly as proof of truth and desirability. It is this kind of loopy logic that gives us “best sellers” or high rated TV shows and movies. It’s also the logic behind the justification for the anti-Jewish laws in Nazi Germany (which most Germans supported), or the rightness of eating hamburgers at MacDonald’s (which billions of people also agree is a good idea). All people not only can be wrong, they are most of the time.
We avoid scrutinizing that which is “known”, that which has already been proven, so as to save time. Businessmen love efficiency, and in one way or another we are all businessmen. We are taught early on that results are all that matters. Minimizing reevaluation, reinvention, trial and error, is what we are taught since childhood. In multiple-choice school tests you are evaluated on your answers, not on the thought process that went into them. It is part of making us streamlined and thoughtless, compliant cogs in the wheel of national and business power games. The habit of thinking and reevaluating slows things down, causes discontent, and interferes with the smooth execution of the task at hand, like sending men to kill and die in wars. the habit of accepting unexamined truths helps you not to question that paycheck that was your compensation for producing the missile or cigarette that will kill someone you don't know.
We are a practical people. We have no time to waste on idle speculation. The old Hippy adage “Stop and smell the roses” has long fallen into disrepute as the kind of juvenile naiveté we have all outgrown. But even those who agree to succumb here and there to a weekend of rose smelling would never condone such wasteful pursuit for precious workday hours. Workday hours are for productive activities, things people are willing to pay money for. Nobody will pay you for smelling roses.
OK, maybe smelling roses all week is something for nursing home residents. But what about equally futile and unproductive pursuits like writing music no one wants to hear or painting canvases no one will ever buy, or sitting in a cave and meditating for 12 years? I could go on. What if you decided to reinvent the transistor (from scratch), or make a life’s work of copying Matisse, or (as I am doing now) write an article about useless endeavors such as the writing of articles about useless endeavors, etc., as if no one has ever entertained such an idea before?
These are the kind of useless musings and activities that artists and philosophers tend to engage in. Not artists that sell canvases for 3 million dollars mind you. Those are artists by name only. In fact they are purveyors of investment opportunities, who should rightly be listed on the NASDAQ in the commodities (or futures) section. No, I am talking here about the 99.9% of artists and inventors and street philosopher-writers and self-published poets and YouTube video troubadours (all no-good shits as one of Kurt Vonnegut’s characters called them) who will be lucky to make $300 on any of their work. It is these “useless” artists that inspire me, because I feel a deep kinship to their total disregard to the tyranny of efficiency and the other edicts of our marketplace dictatorship.
By the way, if you find the convoluted and drawn out structure of my writing annoying, please accept my apologies. It is the residue of having had German as one of my childhood languages. German is notorious for stringing together verbs, nouns, and adjectives into monster length words, and has a way to put sentences within sentences with the noun only hinted at and not revealed until some half dozen lines have gone by. German is not an efficient language. You need a lot of patience to read German. It is a language that can exasperate English speakers used to our telegraphic and purposeful English syntax. As I said, we are a practical people.]
When you spend months and years tinkering away with some quest, some inquiry that may help you find beauty, maybe truth, maybe just a solution to a nagging question or puzzle, and when you stay up nights figuring out the best way to communicate what you have found to other people, you are engaged in the most meaningful useless endeavor there is.
Art is useless because its only usefulness is in its own existence. Just like us. You could say that human beings (and any living being, or for that matter non-living beings) are also useless works of art. Our existence is our purpose. We are all beautiful, profound, exasperating, amazing, awe-inspiring, disgusting, revelatory, scary, hilariously useless works of art. Abstract art.
Being useless makes art subversive in a utilitarian culture like ours. That is why artists are dangerous rebels even if their work is not rebellious. It’s being an artist which is both a threat and an inspiration to the rest of society. Art is inherently useless. Useful art, decorative art, art that sells clothes, or sweetens TV commercials, or makes investors rich, is not really art but a commercial product. I have no problem with commercial art. I just leave the discussion of it to economists.
The fact that art and literature today attract more interest and participation than ever before is a symptom of a deep-seated knowledge that there are values other than the ones we live by. Art and artists are symbols. They represent a possibility that we all feel has been stunted within us - the permission to make mistakes on purpose, to follow wrong turns with a glee, to be curious about silly things, to venture into dark unknowns for no reason, and mostly to chase blue birds.
My friend Kent, a sculptor, has been painstakingly carving a giant tree trunk only to find out that he may have wasted three months on something a new computerized machine could crank out in an hour. I asked him if he felt foolish? “Not really” he said, “That machine would’ve learned nothing in that hour”. We are attracted to artists like Kent because even if we ourselves don’t seem to have the courage, or as some would say, the stupidity, to do things the hard way, the long and inefficient way, we know that there is a forgotten truth in what he does. I believe that even those who would label artists like Kent “flaky” or impractical, are secretly envious of his ability to access so easily what they themselves have buried so deep.
To me “useless” is a badge of honor. It indicates the willingness to go against received wisdom, against the tyranny of efficiency. It is a call to go down well-trodden paths for the millionth time and discover them anew, to spend your time on pursuits whose rewards may not be monetary or even tangible.
Useless is the ultimate rebellion against consumer culture. Reinventing the wheel is its battle cry.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)