Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Tusk Editor's Note: June 15

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Tusk Editor's Note: June 15

Article excerpt

Van Gogh? Complete flop.

Rembrandt filed for bankruptcy at 50. His contemporary Jan Vermeer? Unnoted in life, forgotten after death. Same, or similar, with Gaugin, Monet, El Greco, Seurat, Toulouse-Latrec.

In his lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach was known as a fine organist, but not so much as a composer. Of his more than 1,000 works, only eight were published while he was alive.

The writer Herman Melville did pretty well with seafaring stories until he concocted this ambitious leviathan of a novel. Even critics didn't like it. At 37, he gave up on the idea of making a living from writing. His last great work, "Billy Budd," wasn't published until 30 years after death.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald let his ambition roam free, after successful publication of novels "This Side of Paradise" and "The Beautiful and Damned," his new one about this rich guy and the green light that hung always just out of reach did win some critic's hearts, but didn't sell like his earlier books. In 1940, when he died, Fitzgerald and his works were mostly overlooked. A New York Times obituary mentioned "The Great Gatsby" as the potential, the green light, always exceeding Fitzgerald's grasp.

Edgar Allen Poe sold poems and short stories, but not for much. "The Raven" brought in a whopping $9. "A Confederacy of Dunces" not only won the Pulitzer Prize, but became many readers' favorite all- time comic novel. Its writer John Kennedy Toole killed himself 12 years before it was finally published, depressed by rejections from publishers.

Pick your story. There are numerous versions of the same tale. And yet we still hear the bottom-line whine: Artists should be self- supporting. Only if a work finds a paying audience is it worthwhile. If a "Moby-Dick" falls in the forest, and no one's there to clap, does it make no impact?

This reductive thinking is the ground axe behind so many misunderstandings, including the tempest that arose last week over the Bama Art House Film Series and "Turn Me On, Dammit!" Show it if you want, some protestors -- few in number, as it turned out -- said, just not in a publicly funded facility. …

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