More Pricks than Kicks

More Pricks than Kicks

Patronage in the Age of Negation

I have often been encouraged to launch a Kickstarter campaign, but I have never been able to decide on a specific project that justifies urging potential donors to dig deep into their pockets on my behalf. There are so many Kickstarters these days and there is only so much money: One has to be selective about one’s contributions, and if one embarks upon such a campaign, it had better be for a good cause.

Admittedly, I have always been somewhat skeptical about Kickstarter. These drives frequently seem to be started up by people who are more financially comfortable than those they are attempting to solicit money from: wealthy panhandlers, essentially, who don’t believe in something enough to sink their own money into it but don’t mind investing other people’s. There also seem to be a disproportionate number of Kickstarter supplicants who fall into the phantom income category—who are presumably offering temporary relief to their long-supportive families by turning to friends and strangers for assistance. This sanctioned form of begging in the name of art disguises its inherent shamelessness; the presumptuous application of pressure seems unseemly. To paraphrase a certain lady poet: Kickstarter campaigns for one’s sham friends and real pain for one’s Kickstarter friends.

It is fair to expect your friends to pony up to see a film you’ve made or buy a book you’ve written, but it seems unreasonable to expect them to foot the bill for it. To help raise funds to offset a friend’s health or financial woes is one thing, but an art project? Isn’t that what producers, publishers, galleries and record labels do? But, presumably, the works in question haven’t elicited the support of a publisher, a producer, a gallery or a record label. In these anybody-can-play days, everybody’s an artist, and somehow they have to get their careers off the ground. This is truly patronage in the age of negation.

Many significant works of art have been created by artists who were otherwise gainfully employed. While working respectively as insurance officer, wallpaper designer, TV actor and gas station attendant, Franz Kafka, Charles Burchfield, John Cassavetes and Fred McDowell created some of the most exquisite and enduring works of 20th century culture. But that isn’t really the point, is it? This is the 21st century, and Kickstarter is simply a more democratic alternative to traditional methods of patronage. It has funded many worthy causes. I can’t think of any offhand, but I’m sure there are some.

Mostly though, I felt that I couldn’t roll out a Kickstarter campaign for the same reasons that I couldn’t commit suicide: because it would be embarrassing to me and inconvenient to others, and vice-versa. Then it occurred to me that if I had to make a choice between begging and death, it would be a smart idea to combine the two. That’s right: Suicide—that golden word with its magical shimmer. For as surely as there are some people who like to see me thriving—spreading solace and joy, bringing people together—there are others who would like to see me dead. You know who you are. Now is your chance to make your own contribution. Let’s face it, suicide is hard work. If it wasn’t, we’d all be dead. We need to help each other out at times like this.
Enough preamble, here’s the plan. Unfortunately, I have to face facts: this life in the arts hasn’t really worked out too well. But if it’s done properly, offing myself could be a very credible career move. To receive posthumous acclaim—sometimes to receive any acclaim at all—one has to die first, and this is where suicide can be so useful: to cap a lifelong obscurity with posthumous notoriety. Maybe in 20 years my slim body of work will be exhumed by some perceptive and influential critic and hailed as a forgotten classic. What price immortality? It is painful but let’s face it, suicide never hurt a reputation in the arts.

I don’t suppose anybody would be especially surprised if I did kill myself. Some people might even view it as an opportunity to brag that they saw it coming. Congratulations. But this is not an occasion to compliment yourself on your prescience. And now, sadly, the element of surprise has been removed. Drat. But when all is lost, all is not always lost.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything rash. It will all be meticulously planned out—with your invaluable help. Here’s what I propose: Kickstart a suicide campaign so that I can blow my brains out and pay for a decent burial. But to spare those least-furthest and nearest to dearest the trouble of cleaning up after me, I plan on taking care of this unavoidably messy business in a foreign land where the self-inflicted death of a stranger won’t create much of a stir. Nothing too extravagant. I was thinking, Mexico. Therefore, travel arrangements must be subsidized, and a week or two’s stay in a hotel—preferably on the coast. I want to die by the sea.

And I need to buy a gun.

Some of the cynics among you might ask what’s wrong with a footstool and a few yards of strong rope, or a bowl of warm water and a fresh razor blade. And you have a good point. But after much quiet meditation, this is my chosen method—messy but relatively dependable. To some of the less charitable among you, the results of this honest but dishonorable act will be reward enough to merit a donation; but I understand that incentives are often offered to donors who really want to  get some bang for their buck, and of course, I want to give something back. After all, Kickstarter is all about giving back. I’m working on that. Perhaps somebody would like my shirt collection. My collar size is 15.  

Meanwhile, this is just an initial blast, meant to get the ball rolling and let you know what’s expected of you. I’ll get back to you when the details have been fine-tuned. Any contribution is appreciated, whatever you can afford. Don’t think of it as a donation, think of it as an investment: you will have played your part in the creation of a legend. At the very least, it will give you something to talk about.