Bringing the Freedom of Street Markets to the Publishing World

I love art fairs and street markets, spending the day wandering from booth to booth, catching photographers, painters, glassblowers, and sculptors arranging their pieces in aesthetic displays, hoping to catch the eye of a spontaneous shopper. I admire artists who choose this venue. It is raw and vulnerable. Anything can happen. Petty words might be tossed around carelessly as if the artist was not within earshot, making the compliments of true admirers all the more valuable.

In addition to street markets, artists have other options. Small galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and even hair salons display art for sale. For the rare few, a weekend exhibit in a prestigious gallery can turn a passion into a career. The Internet explodes with opportunity for artists who build clever websites and take advantage of social networking. Even animals are staking a claim in the world of art – elephants, horses, and dogs.

The doors are open to artists of all species who use a variety of mediums – paint, clay, bronze, glass, charcoal pencil and animation – to create, display and sell their art. We don’t even question the legitimacy of the concept. I would be appalled if a small enclave of people appointed themselves to review and reject or accept each piece submitted by an artist.

Yet that is what we have come to expect of the literary community (I ought to be ashamed of starting that sentence with yet, but I relish the freedom of breaking the rules).

As I illustrated in my previous article about Bowker, the publishing world actually condones the notion that reviewing, polishing, and presenting 300,000 titles is for the good of the American public. After all, a rogue author left unattended might present a story or argument that comes into conflict with their all-powerful Current Accepted Philosophy. God forbid the printing press be invented and guys like this are allowed to publish whatever nonsense they see fit to spew out into the world.

We ought to be protected from the kind of rubbish that might be produced by authors who clank away randomly on their keyboards. I like both of those artists very much. This isn’t a slight but an example of the enormous amount of freedom artists possess – a freedom authors are only just beginning to realize as they accept the validity of choosing not to grovel their way into the 300,000 — coloring outside the lines, if you will.

I do not need to be protected from people who produce art that either bores or offends me. Everyone can enjoy a painting of the Virgin Mary fashioned from pornography and donned with elephant dung (no matter what Rudy Giuliani says) or a nice sculpture of Jesus in urine. George Bush, the friendly urinal, is also a popular item (even my children are past the potty humor stage, but no squat toilet is too low for some).

I find this exhibit most interesting, and even though I dislike every piece of art displayed, I celebrate the fact that no one was hauled away by the Secret Service.

The First Amendment protects artists, journalists and people of all walks of life. Even if I consider a piece of art loathsome, I would not wish for an elite community to decide whether or not anyone is allowed to see it.

Neither should literary agents, publicists, and trade publishers, and they know it.

I used to see the words “under contract only, no self-published or print on demand authors” on the websites of publicists. Fortunately (or unfortunately, since now I cannot back up my claim) I can find no examples as of October of 2011. That was the mindset a year ago, but it has vanished in the ethosphere. In fact, now publicists welcome self-published authors. They make good customers – eager to promote their work and often lost in the new world of marketing.

The barrier, held in place so carefully for decades, has dissolved. Authors are free to write beautiful stories, loathsome rants or random streams of consciousness. Now we have the same power as the street market artist. We may make it big; we may not. But no one can suppress our voices. The printing press has been released from its chains.


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