published in Volume 1, Issue 5 on November 20th, 1994
I call this "The Wedding Party Issue" because it's The Groom: Bob (or "Bod" as he wishes he were called) Fulkerson, The Bride: Kris Kalil-Fulkerson (as Bob insists she be called), and The Best Man: J.D. Rummel-Fulkerson (which Bob hates my being called). Anyway, when Bob asked me if I would like to step-in and guest edit Morpo for the redoubtable Matt Mason, who was called to greener pastures (nah, he's not dead, he's in Ireland), I, of course, jumped at the chance.
When I finished the above paragraph, it occurred to me that Mr. Mason was in fact, co-Best Man at the wedding, and that sort of makes every issue a Wedding Party Issue. Mr. Fulkerson could tell you what they call that kind of error in a structured programming language, fortunately, I can get away with calling it a faux pas or what I call errors in a structured programming language: a fuck-up.
But, while implying one is the only Best Man at a wedding, or turning left when we should have turned right might be embarrassing, maybe even costly in terms of time or money, such failure is rarely fatal ("Is that a toadstool or a mushroom, Chauncey?").
Artistic failure isn't deadly either, but it does carry an especially awful stink. If good art is immortal, then bad art, like a pesky stain, lingers. We can explain away, even lie about an honest mistake in most undertakings, but creating bad art cannot be so excused, because the act of creation is willful. Although no one sets out to produce a bad poem or picture, at some point the creation leaves the realm of intention and will be judged on what it represents to others' perceptions, and make no mistake, art is always about perception. All art forms are windows, and one view they permit is into who the artist is inside and what he or she understands. Because of this, we often judge artists unfairly; good artists are heroes and wonderful human beings, sometimes even gods. Bad artists are fools, a laughing stock, or worse. This is not the kind of logic the ancient Greek philosophers promoted, but at some time haven't we all laughed at someone's artistic clumsiness and maybe thought a little less of them as people? If writing a bad story can reduce your value as human being, then being an artist is a risky job.
The risk to the artist is wiped out if he or she never shares their work, however. No art can be judged bad if no one ever experiences it. The problem with this tack is that what might be good art is equally hidden. Can art stand alone? Does it need an audience to complete it? An argument can be made for both sides, but the reason so many of us create, then submit our creations to our fellows is rooted at least partly in the human need to reach out and connect with others. In order to survive, all of us at times have to share some part of ourselves with the rest of the world. The potential for rejection is always present, but that reality can be especially sharp for those of us who attempt connection via an artistic expression.
Everyone who submitted a piece to Morpo certainly took The Chance. Believing you are creative and should be heard is one thing, but putting it out there on paper, canvas, stone, celluloid, stage or World Wide Web--actually doing the work--is wholly another. Someone can believe he or she is Elvis while shaking and singing in the shower, but we've all been to the Karaoke bar and winced as that same someone revealed him-or-herself to be all wet. Right or wrong, good or bad, self-confident or egomaniacal, talented or not, people who share that naked, shower-persona with an audience should be respected.
Finally, does an audience accepting a piece really define whether something is good or bad? Probably not. As I stated above, art is always about perception. "Good art" is often just something that found someone who agreed with it. The hardest part of seeking connection through art is that we can be denied simply because our effort reaches a person on a rough day--maybe they've just had a bad meal or a fight with a spouse. We may even have a fool (or fools) for an audience. At best, each person knows on some level what he or she enjoys, and they try to find those things in the art that surrounds them. And while being published or produced is a kind of validation, such acceptance shouldn't be taken too seriously. Why? Because honestly, art is more of a crap shoot than anything else. Any artist who seeks an audience's approval is just a naked shower singer gambling that what he or she has created will be accepted.
The stakes in this game can be pretty high. It's true that looking like a fool in public is painful, but what about those folks who risk it and succeed, the ones who get out there and shake their naked stuff for all to see and the crowd goes wild? I'm talking about the Springsteens, the Richard Pryors, the Harlan Ellisons, and Woody Allens, the ones who take that chance and stand there in their birthday suits rolling the bones and commanding us to pay attention.
As a guest editor for this month I picked those things which I agreed with, which spoke to me. I picked the pieces that I liked. It's certainly possible that some genius slipped by me. Some people like Jean Claude God Damn movies, some don't, but the true bottom line is this: Jean Claude is out there doing the splits, risking the critics' barbs because he needs to be out there and he knows there are people who enjoy what he does (and even pay for it). Jean Claude and his audience find connection.
So here's to all those bare-butt gamblers who submitted to Morpo this month. Some rolled sevens and made it in, some didn't. If you didn't make it, if you "busted" this go-round, don't stop.
Stay naked, and keep rolling the dice.