Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Death of the Journeyman

    “I didn’t come here to do all this [menial] stuff, when will I start designing?” That was the real quote a teacher used to warn us about being wholly out of place in the real world. The frustrated interloper was a college student protesting to her employer while on a summer internship. That was her last day in that company.

     It is well known that the current generation is all about instant gratification, and why not? In the 80s, we were shown the tantalizing rise of the twenty-something go-getter and the 90s made us jealous of the college drop out billionaire. Apprenticeship outside the halls of academia is basically dead, but it is sadly true in our collective psyches. A college degree is no longer a ticket for a good job; MBAs, Masters degrees, and experience seem to be the new “diploma.” In the arts, you can be an apprentice without much trouble. One can take a cooking class for self-edification, painting as hobby or learn an instrument to have fun with friends. The only cadaver here is the one of the journeyman.

    A journeyman was a craftsman who had completed his apprenticeship and was stepping out in the world to apply their skills and gain experience. In time, a journeyman could present a masterwork to a guild to be judged and gain admittance as a master. Nowadays, our society demands master as soon as the apprenticeship is over. Your first album didn’t go platinum? Sorry you’re not going to cut it. Your first film is not a blockbuster? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Your first novel is not an international bestseller? We hope you kept your day job. The days in which an artist could develop their art are over. An argument can be made about independent films, mid-list authors, local bands and so on. But they are the first ones that will tell you how hard it is to keep juggling their passion with paying the bills. Being stuck in the middle seems tougher than breaking in.

    I’m always left pondering about how all of these mediums expect to develop new talent? Since our business here is books, Dan Brown’s first three novels were far from being successful. It took his fourth try to hit out of the park. The whole fad of using celebrity’s names on ghostwritten books is a good example of the state of things in publishing-even if some of the celebrities themselves can’t write anything longer than their own names-big splash, quick buck.

    Maybe it will take the cycle to start over. That is, when the current system crashes down and then someone will wake up and say, “Wait a minute, if we invest in people’s talent rather than focus just on short-term sales, we can make more money in the long run.” Which is why we hear about self-published success stories every now and then. It took those brave authors to push through, even when the rest of the world told them they weren’t interested. Keep on running!

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