* This is a post-script of sorts to my original post THE PIN-UP STAKES: Poetry & the Marketing of Poetry. [for the below I'm paraphrasing and reorganizing replies I made in the comments field of the original post, as well as in the comments field to Mike Kitchell’s post about The Pin-Up Stakes on HTML Giant – thanks especially to Jackie Wang for her engagement]
WHY A MARKETING MODEL?
The central concern of a marketing model is the communication of an idea (or thought, or vision) via the image. This is precisely the concern of the image artist. I would argue, for example, that Jon Leon’s poetry is not poetry but the idea of poetry. As he’s said before, “Poetry is not why you come to poetry.” This is a strategic insight shared by Leon and marketing VPs, and they share a set of tropes as well: in place of Stevens’ palm at the end of the mind we have Leon’s “Beverly Hills of the Mind,” in which the idea of Beverly Hills is more Beverly Hills than Beverly Hills is. This is not to say that Leon is engaging in some kind of trite ironic critique via appropriation. I would argue that he is not critiquing this strategy or these tropes at all. In fact I think he uses them because he feels they are effective. He likes them, and follows Stevens’ adage of “It must give pleasure.” You could argue that many people won’t be able to tell the difference between what Leon is doing and what an ad agency or some asshole is doing, and that this approach could easily lead to a reinforcement of the status quo. I would not disagree with this, but it misses the point. What matters is that his objective is to assert the infinitude of thought, and his tactics are slyly and not-so-slyly disruptive all along the audience expectation spectrum, from staunch conservative to radical leftist. This is what makes him a prototypical pin-up artist. He welcomes and fucks with everyone.
A marketing model differentiates between an objective, a strategy, a tactic, and a result. I feel this differentiation is crucial when analyzing any work or scenario that concerns our engagement with the external world — too often, for example, a critic will assume strategic alignments due to an arbitrary tactical congruence, or dismiss an objective by offering up results as proof. But a set of tactics can be used to support conflicting strategies, and results never discredit the objective – they just inform how the approach to achieving that objective should be modified. In short, objectives are never disproved, only abandoned.
It’s quite common, especially with anthologies, to group and define poets by a shared set of tactics. While this can guide a reader to discover new poets and poems, or lead to chance alignments and effects, I find it incredibly unhelpful, as a critical approach, in identifying what is relevant, powerful, and actionable about a poem or poet. It can obscure completely the primary thing that differentiates or aligns one poet with another – the objective. The objective is the reason we are reading the poem in the first place. Why does this poem even bother to exist? The answer is the objective.
Likewise, it’s also common to assume a certain result is inextricably linked to a set of tactics, a strategy, or an objective (or, conversely, to assign strategies and tactics exclusively to an infrastructure or ideology). This assumption is what enables arguments about which artist or art movement is more avant garde or anti-capitalist, and why these arguments always dovetail away from the art, and into the context surrounding its reception in the world and its association with this or that paradigm of material resistance or complicity. I’m trying to address this problem by making it transparent. In other words, the difficulty in taking on the role of an artist is a loss of control over the kind of subjective and material damage your art inflicts. The image artist’s radius of control begins with the objective and ends with the execution of the tactical plan. You can try mutating into a kind of meta-artist, so that the context for your content is your content (Kent Johnson comes to mind), but all this does is shift the coordinates of your tactical plan. The problem persists. If you want to engage at the level of control you have to move beyond the role of the artist and into the role of the critic or the militant, to name two examples.
I’m not using “role” here to signify some kind of fantasy RPG or stage play of no consequence. I’m talking about a set of actions and behaviors, and a purpose, and how we delineate and categorize them contextually. Obviously a person can embody multiple roles.
I should also mention that this model is not all-purpose. I know plenty of poets who have no apparent image strategy or who equate results with objectives, e.g. my book was accepted for publication therefore I have achieved one of my objectives. This model is of little use when applied to their work.
A marketing model reiterates the importance of audience in determining the output, as well as the analysis of that output. In a typical marketing model, the audience is defined first: Who are you and what do you need? The image artist model shifts this prioritization and begins with the objective first. Defining the audience is then downgraded to a tactical concern in support of the strategic approach. Who am I targeting? What channels do I use to reach them? What are the accepted tones, tropes, etc. that traffic these channels? These questions do not necessarily lead to a kind of capitulation or pandering to the audience. When talking about the pin-up artist, for example, if the goal is to dislodge the subjective world so as to reorient your audience in relation to world/life/nothingness, you have to define that world first. You have to know how to hit it just hard enough to start it spinning without sending it spiraling out of view.
A marketing model challenges conventional models of experimental, avant garde, and “leftist” art criticism, while also foregrounding the difficulty in identifying clearly demarcated lines of resistance and complicity when it comes to art. In other words, it challenges the “world” of the liberal critic. As I responded to one comment during the aforementioned dovetailing argumentation, “I personally feel that in the same way we should resist the temptation to approve of something because it’s sexy, we should also resist the temptation to dismiss something because it’s not unsexy enough.” Additionally, by defining results as something that both inform and are impacted by your strategy and tactics, it disables any claim that “X” objective, strategy, or tactic necessarily leads to “Y” material result. It is impossible to define a particular strategy or tactic as inherently complicit with or resistant to any given framework (such as “late capitalism”). It is only retroactively, via an analysis of how the work permeates and is permeated by a real-world scenario, that one can determine whether a strategy/tactic was successfully complicit or resistant (and even then it’s tricky). Practically speaking, one can only assess, plan, execute, and hope for the best, modifying as needed and improvising along the way. Executional failure is not an indication that the objective is itself a failure – failure is instead an opportunity to learn, adjust, and move forward.
What’s the difference between an image artist and a pin-up artist?
The image artist, as a role, is ideologically neutral – it’s filled with the ideology of whatever is filling it, and its goal is to contaminate the external world with its image, whatever that is. Critical and commercial darling Lady Gaga would fit here. The pin-up artist, on the other hand, is a type of image artist, and it comes preloaded with an ideology. Its goal is to contaminate the external world with its image of a dislocated subjective world – to reorient our relation to world, life and nothingness. The pin-up artist brings nothingness to the foreground in order to assert the impossibility of existence, the infinitude of thought, and the complete arbitrariness of all rules and particularities. It is precisely this reorientation that generates revolutionary potential – you have to already believe the revolution has happened in order to enact it. You have to live the vision in order to make it real. Lady Gaga, as noted by Jackie Wang, would not fit this description. But the word “potential” is key here – the pin-up artist offers up communion with its audience, but it can’t determine what happens next. That is up to us, the audience.
I’ll throw out two examples from the poetry scene without elaboration: I would consider Ariana Reines a pin-up artist, and I would consider Tao Lin an image artist but not a pin-up artist.
For the record, I like both Lady Gaga and Tao Lin, and consider them adept image artists. I’m using them here as a useful point of distinction, because I do not feel their objective is to end the dominating proximity of the world, but to perpetuate it. This is not a back-handed compliment.
What’s all this bs about how the objective of the pin-up artist is to “end the world and change life?”
The slogan may be “end the world and change life”, but the original post goes on to elaborate that this is about proximity: end the dominating proximity of the world and change the position of life. The pin-up artist is really focused on a continual subjective reorientation, like a centrifuge that spins world/life/nothingness in order to maintain an equidistant relationship and not let one dominate the others. Too much nothingness, for example, and you fall into the territory where Zen is a perfect facilitator for capitalism. The risk is that in order to catalyze this reorientation, you have to knock loose the world, since it by default is closest in proximity within a linear conjunction. This requires a deft yet nebulous antagonism, but ultimately I would describe our relation to the world (as what mediates our relation to life, which mediates our relation to nothingness), as ambivalent rather than straight up antagonistic. The specific formulation “end the world and change life” is in reference to that initial strike that is necessary to dislodge the world.