Riku Sayuj's Reviews > David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
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it was ok
bookshelves: pop-journ-type, r-r-rs, reference


The Art of Avoiding Bestsellers: A Field Guide for Authors


How do books succeed?


By getting into the Bestseller lists? By making a few millions? By winning the most prestigious awards of the day?


Wrong.


These are very narrow views on what constitutes success for a work of art, especially literature or serious non-fiction. If we redefine success, we might find that these very things that confers ‘success’ in the short term might be hurting the artist/author the most in the long term. This applies to prestigious prizes such as Bookers as well, as we will see. We might even get an idea of why so few of the Booker winning books seem to be good enough a few years after their moment of glory. (Spoiler: (view spoiler))

+++

Let us illustrate this by taking an example from this very book. This reviewer has to warn the reader that the example is originally invoked in the book for another purpose though it has been adopted more or less verbatim here, but we need to get into that now. (By the way, the careful reader should also be able to divine why this small essay is can also serve as a review for this book in particular and to all of Mr. Gladwell’s books in general.)

Let us go back to 19th century France. Art was a big deal in the cultural life of France back then. Painting was regulated by the government and was considered a profession in the same way that medicine or the law is a profession today. The Professionals who did well would win awards and prestigious fellowships. And at the pinnacle of the profession was The Salon, the most important art exhibition in all of Europe.



+++

Every year each of the painters of France submitted two or three of his finest canvases to a jury of experts, bringing their work to the Palais de l’Industrie , an exhibition hall built for the Paris World Fair between the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Throughout the next few weeks, the jury would vote on each painting in turn. Those deemed unacceptable would be stamped with the red letter “R” for rejected. Those accepted would be hung on the walls of the Palais, and over the course of six weeks beginning in early May, as many as a million people would throng the exhibition. The best paintings were given medals. The winners were celebrated and saw the value of their paintings soar - became ‘bestsellers’. The losers limped home and went back to work.

There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval,” Renoir once said. “There are 80,000 who won’t buy so much as a nose from a painter who is not hung at the Salon.

The Salon was the most important art show in the world. In short, for a painter in nineteenth-century France, the Salon was everything - the Booker Committee and the Bestseller List rolled into one.

+++

And now, the twist:

In spite of the all the benefits, the acceptance by the Salon also came with a large cost: for the truly creative and path breaking (let us take for example the Impressionists such as Monet, which is the case study taken up by the book):

1. It required creating the kind of art that they did not find meaningful,

2. & They risked being lost in the clutter of other artists’ work. 


Was it worth it?

The Salon was the place where reputations were made. And what made it special was how selective it was. There were roughly three thousand painters of “national reputation” in France in the 1860s, and each submitted two or three of his best works to the Salon, which meant the jury was picking from a small mountain of canvases. Rejection was the norm. Getting in was a feat. “The Salon is the real field of battle,” Manet said. “It’s there that one must take one’s measure.”  It was the place where “you could succeed in making a noise, in defying and attracting criticism, coming face-to-face with the big public.

But the very things that made the Salon so attractive—how selective and prestigious it was—also made it problematic.

No painter could submit more than three works. The crowds were often overwhelming. The Salon was the Big Pond. But it was very hard to be anything at the Salon but a Little Fish.

+++

Night after night, the rebels (the Impressionists) argued over whether they should keep knocking on the Salon door or strike out on their own and stage a show just for themselves. Did they want to be a Little Fish in the Big Pond of the Salon or a Big Fish in a Little Pond of their own choosing?

The problem for the rebels such as the Impressionists was The Salon’s attitude: it was cautious, traditional. It had a reputation to uphold for being the voice of approval. It could not afford to make mistakes.



“Works were expected to be microscopically accurate, properly ‘finished’ and formally framed, with proper perspective and all the familiar artistic conventions,” the art historian Sue Roe writes. “Light denoted high drama, darkness suggested gravitas. In narrative painting, the scene should not only be ‘accurate,’ but should also set a morally acceptable tone. An afternoon at the Salon was like a night at the Paris Opéra: audiences expected to be uplifted and entertained. For the most part, they knew what they liked, and expected to see what they knew.


The kinds of paintings that won medals, Roe says, were huge, meticulously painted canvases showing scenes from French history or mythology, with horses and armies or beautiful women, with titles like Soldier’s Departure, Young Woman Weeping over a Letter, and Abandoned Innocence.

The Impressionists, on the other hand, had an entirely different idea about what constituted art.



They painted everyday life. Their brushstrokes were visible. Their figures were indistinct. To the Salon jury and the crowds thronging the Palais, their work looked amateurish, even shocking, and was repeatedly turned down. They had no hope of making waves in the Big Pond of The Salon.

+++

The Big Fish–Little Pond Gambit

Pissarro and Monet were smarter. They conjured up an alternative to the shackles of the Salon.

They thought it made more sense to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond. If they were off by themselves and held their own show, they said, they wouldn’t be bound by the restrictive rules of the Salon, where the medals were won by paintings of soldiers and weeping women. They could paint whatever they wanted. And they wouldn’t get lost in the crowd, because there wouldn’t be a crowd.

In 1873, Pissarro and Monet proposed that the Impressionists set up a collective called the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. There would be no competition, no juries, and no medals. Every artist would be treated as an equal.

The Impressionists’ exhibition opened on April 15, 1874, and lasted one month. The entrance fee was one franc. There were 165 works of art on display, including three Cézannes, ten paintings by Degas, nine Monets, five Pissarros, six Renoirs, and five by Alfred Sisley—a tiny fraction of what was on the walls of the Salon across town. In their show, the Impressionists could exhibit as many canvases as they wished and hang them in a way that allowed people to actually see them.



This was the first exhibition of "Impressionism". It was here that Critic Louis Leroy took the title of a work by Monet, 'Impression, Sunrise' to deride exposure and then went on to qualify these artists, quite skeptically, as "Impressionists."

The name stuck.

+++

This historic show brought the artists some critical attention. Not all of that attention was positive: one joke (in addition to the name 'impressionism' itself!) told was that what the Impressionists were doing was loading a pistol with paint and firing at the canvas.

But that was the second part of the Big Fish–Little Pond bargain. The Big Fish–Little Pond option might be scorned by some on the outside, but Small Ponds are welcoming places for those on the inside. They have all of the support that comes from community and friendship—and they are places where innovation and individuality are not frowned upon.



We are beginning to make ourselves a niche,” a hopeful Pissarro wrote to a friend. “We have succeeded as intruders in setting up our little banner in the midst of the crowd.” Their challenge was “to advance without worrying about opinion.” He was right. Off by themselves, the Impressionists found a new identity. They felt a new creative freedom, and before long, the outside world began to sit up and take notice.

In the history of modern art, there has never been a more important or more famous exhibition. If you tried to buy the paintings in that warren of top-floor rooms today, it would cost you more than a billion dollars.

+++

In the end, the Impressionists were lucky to make the right choice, which is one of the reasons that their paintings hang in every major art museum in the world. But this same dilemma comes up again and again, and often the choice made is not as wise.

Their story should remind today’s top artists and authors that there is a point at which money and mainstream recognition stop making them and start breaking them. The story of the Impressionists suggests that when the artists/authors strive for the best and attach great importance to getting into the Bestseller lists and Booker Lists, rarely do they stop and consider—as the Impressionists did—whether this is always in their best interest:


1. One of the important lessons the Impressionists could teach the modern artists is that there are times and places where it is better to be a Big Fish in a Little Pond than a Little Fish in a Big Pond, where the apparent disadvantage of being an outsider in a marginal world turns out not to be a disadvantage at all.

2. Another important lesson is that what counts in the end is if you let the Big Pond define you, or if you were brave enough to invent an alternative. The answer might not always be a Little Pond, but it sure can’t be meek acceptance of the current status quo path either.


Think of all the great artists of the modern age who could hardly be defined as mainstream during their own lifetimes, who would never dream of writing for the approval of a committee, who were as far away from honors and awards and money as only exiles could be.

Think of all the books with prestigious honors and the #1 bestseller mark that seem like jokes now.

Think about how so many of our best authors seem to end up producing the same sort of exceptional trash - very well written, but hardly the real deal that would last a century.

+++

What then can be an alternative for the ones who want to break free? We can talk about one option that our case study suggests - it might not be the only option, and the creative ones can always come up with better option, but the exhortation of this reviewer is a simple one: that the really ambitions artists and authors need to start thinking hard about the best use of their own abilities and efforts.

(Added here from the comments section, for clarity):

To restate, in our day the artists have three options -

1. Satisfy the Bank
2. Satisfy the critics (or impress)
3. Or satisfy their own genius (or impress)


The last being the most risky and perhaps most important one.

So what is the winning option again? For one thing, examples abound of niche novelists’ groups pushing the boundaries of literature, slowly attaining cult status and eventually becoming part of the canon itself. Just as Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne weighed prestige against visibility, selectivity against freedom, and decided the costs of the Big Pond were too great, it is time for the really serious to make the same call, of rejecting the conventional trappings of ‘success’ that only serves to limit their possibilities.
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Reading Progress

November 13, 2013 – Shelved
November 13, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
January 30, 2014 – Started Reading
January 30, 2014 –
page 16
5.25% "Wow. The starting is extraordinary! Based on one line of the Bible, a complicated medical diagnosis has been made for poor Goliath. Is the entire book built on this sort of stuff? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AG... \n Can any basketball fan help me understand why the 'full court press' is not commonly employed? is it too energy intensive?"
January 31, 2014 –
page 170
55.74% "Minor Update:\n \n The book is not as bad as my earlier update made it sound. It is only as bad as any other Gladwell book. (Or good. That is up to you.)"
February 1, 2014 – Shelved as: pop-journ-type
February 1, 2014 – Shelved as: r-r-rs
February 1, 2014 – Shelved as: reference
February 2, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 70 (70 new)


message 1: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Proust talks about this.


message 2: by Riku (last edited Feb 01, 2014 11:41PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Proust talks about this."

About the Salon and the Impressionists?

Or about the general idea - that catering to the current honors will harm the best artists of the day?

Or both? :)


message 3: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Proust talks about this."

About the Salon and the impressionists?

Or about the general idea - that catering to the current honors will harm the best artists of the day?

Or both? :)"


The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary composers renew previous ones (Debussy and Chopin).


message 4: by Riku (last edited Feb 01, 2014 11:48PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary composers renew previous ones (Debussy and Chopin)."

Oh, but I am talking about something slightly different:

The idea that the 'true' artists should not even try for the conventional accolades of the day - they might still be highly recognized... but they would have effectively limited their own genius by doing so. (without even knowing it?)

(Also, by the very act of recognizing an artist, the society might then be restricting them too. - too crazy, this extension of the idea?)

Anyway, only the ones who dared to not even make an attempt at this sort of 'success' would fully realize themselves - that is the 'review' in sum.


message 5: by Riku (last edited Feb 01, 2014 11:51PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj A Field Guide for Authors, not for readers, or for critics :)

Ultimately it is the authors' responsibility to take care of themselves. Society can't do it for them!


message 6: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary composers renew previous ones (Debussy and Ch..."

Yes, I realize that. But all these themes are connected and they've also changed through the ages. Now we have the commercial aspects outweighing all other considerations.

I have not read this book but the eventual success and establishment of the Impressionists was thanks to foreign collectors (mostly German and American).


message 7: by Lilo (last edited Feb 01, 2014 11:58PM) (new)

Lilo Your review is so much more an eye-opener than I expect the book to be.

I love your comparison of literature with the story of painting and the predicament of the impressionists. I had sometimes pondered about how many obstacles the impressionists would have had to conquer before being accepted by a conservative public and conservative art critiques.

While I am certainly not a producer of break-through literature (I bake much smaller breads :-)), I don't like to be pressed into strict guidelines (not even for certain punctuation rules that do not make sense to me). I write what I feel that I want to write, not what might have the best marketing chances or what might be in fashion to earn some reward.

I must say, however, that this is easy for me because I do not have to earn a living with my writing.

Artists of any kinds will have to make the decision what is more important for them -- to produce what they consider art and what they like to create or to produce what they think has the best chance to make money. There is no guarantee, however, that either choice will be fulfilling and/or meet the expectations.

Btw., I accidentally clicked this book as WANT TO READ. Is there any way to undo this?


Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary composers renew previous ones (D..."

True. True. I was not trying to say that the two ideas are completely disconnected. Although commercial success was also a big part of the Salon culture and the Impressionists had to take a risk with that as well to even get noticed in the first place.

Was just trying to highlight the difference in what I was trying to present - the argument is in fact a tangent from the book...

Thanks for pointing out the role of foreign collectors. Yes, that does lend wight to your point about society not recognizing the genius's of the future. It takes outside eyes.

So even when the artists take the risks, it might not pay off within the metaphorical 'box'. The Impressionists were lucky to find outside eyes. More often it is the future eyes that serve that purpose. but artists still have to make that gamble.


Riku Sayuj Lilo wrote: "Artists of any kinds will have to make the decision what is more important for them -- to produce what they consider art and what they like to create or to produce what they think has the best chance to make money. There is no guarantee, however, that either choice will be fulfilling and/or meet the expectations."

Yes! And even to question what is considered 'art' by their times!


message 10: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 12:07AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Lilo wrote: "Btw., I accidentally clicked this book as WANT TO READ. Is there any way to undo this? "

Go to 'edit review' scroll down to the end of the page and you will see a link: 'remove from my books'.

btw, That question is a stinging one! :)

The real connection of the review to the book is that MG relentlessly goes against everything advocated in this review and churns out factory-produced books! I thought it would be a nice irony to talk in this vein in this book review.

Especially after Ted's comments about how MG is bound to be forgotten soon, which sparked this idea for a review.


message 11: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary composers renew..."

This is a very complex issue. I am now finding some Modernist pieces (mostly in painting) sort of dated, while older art does not. Peculiar.


message 12: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 12:12AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how some contemporary co..."

Yeah, you are right again.

But the thing is that I deliberately over simplified the complex issue. I was only following the author's lead here - as a demonstration of why I had to give 2 stars to the book. I guess my irony is wasted on non-readers of Gladwell! (whom, the non-readers I mean, I have great respect for!)

In any case, I am not an art connoisseur like yourself, Kal... I am sure I cannot engage in an intelligent enough discussion, but could you humor me with a couple of examples?


message 13: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesting is how som..."

What I meant about this theme being complex is that it is very difficult to discuss in a place like this. I gathered that you were not entirely convinced by this book because of your two stars, but I have not read it so it is difficult for me to say a grat deal more in any specific and meaningful way.

But your review certainly succeeds in bringing up these, unsolvable, issues.


message 14: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 12:34AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethoven. Also interesti..."

Oh, but as I said the book is not about this. Not really. It would have been unbearably hypocritical of MG if it were!!

In fact, MG uses this case study to talk about the downsides of attending the Ivy League universities - how you might feel overwhelmed in a place full of excellence and that it might be better for some of the bright students to choose a lower university even if they can go to a Harvard. Better to be a Big Fish in a Small Pond (smaller University) than a Little Fish in a Big Pond (say Harvard).

While I do know what MG is talking about here, having attended the best B-School in my country, I still chose this tangent instead since it can then double as a critique of the book itself.

The 2 stars are due to the patchy work, and for the atrocious leaps of reasoning. Some of the ideas were decent, but you have to take them with such a large amount of salt that the flavor is all but lost.


message 15: by Lilo (new)

Lilo I didn't make it to remove this book from my WANT TO READs. Could you possible explain it idiot-proof? :-)


message 16: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Lilo wrote: "I didn't make it to remove this book from my WANT TO READs. Could you possible explain it idiot-proof? :-)"

Go to Your Books and under the Want To Read sublist there you can find the book and you can delete it by pressing the cross at the right.


message 17: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sample is Beethove..."

Ah, ok. I thought the book was in a general way about writers and literary power circles and that you wanted to propose your view through what happened to the Impressionist avantgarde.

Did not realize the author concentrated on business schools. Not only have I not read the book but I am unfamiliar with the author.


message 18: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Kalliope wrote: "Lilo wrote: "I didn't make it to remove this book from my WANT TO READs. Could you possible explain it idiot-proof? :-)"

Go to Your Books and under the Want To Read sublist there you can find the ..."


Thank you. I finally managed to remove this book. I will need this also for other books. I have way too many TBRs.


message 19: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "Riku wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "The general idea. That true artists are not understood until later. His sampl..."

Quite understandable, Kal. The mistake is mine for not highlighting that. You are lucky not to be familiar! :)


message 20: by Fionnuala (last edited Feb 02, 2014 04:12AM) (new)

Fionnuala Very confused (and chuckling) review and discussion reader here.
I also know nothing about the book - even after reading the review - but I appreciate some of the points you make, Riku regarding the establishment stiffling creativity.
But I do think that the French Salon model is a very particular situation and may not easily serve as a general example. The salon served to highlight the work of the artists enrolled in the Royal Academy, and the academy emphasised a rigourous classical training so it was almost necessary to have followed the classes there if an artist wanted to be accepted at the Salon. Many of the pre-impressionists and the impressionists themselves attended private classes instead so it was logical that they would need an alternative venue for their exhibitions. The amazing thing to me was that it took them so long to come up with that idea given that they had already moved so far from the 'classic ideals' which they had chosen not to follow in their artistic pursuits. But that brings up the question of ambition which you mentioned in the second last paragraph: that the really ambitions artists and authors need to start thinking hard about the best use of their own abilities and efforts
It seems to me that real creativity and ambition can't coexist. Ambition risks dominating the creativity. But artists, musicians and writers need to eat. The Renaissance model of the Mécène or patron was useful - but compromising too in ways - unless you were a Leonardo and rarely bothered finishing what had been ordered by your patron and instead followed your inspiration.


message 21: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat Riku wrote: "The real connection of the review to the book is that MG relentlessly goes against everything advocated in this review and churns out factory-produced books! I thought it would be a nice irony to talk in this vein in this book review.

Especially after Ted's comments about how MG is bound to be forgotten soon, which sparked this idea for a review. "


Presumably that is the point, he gets acclaim and money now when he can enjoy it rather than like those Impressionists whose work has become more valuable as time has gone on.

Most of what is said and printed, composed or done now will be forgotten and that must pretty much always have been the case.


message 22: by Katie (new)

Katie Riku wrote: "(Also, by the very act of recognizing an artist, the society might then be restricting them too. - too crazy, this extension of the idea?)"

That's a dizzying thing to think about, but it's a good point. I think that the only way an author or artist could avoid being restricted, really, would be to produce an entire body of work before anyone else ever saw it or commented upon it. But I'd imagine that path would be psychologically destructive enough in its own right that it would just be restriction of another sort.

I don't think recognition or success is inherently damaging to art, though. It certainly can be! But I think you could also make the argument that outside input and pressures can make an artist grow and develop in a way that makes their work stronger.


message 23: by Katie (new)

Katie PS: Great review, by the way! I really enjoyed it.


message 24: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:04AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Fionnuala wrote: "Very confused (and chuckling) review and discussion reader here.
I also know nothing about the book - even after reading the review - but I appreciate some of the points you make, Riku regarding th..."


Yes Fi, I understand that the Salon might have been a special case. I do not have an understanding of the full historical background. But don't you think that the idea is applicable even to this day? I tried to show this by the equation Salon = Booker Committee + Bestseller list rolled into one - because it was required both for critical acclaim and for fortune. In fact, where i find it might not be representative of our day is that, in our day the artists have three options -

1. Satisfy the Bank
2. Satisfy the critics (or impress)
3. Or satisfy their own genius (or impress)

The last being the most risky and perhaps most important option.. (following from the ideas in the review)

I like the point about Ambition stifling creativity. But I think we have redefined ambition if we make it something distinct from an ambition for money/critical acclaim. Then it becomes an ambition that is directed inwards - an ambition to achieve the highest possible that your skill and ability allows. I think that is what someone like Leo did too, not even bothering to humor his own patrons.

I think that sort of ambition might be good and quite irreplaceable...


message 25: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 08:36AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Jan-Maat wrote: "Riku wrote: "The real connection of the review to the book is that MG relentlessly goes against everything advocated in this review and churns out factory-produced books! I thought it would be a ni..."

Quite so Jan-Maat, But my point is that we always blame the society for not recognizing its geniuses. We should blame the geniuses too! :)


message 26: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "Riku wrote: "(Also, by the very act of recognizing an artist, the society might then be restricting them too. - too crazy, this extension of the idea?)"

That's a dizzying thing to think about, but..."


True, Katie. You raise an important counter point!

I would argue that while recognition and success can be beneficial, from our viewpoint of what 'success' is, in this discussion, it would take a supremely unconcerned being to benefit from accolades. Similar in soul to a Leonardo, or a Mark Twain - who can soak up he adulation and still not care a whit for catering to expectations.

On the other hand, most of the works of genius seems to come from political or social exiles - Dante, Joyce, Proust, Dostoevsky, the list is endless.


message 27: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "PS: Great review, by the way! I really enjoyed it."

Thanks!


message 28: by Ted (last edited Feb 02, 2014 08:48AM) (new)

Ted Great review, Riku. The example of the Salon is very interesting, as are the comments about that example.

So many of the commenters above are indeed fortunate (in my opinion, and it sounds like yours) to be unacquainted with Gladwell's books. They purport to tease startling findings in the social sciences out of papers he has read. Unfortunately, as Riku indicates, his standards of "proof" (or "demonstration") are abysmally low, but this does not faze his fans.

I see in the paper (Wash. Post) today that the book reviewed here has been 17 weeks on their bestseller list for Hardcover Nonfiction.

Bottom line, if you do read Gladwell's book, read them for entertainment. But takes his "discoveries" and "laws" for the social sciences to be very unsupported; hence as Riku so engagingly puts it: "you have to take them with such a large amount of salt that the flavor is all but lost."


message 29: by Katie (new)

Katie Riku wrote: "Katie wrote: "Riku wrote: "(Also, by the very act of recognizing an artist, the society might then be restricting them too. - too crazy, this extension of the idea?)"

That's a dizzying thing to th..."


That's true! There's something to be said for adversity and independence. Poor van Gogh was spectacularly unsuccessful during his lifetime and it did have the benefit of letting him paint whatever he wanted.

But at least of the couple of the people that you mentioned were widely recognized during their lifetime, even if they did face hardship: Dostoevsky was a bit of celebrity later in life, and Dante (despite political exile) was widely known and appreciated throughout Italy, receiving quite a bit of patronage. For Dante, at least, if he had been unknown in his lifetime we probably wouldn't even have a surviving copy of the The Divine Comedy. And nearly all the big artists of the Renaissance were European-wide celebrities.

It's a tough balance, though - I almost feel like the best place to be as an artist is within that tiny window where you've received recognition, but also won enough respect that you're allotted as much 'artistic freedom' as you'd like.


message 30: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Riku wrote: "Then it becomes an ambition that is directed inwards - an ambition to achieve the highest possible that your skill and ability allows. I think that is what someone like Leo did too, not even bothering to humor his own patrons.
I think that sort of ambition might be good and quite irreplaceable.


Yes, that is the ideal but difficult to achieve.
The best compromise may lie, in Katie words, within that tiny window where you've received recognition, but also won enough respect that you're allotted as much 'artistic freedom' as you'd like.


message 31: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:25AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "Riku wrote: "Katie wrote: "Riku wrote: "(Also, by the very act of recognizing an artist, the society might then be restricting them too. - too crazy, this extension of the idea?)"

That's a dizzyin..."


What I meant was that some sort of exile (social/political/any other type - academic?) seems to help in giving that freedom of perspective that is required. Of course it doesn't mean they had to be completely unrecognized. That is what I tried to illustrate by comparing with Twain, a true celebrity.

One more example, if Dostoevsky had not been put in front of that firing line, he might never have given us his greatest works. Some level of confidence would flow from being accepted but beyond a point it would only blunt it.

So yes, as you said, a very tough balance.

Which is why I think it depends more on the artists than on their environment. If they stay true to their genius and get acclamation for it, then it might not affect them. But if they start out (or ever slip into) looking for acclamation rather than self-fulfillment, they might be destined for the trash cans of history...


message 32: by Katie (new)

Katie Yes, I definitely agree with your last part.

And yep - while it sort of plays into the tortured artist trope, I do think that adversity usually helps create better artists. Adversity can often result in empathy, which makes for good art.


message 33: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:33AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "Great review, Riku. The example of the Salon is very interesting, as are the comments about that example.

So many of the commenters above are indeed fortunate (in my opinion, and it sounds like yo..."


Thanks, Ted.

Have you heard of this (Trevor pointed it out to me):

Eco-terrorist sentenced to read Malcolm Gladwell

I had shared this on my FB page before I read the book. I really have a hard time after reading the book to see how it can in any way help the convicts to understand that violence is not the answer. Gladwell openly endorses gorilla warfare for the 'David's of the world!

As Trevor said, "I think I'd have recommended Gandhi rather than Gladwell."


message 34: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Fionnuala wrote: "Riku wrote: "Then it becomes an ambition that is directed inwards - an ambition to achieve the highest possible that your skill and ability allows. I think that is what someone like Leo did too, no..."

Ideals are always difficult goals but useful signposts, I think.


message 35: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "tortured artist trope"

You might notice that I tried to not invoke that at all. I don't think the 'tortured' artist is required, only an inspired one who is willing to forego conventional accolades. He might not find that particularly torturous - might even derive pleasure from it? I can't think of a fitting example for this off the top of my mind, let me consult the Oracle of Google.


message 36: by Ted (new)

Ted I think there are any number of writers who broke new ground, and didn't expect to be "best-selling" authors for their troubles, nor did they consider themselves to suffer. Joyce. Proust. Faulkner. Virginia Woolf. They just knew what they wanted to do, and lucky for us they did it.


message 37: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "I think there are any number of writers who broke new ground, and didn't expect to be "best-selling" authors for their troubles, nor did they consider themselves to suffer. Joyce. Proust. Faulkner...."

Exactly. The ideal artists! Thanks for being better than Google!

One more thing. I think scorning money is easier than scorning critical acclaim. Consider how Joyce did not give a damn to Woolf's outrage at his writing. Not caring for the most respected peers might be the hardest to do.

[ Another tangent - I think this has special significance in academic and scientific work also, where whole universities sometimes lapse into groupthink due to one preeminent scholar... ]


message 38: by Katie (new)

Katie Riku wrote: "Katie wrote: "tortured artist trope"

You might notice that I tried to not invoke that at all. I don't think the 'tortured' artist is required, only an inspired one who is willing to forego convent..."


I wasn't trying to imply that's what you were thinking! I just found myself heading down that path, which is one that I try to avoid. I don't think brilliance is predicated on suffering, but I do think that periods of adversity or difficulty can contribute to art.

Riku wrote: "[ Another tangent - I think this has special significance in academic and scientific work also, where whole universities sometimes lapse into groupthink due to one preeminent scholar... ]"

Yeah, I think that that's a huge problem. The way academia is currently set up is sort of ridiculous, and in a lot of ways its actively detrimental to creative thought.


message 39: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "Riku wrote: "Katie wrote: "tortured artist trope"

You might notice that I tried to not invoke that at all. I don't think the 'tortured' artist is required, only an inspired one who is willing to f..."


Yeah, I get scared when I hear expressions like "Chicago School of Thought'. A whole university with one thought? That is something. It also pretty much means that all the others who follow the original scholar might end up forgotten. Even if they get a lot of peer-prestige.


message 40: by Katie (new)

Katie Yeah, people keep track of actual academic 'family trees' in the sense of tracing back your mentor to their mentor, etc. It's an odd system - in practice it usually means that a brilliant person comes up with a brilliant idea and then the next generation or two that studies under them works out all the details. If you're lucky (or particularly brilliant yourself) you may wind up coming across your own unique discovery, but overall I think it serves to cement established ideas rather than foster new ones.

I guess it's actually a bit like Thomas Kuhn's set up in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Edition but in the humanities there are less objective standards of proving things.


message 41: by Lilo (new)

Lilo @ Riku & Ted:

"you have to take them with such a large amount of salt that the flavor is all but lost."

So much salt is bad for your heart. :-)


message 42: by Lilo (new)

Lilo @ Riku:

"Which is why I think it depends more on the artists than on their environment. If they stay true to their genius and get acclamation for it, then it might not affect them. But if they start out (or ever slip into) looking for acclamation rather than self-fulfillment, they might be destined for the trash cans of history..."

I 100% agree.


message 43: by Lilo (last edited Feb 02, 2014 11:00AM) (new)

Lilo @ Riku:

"One more thing. I think scorning money is easier than scorning critical acclaim. Consider how Joyce did not give a damn to Woolf's outrage at his writing. Not caring for the most respected peers might be the hardest to do."

I absolutely agree.


message 44: by Lilo (new)

Lilo @ Katie:

"Yeah, I think that that's a huge problem. The way academia is currently set up is sort of ridiculous, and in a lot of ways its actively detrimental to creative thought."

I am afraid that once someone is an accomplished professor at a university, he/she can (and very often does) yield more power than is desirable. This is especially true when several of such professors "gang up". -- One of my dearest GR friends is a retired university professor. He has been telling me about such "ganged-up" professors who had been giving him some trouble.


message 45: by Katie (new)

Katie I keep hearing all kinds of horror stories about academia. It sort of makes me want to just get a PhD and run away to do something else.


message 46: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Lilo wrote: "once someone is an accomplished professor at a university, he/she can (and very often does) yield more power than is desirable.

True beyond the ivory walls too, I am afraid!


message 47: by Tanuj (new)

Tanuj Solanki To read this as a review of Gladwell's work is to add a dash of sarcasm to every sentence. Gladwell, to me, is a hazardously successful voice that keeps churning stuff for pseudo-geeks. No?


message 48: by Riku (last edited Feb 02, 2014 11:58AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Tanuj wrote: "To read this as a review of Gladwell's work is to add a dash of sarcasm to every sentence. Gladwell, to me, is a hazardously successful voice that keeps churning stuff for pseudo-geeks. No?"

Right-O!

"pseudo-geeks"! got to love that!


message 49: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Katie wrote: "I keep hearing all kinds of horror stories about academia. It sort of makes me want to just get a PhD and run away to do something else."

I think it is just more visible in academia and more insidious elsewhere...


message 50: by S. (new) - added it

S. eat first, dream later


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