Andrew Dickson is a Sell Out
-posted by Patrick Alan Coleman
Take a deep breath. Alright. I am egregiously conflicted about Andrew Dickson’s, Tony Robbins-esque, charismatic, power point onslaught: Sell Out. Yes, it is entertaining. Yes, Dickson’s an excellent performer who inhabits the preacher cum self-empowerment huckster personae with complete zeal. Yes, I laughed, a lot. But honestly, I’m not sure where in my psyche that laughter was coming from and I’ve become increasingly troubled about the message of Sell Out. If the goal of art is to challenge the way a person thinks about the world, then Dickson has made one hum-dinger work of art.
The premise is very simple. During the performance, Dickson, who was offered work with local advertising powerhouse Wieden + Kennedy after years of being an indie artist, presents his 27 step method to become a sell out.
I must say I was with Dickson, whole-heartedly, through much of the presentation. Hell, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve dreamed about a sell out’s financial stability, I wouldn’t have to sell out to anyone. Fact is, Dickson hit one of my most tender nerves with step 17: Turn 30. This year I will be 33. As a playwright and a poet, I remain unpublished and unproduced- as an artist I am basically nowhere, even though my city is having a cultural explosion (18: feel the walls closing in). Dickson is right, an individual in my situation does begin thinking about things like health care, home buying and family. In fact, my fiancée and I have been saving scrupulously to finance our imminent wedding. Still, I doubt if I could support a family through bartending, care giving and paltry, if gleefully appreciated, freelance writing jobs. Selling out is starting to look mighty good and Mr. Dickson is starting to look a bit like Mephistopheles.
It’s very likely that I am taking all of this too seriously. Even though Andrew Dickson seems to believe in the effectiveness of his presentation, he glides through much of it with tongue firmly in cheek. Take, for instance, the TV shopping advice for those who have hit the sell out jackpot.
I guess what’s so troubling about Sell Out is the unmistakable ring of truth. Dickson’s 27 steps are the dream path (or anti-path) for any middle-class white kid who attended a liberal college, studied an esoteric subject, developed an identity in the subculture and emerged to call themselves an artist, steps 1, 5, 7, and 9 for those of you who are playing at home.
This ring of truth, however, becomes mixed with some dubious justifications for selling out. Dickson mentions decreased funds for artists (Bringing to mind Reggie Watts, “I’ve noticed that since 1756 funding for the arts has been waning.”) increasing theft of intellectual property and societies declining value for the creative fields. All this may be true, and very depressing, but I don’t think these are a reason to be untrue to your artistic intentions.
Dickson presents, as proof of his sell out status, a little bagatelle he created for the Starbucks website. He admits that it’s terrible- but, his parents and friends seemed to like it. Alright. But aren’t his artistic intentions being compromised?
And what about those folks who managed to work in America while maintaining their artistic integrity. William “red wheelbarrow” Carlos Williams was a family doctor as well as a poet. Another poet, Wallace “blue guitar” Stevens sold insurance most of his life. And what about all of those incredible outsider artists, who painted or created only for themselves in the quiet of their own homes, raising families, working, sometimes going insane.
I guess, when it comes down to it, I don’t care if an artist does or does not sell out. It’s all about what you are able accept in your own life. It’s a highly personal experiance. Dickson says as much in his program notes. Perhaps, for some, the ends justify the means. For others, those means are an outrageous insult to personal ethics.
Me? I’m not sure. I’ll cross that road if I ever come to it. However, I plan to put Dickson’s 19th step into affect: Blow Some Minds- If only my own.
I do not begrudge Dickson his success, though, I am sure there are more than a few out there who look upon him with envy. I’ll even admit to a hint of green in my eyes. But either way, I am glad that he is comfortable and happy. I just hope he adds a 28th Step: Keep Blowing Minds- If only his own.