A fellow I know, a New Yorker who lives in New Jersey, makes his living providing businesses with ideas for stunts. He is paid a lot of money to come up with some idea for a stunt—the equivalent of jumping off a building, edging between two skyscrapers on a tightrope, or driving a motorcycle over a gorge—which he does not then need to flesh out or execute: the idea is enough to earn him his paycheck. Nice work if you can get it!
He is also a writer and a coach to writers and he dreams up stunts for them and for himself. One simple stunt, which got him a lot of useful publicity, was talking someone at the Barnes and Noble bookstore across from Lincoln Center into letting him set up shop in their store window and write there, all thoughtful and writer-like, with copies of his just-published book artfully arranged around him. Although I don’t mean to upset you, this is exactly what you are supposed to do in support of your art. Feel ready?
What are art stunts? Let me make one up to give you a sense of what we’re talking about here. You make small paintings of pumpkins. How can you make your paintings stand out from all the small paintings of artichokes, radishes and onions? Well, you might hire seventeen beautiful female tightrope walkers to walk naked between two buildings carrying your framed canvases. Does this have anything to do with your art, your sensibilities, or your reasons for making art? Of course it doesn’t. Would this generate publicity for you? Of course it would.
Say that you have several canvases that you do not like and that you intend to destroy. Well, you could quietly get rid of them in a private gesture of housecleaning (or despair) or you could create some fantastic destruction ritual right out of a video game and let the whole world in on the destruction—while videoing it in the hopes of a viral event. Do you want to do this? Of course you don’t. Might it dramatically help sales? If just might.
It is not pleasant to recognize that stunts work or that an artist may stand out not because of the quality of his work or the hours he puts into marketing but because he is brazen, outrageous, and a publicity junkie. It is all as old as the hills. Which photographer is more likely to sell, one who takes photos of valleys or one who first peoples his valleys with thousand of naked volunteers? This isn’t a trick question. We all know the answer and we all have known the answer since the beginning of time.
You may hate the idea of stunts and I don’t blame you. You may even succeed without them. Super congrats on that! That of course is our goal, to make it without stunts. On the other hand, if stunts are in your DNA … maybe it’s time to explode onto the scene like fireworks on the Fourth of July!
Eric Maisel, widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction. His latest is the novel Settled, the amazing story of the creation of a second Israel. Learn more at https://www.ericmaisel.com