In 1991, artist Damien Hirst preserved an entire tiger shark in a giant tank of formaldehyde. Responses varied. Some saw genius, some saw the waste of a perfectly good shark. None of the responses were neutral. In the end, hedgefund manager Stephen Cohen purchased the piece called “The impossibility of death in the mind of someone living” for an estimated 12 million.
7 years later, a friend of Hirst, artist Tracey Emin created an installation piece simply titled “My Bed”. The piece consisted of her unmade bed. It was a snap shot of an absolute low point in her life. Rather than let that moment destroy her, she took that moment, exactly as it was, and put it on display for all to see. She broke through the ordinary with extreme vulnerability, and eventually was paid 150,000 for the piece by a collector.
When I hear people talk about these kinds of examples, the discussion usually revolves around whether or not they like the art. What I think is even more interesting is how many people take the time to discuss it. Im interested in the perceived value of what breaks the ordinary. Would people be discussing the art at all if it was not far enough away from normal to provoke thought? Would a still life painting of a loaf of bread provoke that kind of discussion?
Seth Godin coined the term Purple Cow after a long drive with his family, to represent something that breaks ordinary. His children had been fighting in the back of the car for much of the drive. Suddenly they were silent. He looked in the review mirror, and saw them both staring out the window at a passing cow. They then immediately went back to fighting. It left him wondering what would have happened if the cow had been purple. Would the kids have completely forgotten about fighting? Would they have pulled over, and all talked about how odd it was to see a purple cow? Would they all have told their friends upon returning home?
One of the common struggles I hear from the artists I talk to is the continual pull to conform. There is a persistent fear, particularly early on, that if you don't do what others are doing, you will not be "discovered". Ironically, nothing could be further from the truth. Full time artists, writers, photographers, actors, all suffer from this. The Sirens of Conformity call from the shores of the ordinary trying to shipwreck many.
Ironically, of the people I have spoken to, its the people who hear the Sirens of the Ordinary calling them to shipwreck most frequently that also seem to have the strongest original voice inside them. Im not sure why this is. The greatest potential frequently suffers from the greatest resistance.
To be honest though, at this point in my life, I am less and less interested in why this happens, and more and more interested in breaking the ordinary in my own life, and helping people break out of it for good...
I can't explain how strongly this idea is resonating in my heart right now. It is causing me to rethink almost everything. I feel like my life needs an inversion away from a decreasing circle, and into an expanding expression that breaks the ordinary.
Ill be thinking about this a lot over the next season, and charting what I find....