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News & Insight

$1million In A Duffle Bag Highlights That Talent/Quality Won’t Define Your Success In Photography

By Kishore Sawh on June 11th 2016

Matty Mo, aka ‘The Most Famous Artist’ is a Los Angeles based artist who’s reveling in being polarizing. While his notoriety may have come from his ‘Selfie’ wall-art to be found around LA, it pales to the celebrity he’s found from his other, more controversial projects and behavior – like walking around with $1 million USD in actual legal tender in a clear duffle bag, and reframing what ‘art’ means.

In a short video piece by Elite Daily, Mo explains what he was thinking in doing this, and why. ‘Influence is a new type of currency,” he professes, and dives into the experience out of which emerged this project. While it’s easily arguable that influence has always been a currency, the picture he paints through the story he tells is one that likely will resonate with you, and every artist you know.

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The elevator version of the story is that Mo attended an art fair, and expressed interest and knowledge, and showed meaning behind his words when he spoke about his craft, and simply, no one gave a damn. No one noticed, much less paid attention, and upon asking the gallery for representation, he was denied.

The next day, in a rather Pretty Woman-esque moment, he returned to the same gallery rather well ‘monied’, carrying a clear duffle bag with not a penny less than a million dollars. Their behavior the day prior? Big mistake. Huge. Their behavior this time around? Like greeting a long lost brother or a visiting dignitary, and just the existence of the video shows that Mo has capitalized on it – he ‘stole the show’.

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Now, this brings into rather harsh perspective two opposing sides of the art world, and photography sits right in the mix. Matty highlights the significance of influence, and how that influence just begets more influence and popularity. The important lesson here for photographers is to understand that the market really doesn’t necessarily decide or indicate what’s good, simply what’s popular. Popularity, as I mentioned recently, is not equatable to quality. So the takeaway would be to not get down on yourself or question the merit of your work if it’s not getting showered in recognition, because ‘likes’ don’t define it.

Now, having said that, Matty also doesn’t seem apologetic for the success of his ploy, nor, in my estimation, should he be. To close out the video he says something that every popular photographer on the receiving end of critique and trolling understands, and every photographer who is a critic should grasp:

…most of the critics say, “I could’ve done that.” And the point is, go f*****g do it then.

Really, uttering ‘I could’ve done that,’ serves no purpose other than to belittle someone else’s work, and your own value. Sure, you may hear other people say it, but you don’t have to be as benighted as the next guy.

My personal thoughts on the matter is that next time you hear or feel yourself looking at an image of a famed photographer and thinking you could do it, try. Try to, or even better, consider why they would’ve done it, and why it has an audience. I think you’ll be only a better photographer for it.

*Recommended Reading: Internet Trolls Vs. Obscurity | How To Think About Internet Criticism As A Photographer

You can check out Mo’s unique project in more detail at TheMostFamousArtist.com and his IG here. **Caution: Video contains profanity.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Moise Oiknine

    “go out and do it man”… Anyone have 1.0M lying around I can borrow for 2 hours?

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  2. Eric Dejuan

    Outstanding

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  3. barbara farley

    Great article.

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  4. Fred Glasser

    Great article… powerful message for sure.

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  5. Tanya Goodall Smith

    Brilliant because it’s true. And so demoralizing for artists. The fact remains that most famous artists aren’t famous until after they’re dead.

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  6. Pye Jirsa

    Wow, Kish this is an incredible find and write up. Such a powerful message, depressing, but powerful.

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