Monday, December 28, 2009

Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!

Interestingly, about ten minutes after I wrote the last post, in which a note-pusher (that's the phrase used in the article) bemoaned the democratization of music, I heard this interview with the usually gorm-endowed Kills guitarist, Jamie Hince. It's at about 1:45 to 2:52 on this YouTube video.

"I think we have to be a little more fascist about art now. I think we have to say, because we're not just contending with people's concept of art, we're also contending with the fact that all the apparatus to make art is for the masses. It's for amateurs. It's like we're living in a world of amateurs, where everyone can make a movie, everybody can make a record, everybody can be a photographer, everyone can be an artist, everyone can...y'know, photomontage is one of my favorite kinds of art, and it's been completely obliterated by Photoshop. It doesn't mean anything any more. Photomontage...there's no time or effort or skill or appreciation for it anymore. I think we have to be a little more libertarian in our politics and fascist in our art and say this isn't art, and that isn't art, and not everybody can be an artist. It takes blood and sweat and tears and life and death to be an artist and it's not just a marketing concept."

This seems to rest on a few largely unfounded assumptions.
1. In the 'past' before some arbitrary time, let's say 1980 because that would privilege the speaker, all artists always magically rose to the status of artists and no artists were left behind, in a sort of artistic Rapture.
2. That the spread of cheap and readily available materials for making art haven't, as some people might think, uncovered any new artists (there aren't any, see #1).
3. People who use Photoshop or cheap video cameras have started thinking of themselves as artists.
4. That suffering makes you an artist.
5. That guitar playing is hard and mastering Photoshop is easy.
6. That "amateur" means "someone who does it badly or half-heartedly".
7. That if the title of "artist" was bestowed by fiat, our kind of people would be the ones doing the bestowing.

Amateur: a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. It's not until you get down to the third or fourth meanings that you come across the concept of "someone who's no good at the activity". Amateur artists are artists. They just don't get paid.

And he seems to be well-read enough not to use "fascist" to mean "dictatorial" but he does it anyway.

Mind you, Marinetti did write that by the time artists were his age, they should be hunted down and killed by younger artists for not being fast or strong enough to keep up with the beauty, power and velocity of modern technology.

He may not know that Photoshop is actually an instrument, like the ones he uses, and just as everybody can play about 12 chords on a guitar but don't usually call themselves musicians, most people can open Photoshop and within a week be producing some altered images using the filters and automatic adjustments. But it takes years of practice, an intimate understanding of what's underlying Photoshop's manipulation of color, and innate artistic ability before you can actually get much more out of it than your uncle's photo with horns added or a dark photo forced one stop. (I may be biased by the fact that my artist friends in London almost all worked in a single field - the early days of CGI (early 80s). I used to see their showreels, attended many SIGGRAPHs, boggled at the pages after page of equations in their papers, and got some sense of the thousands of hours it took to make those creations. And no, you still couldn't actually do it if you weren't an artist.)

About an hour after reading that, I saw Sunday's LA Times had an article on what art means in today's world. Centering on an ebullient young director called Michael Mohan, the piece is positive and forward-looking. “There’s an audience for everything ... if you say I want to express myself and people will see it, yes, that’s what in 2010 you can do.”

They quote Mikel Jollett of Airborne Toxic Event. "You can get further in a month than bands used to be able to get in two years . . . now you just have the tools at your disposal and you make those decisions yourself, you can make the cover art, you can turn up the reverb. It used to be just an industry of stars and penniless vagabonds. Now, you've got artists who are making a living and they live in houses and cook on a stove."

The LA Times comment on this is that a "middle class" is developing in the arts, people who make a living at it.

Bingo! Everyone hates the middle-classes, which might explain some of the dislike shown this era of readily available materials. (And Trotsky famously pegged the Futurists as maybe he was talking about Fascist art.)

1 comment:

GracefulFire Girl said...

Thanks for this piece. Yes, we middle class people (who also happened to have full time jobs) can be "artists" too. It took me a long time to think of myself as an artist even though I had been selling my work for a number of years. I guess I finally stopped listening to the snobs and started defining myself. Happy 2010!


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