on the pure and muddied.
We are in a time of massive transition right now. Read any magazine or newspaper, turn on the television, log on to any blog you find, and the evidence is bubbling over at the brim. It’s all around us, and most of us are trying to just catch up with the zero’s and one’s in order to process all that is happening. The bottom line is that things are not what they were thirty, forty, fifty years ago, particularly in the realm of art. Those of us who inhabit both sides of the artist/consumer divide are having to reevaluate our roles in this massive cohesion of music, film, and the fine arts or fall by the wayside, a tired consumer in a hyper-consumerist world. The advent of the internet and the personal computer has blown the curtain away from that great mystery which, until very recently, has been the domain of the elite. If one were to take a gander backwards at the evolution of art, one would see the second half of the twentieth century as a dramatic shift from what had come before, not just in style, but in content. These past ten years, even, have seen more advances in the technology that enable us to create (for technology is really nothing more than a tool), which has put the destiny of the fine arts into the hands of the common man. Even I remember a time (and I am NOT that old) when recording an album at home that would be ready for mass distribution would be nearly unthinkable. When making home movies rarely branched beyond baby’s first steps or grandma’s 80 birthday. We are constantly hearing about the “demise of the record/entertainment industry” and how this is the end of music/film/art as we know it. But I see this as only a half-truth. It is the demise of something, indeed, but one should not confuse the “industry” with the art itself. These are two very distinct things. For example, and this is an example even I am tired of hearing about, the last Radiohead album showed what a band can do without a label at all. the success was such that the band made more on this single release than they did on their entire back catalog. The impact that online community sites like myspace have had on artists cannot be overstated. Youtube has done the same thing for aspiring filmmakers. We no longer need the support of multi-million dollar corporations to get our work out into the world. It’s already there. The reality is that the old ways are crumbling, and it’s time for new models to arise from the ashes.But what does all this mean for the world of art at large? We are at a point now where attainment of art is instantaneous. The newest films and unreleased albums are a mouse-click away. The scope, availability, and range of art that is now available due to the sudden influx in technology has inandated us with choices to the point of something akin to a wash of static noise, the inability to discern one waveform from another. As Thom Yorke calls it, “fridge buzz”. There is nothing bourgeois left in art anymore. And with more choice inevitably come an inconstitency in quality.If there is one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that everything has layers. Everything worth it’s weight in salt, anyway. There is this new anomaly that comes with the handing down of “art” to the proletariat, and that is the struggle to find worth in its existence. We have been given a great responsibility to carry the flame, but now we must prove ourselves worthy to carry it. Does that make sense to you? I think perhaps we, as the common artist, spend so much time on the “what”, the “who”, the “when”, and the “how”, that we rarely sit down and ask ourselves, “why”? Why are we doing what we are doing? Therein lies the definition of art.One of my professors in college posed this questions to our class one morning: “what is the difference between a ‘picture’ and a ‘work of art'”? An interesting, albeit brief, dialogue incurred between we students, but I’m sure many walked away from that initial conversation giving it no more thought than what they were going to have for lunch that day (after all, we ARE talking about a small liberal arts college in a surf town). Yet I wandered back to my dorm mortified. I had spent all this time aspiring to be a great artist without wondering why. What makes my work any different than a child’s drawing of her dog? After all, many of the great artists of the twentieth century produced these monumental works that sit in prestigious galleries around the world and have people stare at the thinking, “I could have done that.” It took me a full three years to come to terms with that initial question, and I came to the conclusion that all art hinges on three things: intention, intention, intention.It’s easy to figure out how and what you are going to say. It’s not so easy to figure out why. Art used to be more about telling a story or recording a life/event. But with the advent of the camera and the motion picture, the INTENTION began to change. This is perhaps when the true definition of “art” was really questioned. If it hangs in a museum, does that make it art? If it’s shown at a theatre that serves fancy cocktails and has red velvet everywhere, is it art? If it references the theories of John Cage or La Monte Young, is it art?What I’m attempting to convey is that one must be very clear on intention in order to create pure art. It is so easy to fall into the “I’m expressing myself” model for art without figuring out why. You’re expressing yourself, you say? Who gives a damn. Or perhaps you work so hard to illustrate your point that you cease creating art and start producing propaganda, be it for a political ideal, a religious belief, or just an advertisement for yourself. Art is not this insular act of ego-masturbation; it is a beacon with which to strike up a bond with your fellow man. It is how we communicate, and it is WHY we communicate. Everything I create, be it a song, a film, an installation, or a painting, I sit back and delve into the “why” of it. Those layers I referenced earlier, they are built into truly great works of art because one question inevitably leads to another which leads to another and so on and so on… until you arrive at some little nugget of truth tucked beneath the veils of color and light and sound. Anything else is just a doodle.