Friday, October 17, 2008

On Being an Artist

Saw this dude play last night:

He was an interesting hybrid of backwoods and no-woods, a sorta hip-hop hillbilly...A little bit of Hampden mixed in perhaps. While watching him the conversation turned to his authenticity because of, I guess, the disparity between his speaking voice and his affected singing voice...his not looking the part. Matt mentioned how Bob Dylan perhaps became his affection, what with much of his early work absent the idiosyncratic, nasal voice. But this other dude listening along just couldn't get past the delivery. The exchange reminded me of an essay by Brian Eno, On Being An Artist from his diary A Year With Swollen Appendices, where he talks about the 'frame' of the work, excerpted here:

To work inside is to deal with the internal conditions of the work - the melodies, the rhythms, the textures, the lyrics, the images: all the normal day-to-day things one imagines an artist does. To work outside is to deal with the world surrounding the work - the thoughts, assumptions, expectations, legends, histories, economic structures, critical responses, legal issues and so on and on. you might thing of these things as the frame of the work.

...when Madonna first appeared she was criticized because she seemed to be committing as much or more attention to the fashion and lifestyle considerations of what she was presenting as to her music. These criticisms tell you a lot about the expectations of the critics. Clearly they had in their minds a hierarchy of importance. Music should be at the centre, and then these other things should be seen as packaging, the wrapper. Like many of the things critics get heated about, this a very old idea dressed up in cool new language. Who said music should be at the centre of the experience? Why? Why isn't it acceptable to have an artist who works on a number of fronts, one of which is music? Why not, further, accept the idea that the music could itself become the package - an interesting way of presenting a series of modern haircuts, for example?

The biggest arguments about validity are almost always about this subject: whether or not certain things are allowed to be included as suitable areas for artistic attention, and whether or not certain others can be left out. Peter Schmidt used to have a phrase: 'to omit what no one else has though of leaving out'. In music, no one though of leaving out the music.