THE MORNING AFTER – INSTALLMENT #1

Greetings Cube’sters!  New year, new tack on my blog postings.

As many of you already know I am a trained Sociologist with a minor in Philosophy, emphasis in ethics and aesthetics.  I often have strong opinions on things but rarely the time to reflect, adjust and refine enough to share.  I was recently given that opportunity. I am calling these “The Morning After” because I typically require time to assimilate and think about such heady topics. Maybe more of these will follow so I’m calling this “Installment #1”.

On the evening of January 14th I attended a salon, “UnBound Arts Hosts: Group Discussion on “The Death of the Artist – and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”, with some of the most interesting and talented individuals one could hope to engage in intelligent conversation. We all read the above article in quotes as well as a counterpoint then convened to discuss. There were many salient issues and one chose me to examine it more thoroughly. Later that night and into the next day I could do nothing but think and write about it.  The following essay is a result.

On Agency: Intent, Goals, Making Art and the “Dirty Word” – Marketing

The diversity of opinions expressed in last night’s above mentioned meeting brought some ideas into sharp relief for me.  I recall watching a TV interview with several hair bands that had been wildly popular in the 80’s.  The gist of one of them went something like this:

Interviewer: What do you say to the critics who wrote that you were an untalented musician?

Band member (likely the front-man/vocalist): You know man, that stuff never really bothered me.

Interviewer: Now come on….

Band member: Look, I never even thought about being a musician.  I set out be a rock star.  And that’s exactly what I did!  (Kicks back on sofa with broad grin and general air of confidence and satisfaction).

This speaks volumes to the ways in which intent, goals and efforts to create operate within a given cultural climate. Individual tastes aside some ass kicking music was created that resonated with a lot people.  In the interest of full disclosure I was one of them. The rock star obviously considered himself successful and the critic’s arguments irrelevant.  Time seems to supports the rock star’s opinion.  One thing is for certain; a sweet package of marketing and creativity made that part of rock culture an iconic era, and for a lot of folks a lucrative one.  But was it art?  Should the two even be compared?  Is that important?  Why is it important?  What we should be asking ourselves in forming our opinions and questioning those of others is this: What is AT STAKE?

The works of the relatively few scholars I have had the good fortune to read and reflect upon (from those who lived centuries ago to contemporary authors) have well demonstrated to me that none of us exercise our agency in a vacuum, no matter how much the isolating effects of (post?) modernity may cause us to feel so.  Like it or not we all stand on the shoulders of…well, in this case if not giants, those who came before.  Willful ignorance, or simple neglect, to acknowledge this does nothing to advance the “state of the art”, whatever domain we’re considering.  In thinking about Thomas Kuhn’s work regarding scientific paradigm shifts it seems impossible to do “anything you want”.   Whether broadening the current paradigm or roundly rejecting it in favor of something entirely new one still references the former.  Even if one claims to be unaware of doing so the situation is not likely to escape the notice of others.  And those others usually have a vested interest in the dominant paradigm: be it reputation, integrity, a desire to maintain existing values and quality or (gasp!) money.

Discourse predisposed to dichotomies, for example Artist vs. Creative Entrepreneur, lends itself to bringing out the defensive in the most well-meaning of us (myself included).  After all, these aren’t just free-floating labels we’re batting about.  They have a practical impact: mainly on the legitimacy required that allows us to act autonomously within the socio-economic and political conditions of our time. (Read: create with integrity and still eat, preferably clothed in your own abode).  Make no mistake, regardless of the “democratization” technology has offered we still don’t get to decide these definitions as an amorphous group of individuals.  Democracy is not “anything goes”; its ultimate end is majority rule.  And definitions only exist by majority agreement.

My position is that doing/being BOTH “Artist” AND “Creative Entrepreneur” is unavoidable; perhaps even desirable.  Will this prevent me from mastering my art?  Or being referred to as an artist?  Considering all the pieces I have to “join together” I might incidentally and quite happily become one (as in the root definition of the word).  Maybe that 80’s rock star had it right all along.  Clarity of goals and honesty with ourselves and others about our intent are essential to success: however you define it.

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