Monday, May 3, 2010

Artists Aren't Politicians

Part of the appeal of music is the idea that somebody can supernaturally speak to your soul. We idolize our favorite musicians, pining after their every creation as if they have the ability to communicate on a higher level than others in their field. I think as a culture, as a race, we love fantasy. We love magic and fairy tales, and music has the ability to fall into any or all those categories. It strikes the similar mystical chord within us. We don't want to believe that these people (these favored musicians of ours) are on the same playing field as the rest of us. We want to believe they're playing a whole different game, on a whole different plane, and that we're just catching a glimpse of what they've seen. They're somehow more cognizant, more aware, more in tune with the metaphysical. They are like prophets and we scramble to hear their words, to be moved by their musings and melodies, to receive the message we otherwise could not have heard. The message of most importance. 


We treat them like prophets, these favored musicians, but just like the prophets of old we stone them when they say the things we don't want to hear. Our fickle culture which tends to move quickly from one emotional extreme to the next seems to lack the loyalty and wisdom to hear something unexpected, critical or challenging. In a world where instant gratification is god, digging for food is too burdensome for most and can even incite contempt in a few. Not only do we write these prophets off when they deviate from our expectations, we can quickly write off and discard what was once deemed by us as profound. 


I wonder why this is? I do it all the time. The music I envied ten years ago is music I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit I listened to. Perhaps it's because we attach ourselves so tightly to Status, whose standards are set by Culture, which is driven in a big way by Trend through Media. The music I liked is no longer trendy. Of course, there are some things that appealed to me in my younger state that no longer speak to me as an adult simply because they lack the maturity and depth I now crave, but most of the time I've grown out of things primarily because they became cliche, overdone, and out of fashion. I need growth, progression and challenge to stay interested.


Some people are the opposite. They like what they liked when they were in their younger, more hormonal state. Music meant more back then, when the hair on your arms and neck would stand up and a feeling of euphoria would wash over you at the hint of a decent melody. Nostalgia takes over, and they attach it to the music. If the music was the same now as it was back then, maybe it would have the same effect, but alas, it's out of style and there are only figments of it left in it's modern counterparts.


I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I agree that when I was younger I was much more impressionable, and that music had a way of moving me to a degree that it rarely does these days. I also think that good music in the mainstream is harder to find. I mean good, emotional, meaningful music. Trend drives so much of what we hear, and often times the music is creative but the lyrics are too shallow or too obscure for us to relate on that deeper level. It's cool sounding, we're supposed to like it, but it doesn't really move us at our core. Musicians are playing the Trend game all too often to appeal to the masses, or even the niches. 


The fact is musicians aren't politicians. Art should not be dictated by Media or Trend. Art should be free from contamination. Art needs integrity to be true art. The second an artist starts listening to his critics is the second he loses perspective, gives in, and starts becoming less effective. But it's a two-way street. We as listeners shouldn't stone our prophets. We should not assume they will create what we want them to create in the exact way that we expect. We should not assume that they listen to our comments and criticisms, because if we assume that then we also have to assume that they are fake artists. If they do what they do to please us then they are nothing more than politicians. Support those who create art you identify with and they will continue to create. Turn on them for creating something unexpected and they may be forced into silence without to resources to publish what they create.


Not everyone will understand every piece of art that an artist creates, but if the artist is good, someone will identify with all of them. The reason we loved our favored artists and musicians is because they didn't sound like everyone else, they trail-blazed with something that contained more substance than their counterparts. We should not chastise them for taking paths we do not understand. We should not stone our prophets, we should hear them out. I hated Brand New's Deja Entendu the first three times I heard it. Now it's in my top ten of all time. I didn't expect it, but it doesn't mean it's not completely genius. How many painters were ridiculed in their lifetimes, only to be discovered as prolific, creative masters after their deaths? The answer is too many to count. 


For you artists out there, aspiring or veteran, I implore you to be independently creative regardless of what people think. Do not place your validity in the opinions of the layman. Even if 9/10 misunderstand you, remember these words: 



It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.






19 comments:

  1. Thank you, Matt. I am an aspiring musician who is inspired by you and your awesome group of friends. This was very enlightening for me, and was just what I needed. So once again, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The fisrt paragraph here is soo true, i was talking to someone who likes your band and i mentioned how you simply signed my shirt and she started freaking out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great blog Matt! I so agree. So often when I listen to the radio it seems like most bands are just following the current musical trends, and basicly all sound alike. When bands create music based on trends it lacks so much depth and creativity. I think artists truly thrive when they realize that they can't please everyone and set out to create music that really means something to them. Usually when a song affects you on a deeper level chances are it will affect others as well. Thanks for the thoughts! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. just thank you for everything you write. you inspire many things in me to be a better person and a creative person. thanks Matt

    Peace 'n' Love

    ReplyDelete
  5. That last quote is amazing and great. Thanks for sharing.

    And I've been listening to Deja Entendu, primarily Sic Transit Gloria for days now haha.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey man I totally agree. You kinda surprised me with your first paragraph. I just wrote a blog about our infatuation with fantasy. Awesome stuff man. Me being a guitarist, whether that makes me a musician or not,I can def relate to the need to follow trends to get listeners. And ive also been on the opposite end of the spectrum and shunned artists who changed to something I didnt like. True stuff man, thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The other 1/10 just have slow ears

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wait...musicians AREN'T politicians? Dear me, I've been voting for the wrong people!

    ReplyDelete
  9. So Matt, I’m a bit confused, this blog is all about artists doing their creative thing, not worrying about the opinions of others, not letting others dictate the direction of their music, or letting others comments and criticisms influence their artistic flow, because if they did that it would make them fake artists. You said “If they do what they do to please us then they are nothing more than politicians.” And “The reason we loved our favored artists and musicians is because they didn't sound like everyone else, they trail-blazed with something that contained more substance than their counterparts.” Then you threw this in “For you artists out there, aspiring or veteran, I implore you to be independently creative regardless of what people think. Do not place your validity in the opinions of the layman.”

    So I agree with it all, but I wonder who is the art created for, oneself or us layman? Then you boldly proclaim in the end “It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters is how many people do.” Which again I hold as truth, but the problem arises when I flip over to myspace and facebook and I see this The Classic Crime: How many of you would be happiest if we wrote another record exactly like Albatross? Not saying we will, just taking the pulse of our Facebase.

    What is that suppose to mean? I say each album has a validity of its own and there’s no need to repeat them! Keep moving on! Vagabonds is just as valid as the others, some will get it and some won’t! But with every listen, I get a little more!

    ReplyDelete
  10. To answer your questions: I do believe that in order to create great art an artist has to maintain integrity. That means honing ones craft regardless of the criticisms of the naysayers.

    The FB polling is a touch of curiosity on our part, not stemmed from any sort of sense of validation, and most definitely not taken to heart when we start the writing process. Plus, these are our fans, its nice get a sense of all the different things they like about each record. Also, those types of questions boost traffic and chatter, ie helping spread the word of our music, hence the 200+ comments on those types of questions.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks again, Matt, I was being a little facetious with some of that, I can totally see why you'd want to put out those kinds of feelers to your fans, but I was sorta hoping you would answer my main question which was, in your opinion who or why is art created? Is it for the artists own enjoyment or for the benefit or pleasure of some other audience, such as fans? If it's for the enjoyment of others, then you are looking for some kind of reaction, so if they say you suck, you aren't going to keep doing it quite the same, you will either give up or work harder and get better. Some have true talent and others do not, those with real talent will do as you said, keep working at it to build up their integrity. I mean, when you do a show or release an album, aren't you relaying a message in your music and looking for some kind of connection between it and the audience? Naturally some will connect immediately, but others will do it more gradually, and sadly, some not at all, but in the end aren’t you ultimately using art to try and reach out to others?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think "Christian" art has an agenda, just like political cartoons, or art from the hippy movement. Art does at times try to connect and convey, and I think it's at the core of an artist to communicate through whatever medium he or she uses. However, even if an artist never gets published, and many of the greats weren't until after they died, the true artist always creates. At that point you have to understand that the true artist would create regardless of the existence of an audience, because that is what fulfills them. I am merely saying that if you are blessed enough to have an audience, you should not them dictate your art, because after all its your calling, your fulfillment and your integrity. Long after people forget about TCC I'll be writing songs, because songs are my journal, my diary, my struggles and my joys, my memories. I don't write for an audience. I write because I have to. True artists aren't by the people for the people, they aren't politicians. Art is used as a powerful tool, but it isn't one at its core. True art is created out of inspiration, not agenda, not to reach out to others, but just to be true and honest. When art is made that way, people tend to reach out to it. People use it as a tool, but it's not the true artists initial goal. All this is my opinion of course... I know we all like to think, "He wrote that song for me," but the truth is he wrote that song for him, because he was going through that or experiencing something, and you applied it to yourself and were blessed by it.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Once again, you have spoken like a true artist! I must agree that art is at its best when it’s created out of inspiration, for one’s own fulfillment and with integrity. I also understand that the artist should not let the negativity of others stifle their creation. Art can also be used as an outlet to help people vent their feelings, sort of therapeutic in nature. Some of us use writing in this way and as you said, whether there is an audience or not, we will still create. But I’m seeing your point about artists not really being politicians, although some might use their art in that way, though not necessarily Christians. I think one of the most important things you said was, that art which is true and honest will tend to make people reach out to it! I can so identify with that! It’s that very thing that has drawn me to music for over 50 years! I have no musical talent of my own, so I’m sucked in by the talents of others. A lot of the time the music I listen to will be determined by my mood, I’m very into lyrics, so I listen to something with lyrics that touch me in that mood and although I’ve never thought to myself “Oh this song was written for me or about me!”, I still connect with the feeling of the song because it strikes a familiar cord. Speaking of cords, I find it very interesting that in the song “Four Cords” the last line goes “Oh, oh, if I die tomorrow these four chords will keep me living on.” So, Matt, sometimes you are just so excited and proud of what you have created, that you just have to share it!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am an artist and an entertainer. I'm forced to entertain so I can pay the bills which accrue to allow the art to continue to be created. So yes, as an entertainer, the audience is important. Many of the songs on Vagabonds are autobiographical, so they highlight that side of what we do. However, I'm only an entertainer because of circumstance, but I believe I was an artist at conception. It's more in my make up than the entertainer part. I suppose that dichotomy could be fleshed out in a blog post of it's own, because they truly contradict each other at times.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I like the way you put that, "I'm forced to entertain", like someone is twisting your arm or holding a gun to your head, because there is just no other way to support your art habit! I did notice that a lot of the songs on Vagabonds were autobiographical in nature, I had to explain that to my daughter because she thought it odd that you mentioned your age and all. But I think most songwriters tend write about life as they live it and see it. But I particularly like "Solar Powered Life", I see it as a kind of whimsical love song. I'm looking forward to seeing you live, I trust you guys have come up with the perfect mix of all three albums for your set and I'll be weighing your merit as an entertainer!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ah yes, i completely agree. I loved Albatross from the moment i first heard it, but Silver Cord... not so much. I thought it was okay, but now it's my favorite of your's and one of my all-time favorite albums. Appreciating art takes a lot of patience sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I know you've long since moved on, but I came across this quote and thought I'd share it. "Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being." by Carl Jung (Peace!)

    ReplyDelete
  18. You guys are the best!!!!!

    ReplyDelete