Art as a consumable product. When we experience a piece of art, it is tempting to think that there could only ever be one version in the world. The song you’re listening to could surely only have sounded like this, could only ever have this tempo, could only be sung in this key. The picture you are looking at must have arrived fully formed – divine intervention flowed through the painter’s brush to the canvas in a single instant of inspiration. There was no practice involved and no research.
Art as a process. Of course the opposite is most often true – artists above all are experts at curiosity and playing with ideas. The curiosity and the playing results in countless versions of an idea until one day a version feels right (or is chosen by a company executive) to represent the artist’s vision.
Examples are everywhere – look at Bob Dylan’s countless versions of his most famous songs. Director’s cuts often differ wildly from the original film release. Look at Picasso’s obsessive research into the minotaur leading up to Guernica.
Curiosity and playfulness are where the real magic is. I think that this is important to remember, both as customers and as artists. These processes are not instantly gratifying, and can often be frustrating. But they are processes that we have to go through and we have to acknowledge to get the most from any piece of art.
Otherwise, there is a danger of art becoming a pre-packaged commodity. No back story. Nothing more to see.
I got my old Fostex MR16 multi-track recorder out the other day. There were a bunch of recordings on there from my music playing days. Some were ok, most were rubbish. All of them brought back amazing memories of creative times. It’s strange to hear yourself ten years ago singing songs and talking into the microphone.
The encounter with my previous self inspired me to order a microphone online and do some more recording.
Waiting on a mic.
What is the best song ever written? The best movie? The best wine? There isn’t one of course. Art is subjective, and yet we always want to package it, rank it, market it. Put it into a little box so that we all know where we stand.
If your wine scores highly in a snooty ranking system (link) does is mean anything? It’s comforting but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, sales will rise and brand value may go up. But there is a problem with forcing a ranking on a product so varied and subjective as wine.
You may want wine for fish or for pizza or for a camping trip. You may want cooking wine or sweet wine or boxed wine for a million different reasons.
With wine, as with all art, it’s not a linear race. The very concept of a single winner is forced.
Some thoughts on contrast:
In the world of fashion, I’m told it is a good rule to follow to wear one piece of clothing as the focus for your outfit. Make the focus piece obvious (colourful and/or patterned) and make all your other clothes darker and more plain in comparison. For example a brightly coloured, patterned shirt as the focus, and plain dark pants, jacket, and shoes to support. It is the contrast which makes it work. If it was all bright patterns, it would clash and likely not be pleasing to the eye. The same if it was all black. No contrast. Boring. Slightly morbid too!
The same thing happens in food. Eating a chocolate, washing it down with a sweet soda and an ice cream with syrup on top. It’s too much of a good thing. No contrast. Food manufacturers have figured out the perfect balance of salt, sugar, and fat to tease our senses. There needs to be a contrast in tastes, and in food types to satisfy truly.
The same with music and audio. A piece of music needs to have light and shade to work. A whole song of thrashing guitar solo after guitar solo is just too much and becomes very boring. Too much bass in the mix gives you a headache. Use light and shade to build up to a crescendo however, and it will raise the hairs on your neck.
Contrast is the way forward!
It’s an old Aerosmith song – I’m pretty sure Steven Tyler is referring to wearing down a woman’s rebuttals, but I am using the phrase to refer to creativity and making something good.
There is no such thing as a fully formed masterpiece. It has to be worked on day in and day out over time. Some examples:
You can’t reap the true benefits from a healthy diet by merely throwing up after eating a Macdonalds. Or even by cutting down on the bad stuff for a week. It needs to be a sustained, long term effort to have any impact.
The Beatles honed their craft in Berlin for years before releasing a hit record.
Apple iterates on its software more times than I care to imagine.
When you are trying to make a contribution, there is not shortcut – particularly if you are not part of an ‘old boys network’ automatically getting your foot into the door – instead you have to start with becoming skilled. This takes practice and effort. Nothing more, nothing less.
Take the wildlife artist who can show a progression from school day sketches to celebrated conservation art: see link
Or the ESG researcher who has worked their way up to be in charge of a whole department: see link
The question then becomes not “who do you know” but “what can you do”. That is far more fair on all involved.
Jacaranda trees look like they are dead for much of the year. In the late months of the dry season they are often chopped down because people assume the dilapidated branches have run their course, have lived their life. However, if you leave the tree standing for a few more weeks, the rain may come and that may bring vivid purple flowers sprouting out of the stony branches.
Most of us have an idea of what is right and what is wrong.
One hot sunny afternoon when we were about 12 years old I was at Jimmy’s house. A large garden of five acres and good weather meant we were outdoors most of the time. Jimmy’s house was exciting. He had all the toys and as we got older the toys just got bigger and better. I was deliriously happy because we got to ride Jimmy’s motorbike all day. This was no kid’s bike either – Jimmy had a 250cc motocross bike. Pull on the throttle too hard and the front wheel flipped you off the back. Get it just right and you felt as though you were flying. I could barely contain my happiness.
After a couple of hours of giddy fun we ran out of fuel to ride the bike and Jimmy got bored. Then he got visibly agitated at the petrol situation. He started to accuse me of riding his bike too much, of taking over his riding time and burning all the petrol. An accusation for a fight, but before the argument could get going Jimmy spotted his cat drinking from a bowl. I didn’t even know that he had a cat until that moment. For Jimmy, it was a new target.
“Looks like your chain is a little rusty there, Moggy!” Jimmy took a can of spray-on lubricant and decided to terrorize his cat. Cornering it against two walls, Jimmy sprayed the can onto his pet. A stream of thick, black goop shot at the animal. The whiskers dripped with oil, the hair was a sticky mess. Furry legs tried in vain to shake it off. Jimmy laughed while I stared in shock and the cat screeched and hissed at us, leaping feet into the air only to be sprayed again into submission.
Eventually the can ran out of oil and Jimmy ran out of laughs. I tried to absorb what I had seen, but the experience seemed to drip off my body and gather in a pool at my feet. The cat ran off to regain its stolen pride. I managed to force a smile at Jimmy. Slightly unhinged, Jimmy and I moved on to the next toy.