Monday, March 7, 2011


This Friday a new documentary, entitled PressPausePlay, is opening at SXSW, that is the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. I’ve only seen the trailer, but it certainly raises interesting questions.

According to the trailer, the film’s concept seems to be that we now live in a world where anyone can be an artist. Worse yet, we live in a world where everyone is producing something that resembles art and is disseminating it far and wide through the social media.

The artists who are interviewed on the film find this situation to be somewhat alarming. So do I, but for different reasons.

It should almost go without saying that if everyone were an artist we would all starve or freeze to death. It is wildly impractical.

Personally, I think that it is counterproductive for young people to imagine that they should grow up to become artists. Nearly all of them lack the requisite talent, to say nothing of the drive.

Is the world at risk of being drowned in a cacophony of bad music? Will the internet lead to the death of great art? Will we all fail to hear the great artists through the din?

Among artists, there is considerable anxiety about this point, but I think it is overdone.

While I agree that young people who have no talent should not be encouraged to become artists and that the intelligentsia should get over its mindless idealization of artists, I am not as alarmed as some of the artists who were interviewed for the documentary.

This morning I was listening to Bach at the dentist’s office. I don’t know why you go to the dentist, but I go to listen to a great Parisian radio station, called Radio Bach.

Of course, Bach did not have to compete against aspiring hip hop artists on the internet, but still, I like to think that his genius would have shone through no matter when he worked.

After all, many great artists in the past were not discovered until they had long since “shuffled off this mortal coil.”

While Bach’s patrons, or the popes and princes who financed Giotto, were brilliant in their choice of artists, the truth remains that leaving the decision in the hands of a small number of patrons is not exactly ideal either.

As for the larger question of whether the real talent will be heard through the cacophony, doesn’t that remind you, just a bit, of what happens with American Idol?

A hundred thousand or so young aspiring singers try out, and somehow, through the din, a great talent occasionally emerges. Doesn't American Idol tell us that out of every 100,000 aspiring singers there are, maybe ten, who can sing.

As for the audience, don't you have the impression that if you listen to a ton of junk, accompanied by some great works, you will become that much more likely to recognize the real thing when you hear it.

As I say, I haven’t seen PressPausePlay, but if it is really about the anxiety artists feel about having to function in a world that is overrun with bad art, then perhaps American Idol is the cultural antidote.


Dennis said...

Every one has talent, but only a few have the talent to be great musicians, artist, et al. Most of the others' talents are in areas like, business, law, et al.
There is an inverse relationship with talent and show. One can almost discern from how much extra activities are part of the show and how much talent is involved. The more the show the less the talent and vice.
Not every great musician or artist is going to rise to the top because the amount of "fire in the belly" that is needed does not exist in the requisite strength to make it remotely possible. It takes considerable drive and discipline to do what is necessary to be the best one can be and be where one needs to be.
Too many people who think they have the wherewithal to be great think that fame is going to come and find them. Colleges and universities graduate large numbers of people who have performance degrees every year. After graduation the real competition begins and it takes more than talent. Something most people who suppose they have talent rarely, if ever, think about.
The real problem that one has here is that those with talent, even after they make it, do not take the time to build their audience. Here I am reminded of Leonard Bernstein and the number of concerts he did for children. He was building an audience. NOTE: Stop thinking about the great unwashed mass as being the little people and see them as those who could be your audience and maybe friends.
The more complex and emotional the quality of the music, dance, et al the more one has to educate the audience. The "Mary had a little lamb" concept does not work well anywhere. Guess what, the audience will not come home to hear or see one's life work.
I think it was John Adams who stated something to the effect that "I learn to be a soldier, lawyer, et al so that my children can become artists."Please excuse the hash I made of Adam's comment, but the point is that for musicians and artists to do well they have to be involved in ensuring that everyone else does well. How can one expect a recognition of hard work and talent if one thinks that those who would be in the audience are owed an existence paid for by someone else? If one rewards lack of ability to succeed on one's own merit then one undermined the foundation of what it takes to be recognized as an artist or musician.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Dennis, for a great insight. Instead of bemoaning the public's unsophisticated taste, the creative types on the film should be doing what you say: going out and cultivating their audience. Of course, building an audience for difficult and complex art is an arduous task. I would guess that these young people do not learn it in college. I imagine that they learn that if they want success badly enough it will come to them.

Dennis said...

If one expects the best from people and one 's self then one might be surprised at the results. Lowered expectations of one's potential audience leads to a lowered expectation by that audience.
What is a musician or an artist? At their best they are a story teller who has access to a universal language, that can be understood everywhere, to relate life. Whereas an artist has a palette of colors to tell that story a musician has a palette of sounds.
Some of Mozart's works took place in what might be called a bawdy house. So much for the masses not being able to relate. Stop the whine and start building.

LordSomber said...

I've made a lot of art and music in my time but i've never had the ego to think I could quit my day job to pursue it.

Think about it: If your art *is* your bread & butter, you will have to make compromises one way or another, creatively, financially, etc.

LordSomber said...

"we live in a world where everyone is producing something that resembles art and is disseminating it far and wide through the social media.
The artists who are interviewed on the film find this situation to be somewhat alarming.

If these artists were talented or unique (not the same thing), they wouldn't be bothered by the quantity of artistic chaff out there. They seem to want to be popular more than producing art.

Art doesn't always need an immediate audience. Just concentrate on making it.

After all, wasn't Melville dead and forgotten by the time Moby Dick became popular?

Memento mori.