What is art? (Again, with this.)

All right, no one has posted anything here for a while, so I have something that may be a conversation starter. Maybe not. Just something I ran across.

Those who follow my blog know that I am learning to play the guitar. As I am learning to play, I am also reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography. He’s my favorite singer, and “Folsom Prison Blues” is the first song I’ve learned to play. In the book there is a paragraph that struck me as particularly interesting:

“I was talking with a friend of mine about this the other day: that country life as I knew it might be a thing of the past and when music people today, performers and fans alike, talk about being “country”…they’re talking more about choices–a way to look, a group to belong to, a kind of music to call their own. Which begs the question: Is there anything behind the symbols of modern “country,” or are the symbols themselves the whole story? …Back in Arkansas, a way of life produced a certain kind of music. Does a certain kind of music now produce a way of life?”

Something about that passage really resonated with me, because I think you could replace the word “country” with any number of art forms: screenwriting, musical theatre, painting. Or even just art in general. It seems to me that a lot of modern art, especially commercial art, stems from the artist’s desire to be seen as an artist and not a need to be an artist. “I want to live the lifestyle that goes along with being a rap star, therefore I should break into the rap industry.”

“I would like people to dote on me at gallery openings, therefore I paint.”

Maybe this is nothing new. Perhaps these people have been around since the beginning of art. Certainly seems more prevalent now. Discuss.

Is it art if it isn’t driven by the artistic impulse?

Is this a bad thing? Does using art a simply a means to an end cheapen it for those for whom art is the end itself?

If there is another discussion in there, I’d like to hear that too.

3 Thoughts on “What is art? (Again, with this.)

  1. I wish to break my strike and respond because this is a subject near and dear.

    I wish to purposefully misunderstand Dylan’s take on the poor Mr. Jones: for me the great ideal is to be where I can be involved in something that hasn’t necessarily become something–something is happening, but I don’t know what it is.

    This may not be possible without fate lending a hand.

    Or is the burden of tradition ever present and even more oppressive for those of us who are rootless and looking for home?

  2. I think Marc’s word “rootless” is germane. Forever, Art (as opposed to art—yes, I know, I’ve opened it up now— was generated by its power structure: the Medici, the Church, Napoleon, etc. Someone with power and money desired the art to be created, and someone else with a marketable level of skill produced it.

    And art of course sprang from culture, as the quote above indicates.

    But as Mike points out, what about those who generate Art these days in response to our power structure, i.e., the market? Are they capable of creating Missa Papae Marcelli or the Sistine Chapel? Or are they just generating Product?

    I think that’s where Marc is coming from with his wanting to be surprised by his work. That’s what every artist wants who’s not a hack, even the guys from the Ozarks. “Hey, listen to this!” is something that everyone who truly creates is bound to cry out at some point. (Just like Marc did yesterday with his wonderful little piece, now that I think about it.)

  3. Pingback: Dale Says : New music

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