Watching the tribute to Stevie Wonder tonight, I was reminded, yet again, of the importance and reality of true and pure art. No, this ain’t some “old guy that hates everything new” type rant , but I would argue that due to the advances in technology, the tremendous expression of wealth and the allure of celebrity, we are inundated by an exponential amount of “white noise”, a sonic Matrix, if you will; “take the red pill and you’ll see and hear the true art in life, take the blue pill and all things the media feeds will make perfect sense…” Even among the current popular artists these deadly contaminates infect art.
Take Miley Cyrus for example. I can’t stand the “foam-finger, tounge-wagging, could-I-be-any-trashier? Miley”, but I have to admit, when she sings and lets the other crap go, she is a true talent. I heard her sing on the SNL tribute, doing a Paul Simon song and she crushed it. That’s an example of someone who has the talent and yet still feels they have to play the game.
I’m reminded of the movie This Is It; the tragic, slow-motion car wreck of Michael Jackson’s final days. While there is a lot to shake our heads at and tsk-tsk, there’s also the inarguable fact that even in a severely compromised state (as we’ve now heard ad-nauseam) MJ still was able to bring it. He hit his marks, hit the notes, made his cues and led the band. he was even making directorial directions.
It reminds me of the same feeling I had watching Mike Tyson being knocked out by Buster Douglas, Tyson’s on the mat, knocked out and he’s still crawling around finding his mouthpiece and getting it in his mouth because he knows “instinctively” that they won’t let him continue without it. He’s operating on that hardcore built in artistic instinct that has served artists for centuries. I feel that Michael Jackson was operating on pure built-in, ingrained instinct. He was raised up in the same Motown machine that gave us Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye & Diana Ross. Unfortunately, it’s why we see artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etc. abusing drink or drugs, but still able to bring their amazing talent to the fore. The true art is HARD-WIRED.
We, as humans, always recognize true art and admire and respect greatness. For an example I give you Prince; on the recent GRAMMY broadcast, current music royalty was represented. You had Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Beyonce, etc. BUT…Prince walks out to give an award, doesn’t open his mouth and receives a standing ovation! Greatness is recognized.
Kanye West (thanks to the advice of his publicist and management team , I’m sure) tried to protest the awarding of a GRAMMY to Beck as an affront to art with the “neglect” of Beyonce. As I said, his move was more about his own promotion than any real regard for artistic integrity but even that reveals a lot about where we are as a culture; Kanye is either completely aware of what he’s doing and thereby giving art no true value or he’s completely unaware and is an example of the ignorance and ‘Matrix’ quality existence that permeates the current artistic landscape.
One more GRAMMY example; I really like the Hozier song, “Take Me To Church”. I think it’s a really cool song and I hope he has a lot more to bring to the air. That being said, once again the GRAMMY telecast reveals something. Annie Lennox gets up and does a duet with Hozier and lays waste to the place. No pyro, no vocal histrionics, no auto-tune. Just a straight up talented vocalist and performer doing what she does and killing it.
The thing about art is that in it’s purest form, it is completely un-reliant on commerce. You can draw a picture and put it in a drawer, you can sing at church or in your car, you can cook an amazing meal for your family, none of these will bring you a dime. That doesn’t make them less artistic or compromise the artistic qualities. You can make a sex tape and sell it for a million dollars or lip-sync (ala’ Milli Vanilli) and make money without ever scratching the surface of “art”.
So MY point, if I have one, is that it’s up to us as a culture, to put some kind of limits on what we will and will not tolerate in art. Van Gough didn’t get it, Mozart didn’t get it, Monet didn’t get it. I’m speaking of artistic respect and financial recognition, during their lifetime. Recognize and give credit where it’s due. Call BS on the stuff that’s obviously an opportunistic grab.
In the end, I equate it with food, sex and movies; I’m not saying never eat at McDonald’s, just never forget the difference between a McDonald’s hamburger and a really good steak with fresh vegetables; or, for my vegetarian friends, a frozen vegetarian dinner and a plate of freshly prepared, fresh vegetables; sex with a onetime hookup as opposed to sex with someone you’re in love with, music that you can read a book while listening to as opposed to music that gives you goosebumps, a movie that you can eat popcorn during as opposed to a movie that has you glued to your chair and feeling every emotion.