Everything Is A Remix: a Response
One of my favorite places to spend a day is the Museum of Fine Arts. I have arrived there early in the morning and stayed for the whole day. Most people who frequent art museums are used to seeing students sitting with easels or sketchbooks copying the great works. But nobody is there yelling at them for copying. This is because in the art world you have to spend an insane amount of time studying techniques on perspective, form, value, color, all of which have been demonstrated in the pieces hanging at the MFA. Even in the Institute of Contemporary art, which hold much more experimental and modern pieces, the artists certainly weren’t able to just make contemporary art immediately. If they didn’t do formal studying of classic art, they would still have to be aware of it in order to make pieces intentionally different.
Having taken classes in street art and mural painting, there is still a huge emphasis on the mundane; The class where you have to draw a really complicated arrangement of random vases just so you learn form. I’ve discussed before how I had been taking art classes since I was three years old. I was always placing in art contests and was being contacted by art schools before I was in high school. It wasn’t until my consultation with a college portfolio advisor that I got someone to tell it like it was; I didn’t have enough of my own subject matter. I could be assigned something and do it technically sophisticated, but I never had an easy time independently creating a piece with something to say.
My senior independent study was brutal because my art teacher got the feedback from my portfolio advisor and insisted I come up with my own assignments. What held me back was that everything has been done, there isn’t anything new in the world of fine art, or so it feels. In fact one of the things I hate about the art community is that there is a strange value in things so alternative that they often seen transparent. Artists who slap tubes worth of expensive oil paints on an huge expensive canvas and it looks like mud, but when you read the side description about their fathers alcoholism suddenly it’s justified. Anyone who has watched the show Portlandia pretty much gets it. While there is great contemporary art, its clear there are a lot of “posers”.
One of my least favorite concert experiences was seeing the Music Tapes open up for Jeff Mangum (❤). The Music Tapes are super weird and they dragged a really old TV set on stage, put a mic up to it, and turned on static for several songs. The singer then explained he found the TV in his parent’s basement from his childhood and when he was little he watched static until it almost made sense to him. Jeff then came on which only highlighted the illegitimacy of the Music Tapes, because Jeff is lyrically and conceptually gifted AND is a talented guitar/vocalist. He played the acoustic guitar and sat on a chair the whole time. Nothing was new about his performance, but his band Neutral Milk Hotel (containing the singer of the Music Tapes) has had some of the most influential albums of their genre.
I was at a show at the Middle East last week where the opening band was only selling cassettes. My friend who goes to Mass Art spent half an hour defending that decision to me, because there is a small group of people really getting into cassette tapes and they are cheaper than vinyl. But I honestly think its just because they wanted to be original, and cassette tapes really don’t have the quality benefits of vinyl. Next thing you know someone is going to bring a typewriter to class.
If we are legally going to demand artists and inventors not steal from anything, we’re going to end up with an incredibly shitty art community. In fact there is one photographer that comes to mind named Andres Serrano who is notorious for producing incredibly shocking photographs using corpses, blood and other graphic subject matter. While there is certainly a benefit to diversity, some of his work, to me, seems to be purely shock value based. One of his most disputed pieces is called Piss Christ, in which he stuck a crucifix in actual piss and photographed it. It’s a cool photo and he obviously knows a lot about photography and lighting, but the subject is debatable. I think there are more intellectual ways to photograph what the human race has done to the figure of Jesus Christ (and that’s coming from someone who hates the institution of religion).
The fact is that sampling is uncontrollable. We just have so sample enough that it becomes our own combination. If it is legally required for people to be completely new and innovative it’s doing a disservice to everyone who has paved the way in musical and artistic discovery. Artists from the past couldn’t have predicted the specifics of the digital sampling age, but the years of studying and developing methods were so that the community could grow off of that, not away from it. Not copying would leave the various artistic communities disjointed and well as stagnant. For all the people that condemn “fake” artists for just copying, there are just as many doing experimental things in the name of bull shit.