Tuesday, February 08, 2011

An artist statement

"I find artist statements to be tiresome, so I limit myself to the following: yes, your kid could do this." -Inept, 1992

While shopping among the scratched records and random detritus at Goodwill sometime in the early-to-mid 1990s I found a tape by a “band” called Inept. It was a hand-dubbed Memorex with a photocopied cover, and contained10 or 12 songs of stumbling, out-of-time rhythms, mangled guitar chords and funny, self deprecating lyrics. Though nobody would claim (including the band) that the album contained great music, the “musicians” obviously had made it with much love and had fun doing it. It had a certain homemade charm, and it still holds a warm place in my heart. I think the band was from Montana somewhere, though I know nothing else about them.

The above quote comes from a short, spoken intro to one of their songs. The only reason I mention it here is that it has stuck with me to this day. An artist statement usually accompanies an exhibition or commission and is intended to provide some insight into the artists thought process or inspiration. Wendi has had to write a number of them in her college career, being one of them hoity toity art majors (in a fairness, she just now walked in as I was writing this and told me I was a “podunk philistine”).

I won’t argue. I love and appreciate art, but I do find much of the theorizing and philosophizing of the academic art world to be ponderous and wordy… tiresome, even. Hence, the above quote.

I’m not a visual artist. I can’t really draw or paint and the few times I’ve tried are better forgotten. But I have been playing and practicing music now for more than 20 years, writing and recording songs and absorbing lessons from the music that inspires me. I’ve been posting some of my random scribblings lately… some of the better ones anyway.

So, whatever the quality of my output, I guess I qualify as a creative person. I’m a fairly skilled songwriter and guitarist and have made plenty of efforts to study music theory and formal songwriting, in my own slacker way and time. But I also listen to and have made music in my time that was deliberately primitive, unskilled and… well, inept, and that is another reason that the above quote has always stuck with me. I’ve always said that making great music has little to do with how well you can play your instrument, and I still believe it.

Anyway all of this is just to give a bit of background to my own artist statement, and my thought process when writing music or words. I really don’t take myself too seriously, whatever the tone of the following; having said that, creativity and expression is pretty central to who I am. As I continue to post various poems, and as people hear the music I make, if anybody has questions about what they “mean” or how I come up with this shit, this is as good a place to start as any.

Narrative. What is it?

Narrative is the human compass. Texts are the expressions of the collective consciousness. The human capacity for forging narratives and myths is very nearly infinite. The peculiar and paradoxical features of narratives are that they are both universal and strictly individual, collective and differentiated, simultaneously. Every person is therefore both a repository for and manufacturer of stories.

But narratives are more than stories. They are ways of making sense of the world, understanding the associations we experience, the subconscious reactions and conscious reflections our minds’ eyes. The self both authors and experiences narratives, interpreting the manifold symbols and never ending chaos of life. The simultaneous objective and subjective nature of narratives’ relationship to our consciousness is, I believe, unique to human beings.

This dual nature of the power of narratives is what the best art strives to nurture. The experience of the viewer/listener/reader is an integral part of a work of art, in some cases more so than the contributions of the artist. The artist/audience dynamic and dialectic are essential to art.

In my work (if you want to call it that), I have tried to nurture and encourage this dialectic between the listener and this humble artist. The lyrical content of my songs has become more important as I have progressed as a songwriter and musician.

In the songs by other artists that I appreciate most, the deepest feelings and most unvoiceable thoughts were caused in me by their ability to foster this dialectic. Therefore, I try to encourage the listener to make up his or her own narratives or story. While I generally have a specific idea in mind, I consciously attempt to avoid specificity in voice or causality, but trying to leave enough significant signposts and monuments upon the convoluted path that (I hope) the listener will appreciate as their own the view to which it as brought them on the journey. I believe it to be ultimately more meaningful this way. I just hope the view is scenic enough to make them want to continue the dialectic.

What does it “mean”? Exactly what it says. Exactly what it sounds like.

I hope that clears things up a bit.