In the mid 1970s the animated short “Closed Mondays” rocked art and film circles around the globe, winning the 1975 Oscar for Best Animated Short. The medium is clay animation, while its premise is about a drunk who wonders into an art gallery, then begins interacting with the paintings and sculpture there. More to the point, the drunk is a metaphor for the masses. His stupor illustrates the masses cannot grasp the meaning of contemporary art, and more specifically the masses are so stubborn they will not understand it unless they can be part of the scene.
In stark contrast, this illustrates vividly what’s become of music.
Masses of musicians wonder into countless bars, engaging with a population in no condition to decide whether there is art in the music. To a large degree music has become a self-indulgent obsession imposing itself on the public in a place where it cannot be judged fairly, engendering a false and desensitized reality.
Professional music has been an integral part of our culture for eons. Juke boxes and the radio created a mood on one level of the scene, while live music in cotton clubs showcased jazz and blues for segregated audiences. Swing bands, big bands, and small orchestras created festive backdrops at large parties. Radio, television, and print media fashioned a celebrated culture around the most popular recording artists for many generations.
Amateur musicians sharpened their chops in coffeehouses, juke joints, dive bars and the like until such time they were ready to perform in concert halls or on large stages like Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry.
Fast forward over decades of contemporary culture and we end up in the 21st century with a mashup of ideas that has become the indie music scene.
Six degrees of separation will put just about anyone in touch with somebody trying to make a living in music. The upside is there are thousands upon thousands of people seeking creative lifestyles, while the downside is a murky view of what we collectively consider art.
The open ended questions in all of this include:
- Who makes the call dividing the amateurs from the pros?
- Who has the right to define if you’re too young or too old to appreciate a song or musical style?
- Who decides what art is and what it isn’t?
- Who decides if age and experience, or age and inexperience, create the best thought leaders?
The answers used to be very clear.
At the edge of this frontier where every structural beam that supported the art of music is being transformed, definitive answers are hard to find. For the time being the scene itself is what art is about. Every now and then something of a masterpiece will emerge from our collective consciousness.
To each and every one of good conscience, intent on being part of this movement, be sure of what you want and clear in your motivation. All cultures are judged by their art and true artistic merit is revered for centuries.
We have an enormous responsibility in creating a favorable lasting impression. If you’ve pinned a title on yourself faking it till you make it, there are more noble pursuits. If you’ve actually got what it takes to engage in this vibrant ecosystem as part of the whole, you’ll recognize the true artist in you in everything you do.