Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Art and Conversations about Art

In the last few days I've
  • met with a musician I used to work with so we could get caught up on what was happening in our professional and personal lives,
  • had a meeting with a group of people I am working with to discuss new forms of artist funding,
  • been monitoring what's been happening in the world of music and the arts,
  • have been commenting about music on a variety of blogs hosted by people other than myself.
  • Add to the mix a rather animated discussion going on at Amanda Palmer's blog about her latest project (Evelyn Evelyn) which has triggered comments from her about what it means to be an artist today (including what it means to be engaged with and accountable to fans). And a discussion over at Music Think Tank on "elaborate plans."

    All of the above led me to jot down some ideas about making art and talking about making art, which I view from two perspectives: as a person who creates (I've been a professional writer for 30 years) and as a person who deals with people who create (musicians).

    Over the last year, I phased out much of my work with individual bands/artists and have instead been focusing on the future of the music business as a whole. I still am approached by artists wanting help, but I haven't jumped back into it other to lend a hand on some short-term projects.

    The primary reason is that I don't have the time. The secondary reason is that I've "been-there-done-that." But this last week it occurred to me that there's a third reason. My day-to-day conversations about music are now much more interesting.

    When I was working with individual musicians, my conversations revolved around practical issues: booking, PR, mailing lists, ordering merchandise, touring, and so on. I volunteered to do much of it because I wanted it to get done. And I have no regrets doing what amounted to office work. It's absolutely the best way to understand the music business, especially in these days of DIY artists. However, doing all of that didn't come with an easy way to connect with musicians at a creative level. Many of them express themselves primarily through music. Which means if you aren't co-writing or playing music with them, you live in separate worlds, even if you are working alongside them. (The same thing happens to non-musical boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. They live with musicians and yet often find themselves leading separate lives because they aren't sharing a creative experience.)

    In contrast, after I rejoined the writing world, and started tapping into conversations about music, theater, media, culture, and technology, I connected with people who wanted to talk about creativity and innovation. Noteworthy are the artists who get us thinking not only about their "product" (e.g., visual arts, film, music, theater, design) which they are usually hoping to sell, but also their process. Unlike those who hate to blog, these communicative artists have enough introspection to be cognizant of what they are doing as creative people, have the ability to write down those thoughts, and have the necessary social skills to engage others in the discussion. They may even have a sense of purpose, not just to create a work of art, but also to create a synergistic community.

    Pre-Internet, if you didn't know artists personally, there were limited options to find out what they thought. Maybe you could read a profile in a magazine or see one on television. Perhaps you could take classes or workshops if they offered them. And even if you got that far, rarely did you get the chance to have an on-going dialogue with them. But now blogs, and in some cases Twitter, have opened up the discussions to many more of us. Here's the perfect example, Jerry Saltz. He's the art critic of New York magazine. His art is writing about art. In the past, his work appeared on paper, but more recently he has also moved into a more interactive medium.
    In the year or so since, Mr. Saltz’s Facebook page has become a phenomenon, having undergone an unlikely, organic transformation that turned it from an inconsequential personal profile into a highly trafficked, widely read discussion board about the art world. Populated by dedicated and predominantly serious-minded artists, curators, gallerists and assorted art-world denizens—many of whom check the page compulsively and post their thoughts multiple times a day—the page has become home to a vibrant community and an essential extension of Mr. Saltz’s practice as an art critic. ...

    “I find it a pleasure and a thrill,” he said. “It’s exciting to be in this room with 5,000 people. It’s like the Cedar Bar for me, or Max’s Kansas City, neither of which I was ever in and probably wasn’t cool enough to be in. Now I get to kind of be one of the barmaids in this place, to put an idea in the air and see what happens.” "The Many Friends of Jerry Saltz," The New York Observer, 2/16/10.
    My first post about artists blogging about being artists came out a few months ago. Taking those thoughts a step further, I want to link to six blogs which I think are good examples of conversational communities. They aren't all written by artists, but what they share in common are high quality posts with high quality comments.

  • Amanda Palmer The best musician blog that I've seen.
  • Monitor Mix Blog This is a blog on the NPR site by Carrie Brownstein, a member of the rock band Sleater-Kinney. She covers a variety of topics, some focused on creating music, some on music business, and some about listening to music. Here are a few posts to check out.
  • Jerry Saltz These are the Facebook notes cited in the above quote. They should be viewable to you even if you aren't his Facebook friend.
  • Music Think Tank One of the best music blogs that I know for fostering discussions about music (both by musicians and by music industry people).
  • Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent I just discovered this. It's directed to writers, so it's not surprising that there is a big community of commenters who express themselves well.
  • A VC A non-music blog by venture capitalist Fred Wilson. It's noteworthy for its active and intelligent group of commenters. Here are a few posts from his blog that deal with art, culture, and music:Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter
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