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Tom Ellard, formerly of industrial electropop combo Severed Heads and now an academic teaching the digital arts, takes the world of art and the vocation of the Artist to task in an essay titled Five Reasons Why I Am Not An ‘artist’. His targets include the various hierarchies, hypocritical masquerades and rituals enforced on those playing the role of Artist, from refraining from lowering oneself to doing anything too hands-on or technical (there are operators for that) to the politics and carefully circumscribed modes of relating to other people within the art world (a place seemingly as formalised as an 18th-century aristocratic court), to the somewhat less than inspiring reality facing an Artist who has Made It:
When I worked in advertising I was surprised to meet people who didn’t do anything. They are called ‘art directors’. People like myself that perform the actual tasks are called ‘operators’ and there is a strong class distinction which leads ‘art directors’ to cross their arms while speaking near any object that they may accidentally use*. I was employed to move text on a page for an irate person standing a few feet away from the means to do it. Apparently their pureness of thought would be sullied by contact with a mechanism.
I’ve said it too many times: the ideal of an artistic career is inertia. Innovate for a while. Find a practice, a style, a scheme that earns attention. Repeat it endlessly, never daring to step outside your persona because the system will need to bind you to an iconic representation of yourself. Do you reproduce famous paintings as slow motion videos? Or use a skateboard as your macguffin? Better stick to that. Keep on making action painting, or ‘industrial’ tape cut up until you die – which is your prime function, sealing off the quantity of your saleable work.
Artists that constrain themselves are recognised more quickly, they are funded, they are more acceptable to publications because they are easier to digest. They are the cheddar cheese of creativity, and when I am I told that ‘all the best work is happening over here’, I know the place to look is anywhere but there. Innovation is part of a continuing vitality, and confusedly being alive is more important than being neatly dead. We should never ever pre-organise ourselves into categories that fit nicely in museums, journals and repositories. That’s like pinning yourself into a display case.
What will we call ourselves? The Kraftwerk guys were onto something when they called themselves ‘music workers’. But I have another idea. In advertising the term ‘creative’ is a mixed signal, it seems to be a positive, but can be a polite substitute for ‘operator’. I’ve often heard somebody say, ‘we’ll get our creatives onto that’. It means ‘all slaves to the oars’. If so, perhaps we can claim ‘creative’ or ‘operator’ back. It can be our own swearword.
Tom Ellard (of Severed Heads fame) writes about the uncanny experience of finding that someone else created a MySpace page in your name:
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street and see somebody that looks a lot like you. No really, the resemblance is striking and disturbing apart from the fact that your doppelganger looks like he or she threw up over themselves. And pooped their pants. What little pants they have.
Later you meet a friend who tells you that you look a lot better than when they saw you yesterday. No, you say, that’s not me, just somebody who looks like me except they pooped etc. etc. But your friend and others don’t believe you - they think you’re a sly pooper. Infuriating! You’d really like to get that fake and give it a shake!
And that’s how I feel when yet another MySpace page shows up for my poor old dead band. It looks like it pooped itself. And there are ‘friends’ there. (No link to here of course, that’d give the game away.) Of course these aren’t really my friends and they don’t really want to do anything but advertise their own emo myspace pages. But like Mike Jones once said - you had better get rid of that if you don’t want people to think you are utterly sopping clueless.The thing that struck me was the phrase "advertise their own emo pages"; those five words seem to sum up the MySpace ethos: adolescent attention-seeking behaviour reengineered as marketing, or "Brand You" as the new face of teen-angst. Why wait for someone to notice the scars on your wrists when you can spam everyone and let them know how awesome the darkness of your soul is and why, consequently, they should totally want to be friends with you? We're all our own rock stars, the MySpace ethos tells us, even if we've never played anything other than Guitar Hero and merely rock a Hot Topic wardrobe and some smeared eyeliner; which also means that we're all marketers, constantly pitching ourselves to the world in the way that a shark constantly keeps swimming forward.
Guess who has a blog? Tom Ellard, of legendary Australian electronic/industrial project Severed Heads. And his blog is one of those which tears down a number of targets, with no small measure of curmudgeonly wit; targets such as experimental laptop/noise music:
“PHONOPEDAGOGICA PRESENTS: From Japan - Famous Jazz Noise Hybrid Musics legend YamaWhama Obama will perform his entire 10 CD set of flinging forks across the room at a guitar while mumbling some shit about Buddhism. Completely unknown in his own land, he now lives on a couch in New York and knows somebody who knows Lou Reed’s chauffeur. Legendary transsexual poet, film-maker, interior designer and MAXmsp flouncer Hans Knees Whoopsidasi presents her new video made up of random selections from YouTube along with the coastline of Holland translated into a granular patch. Australian producer Ya Fuck of Fuckya Records will repeatedly bang his head against a pole until it bleeds. His Pole Dance album is due out next month on Neverheardofit Records in Berlin.”
“We also proudly present our new exhibit at Tragic Hipster Gallery - The Only Good Music From The Last Decade. Artists such as Opiate Stumblebum, Exotic But Bad DJ, Professor Phil Somebody, Shocking Rude Name!!, the French Chick I wish I was banging, Generic Japanese Noise Artist 34, West Coast Guy With Grey Beard and lots of Analogue Gear, The Wanker Improvisation Experience, Krautrock reflux etc. etc. may be heard in the proper gallery context where silence & respectful listening distance is enforced and visual arts traditions are appropriated (because we really wish we were painters).”And the riddle of perceived musical "authenticity", in the context of supermarket promotional jingles:
Recently they switched to ‘cute girl with a guitar’. I am really very impressed by this, because the musicians have done an excellent job of recreating that warm, heartfelt, impassioned feeling that a girl gets when she picks up a guitar and sings a little song she herself wrote about fresh food. Damn. I wanted to punch the singer in the eye in about 5 seconds flat. That good.
Then it hit me. She has a speech impediment. PERFECT. She sings like this: We yah We yah Da Fwesh Food Pweepwel. Which is exactly the way REAL manufactured pop girls with guitars sing. They all have the vocal equivalent of cross eyes.
While you could just say - it’s supposed to be cute - and you’d be right, I need to elaborate on this because I am a tedious Media Academic. I have a theory. Have you seen what happens when people talk to cats? Their voices go up an octave and they start babbling shit like Aw Wook At Da Widdle Pussy Kitty. This is authenticity. This is people revealing what they would be like if toilet training, school and a long stretch in prison hadn’t sorted out their kinks. Here is the basis of a whole renaissance in the media industry - write your music and films as if you are singing to a cat and your success will be the stuff of legends.Not to mention politics:
The people are invoked by every rat bag philosophy. Marx had a lot to say about the people, but so did Thoreau, Hitler and just about every applicant to rule a country anywhere. The people are always described as possessing some wisdom that come from walking barefoot on dirt - they are noble savages, you can only fool some of them some of the time. (The worst case is when white people talk about the native population of the place that they almost wiped out. Aboriginal Australians are for example psychic, can live off sand, stand on one leg for days at a time etc.) Having ridden public transport for some time I know from first hand experience that the people are one step up from the potato.(he identifies as "libertarian", and blasts the Left, Clarkson/O'Rourke fashion, whilst hammering the US religious right (not exactly difficult; as O'Rourke himself said, making fun of religious fundamentalists is like hunting dairy cows with a high-powered rifle), and the other culture war, the one between Apple and Microsoft. Quite interesting, whether or not you agree with everything he writes.
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