Saturday, December 31, 2005


I will be away from the United States starting January 2nd, as I'll be studying at Oxford in the UK. Blogging here will probably be infrequent (which you are all used to by now, of course), but I will be blogging some, specifically about my travels, on this blog. Please stop by to see where I'm at.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Publication (The Gerontophobia Edition)

I have some short fiction published in Gonzaga University's journal of art and literature, "Reflection." It is not yet available online, although it will soon be, and you can request hard copies as well, at this site.

Art and Rent

Artists are stuck. Either they sell out, make a decent living from their work, and never produce something true to their own artistic integrity, or they continue to produce their own art, real art unique to them, and find themselves starving and homeless when no one supports their work. It would seem that, given my definition, either art cannot be created as a commodity, or artists must find a way to make their living besides pursuing their art.

There is still a third option; perhaps people will like and support an artist's creation simply for what it is, not what they want it to be. Personally, the art that I enjoy them most is art that is deeply personal to the artist himself which also resonates with me.

The most current example of this is the movie/musical Rent, originally an off-Broadway production which gained widespread fame, acclaim, and many awards. While it is difficult to say what Jonathan Larson actually believed in writing his most famous work, Rent deals with a variety of particularly pertinent modern age concerns, as well as old world issues, in a current and effective way. Rent recreates the world as Larson saw it as well as offered insightful commentary on the values embraced by that world, and values as they should be.

Rent is loosely centered around Puccini's opera "La Boheme," and tackles, at heart, the dying ideals of Bohemianism. The musical's antagonist, Benny, even proclaims at one point that "Bohemia is dead." The characters of the musical go through a period of disillusionment with the ideals they embrace and eventually refind them, all set around a series of love stories and a struggle with a deadly disease.

The story itself is compelling, for me, in that it addresses issues so pertinent to my generation yet rarely addressed in mainstream media and art. Furthermore, the music is catchy and contemporary, and the presentation is modern. Rent is are, especially notable given the primarily entertaining nature of musicals.

The movie adaption recently made is not especially true to Larson's original intent. Larson could be most closely associated with his character Mark, and it is this character which I personally identify with. Yet the creators of the film decided to remove important character development for Mark and do away with his central conflicts, leaving him as a quasi-narrator, a plot device more than a character.

Also, by removing the song "Contact," the creators of the film both netted themselves a PG-13 rating and effectively removed all of Larson's commentary on the nature of sex in relationships. There is an important statement about love and sex that Larson made in Rent, but that seems to have been left out.

That being said, I think that most of Larson's original story shines through, which speaks to the integrity of his story. Despite the heavy commercialization of his work, Rent has remained art more than entertainment. If Larson were still alive, he would be making a great living.

The only way to realize this art-as-profession is to hope that someone, somewhere, appreciates your art. The livelihood of the artist becomes a crapshoot, dependent on who sees or hears their work and hoping that those people happen to resonate with it. This is why the life of an artist is so difficult, too much is left to chance.

On an only partially related tangent, I will talk about art and intellectual property in my next installment, about music sharing and pirates.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Art and Entertainment

If something is not art, what does it become? Given my previous definition of art, there are many things which a more traditional definition of art would include that mine would not. Take for instance a song written for the sake of the audience listening. Obviously, this isn't a creative act representative of the songwriters views and values, and thus does not constitute real art. Instead, the songwriter is simply creating for the sake of their audience; that is, they are creating entertainment.

Movies are an excellent example of this phenomena. The mainstream cinema has never had much artistic merit to its productions, rather, they serve simply to entertain the viewers. Some films, of course, are very artistic, but these seldom are produced in the mainstream, for the simple fact that they do not cater to a large audience. Movies in theatres today are instead simply entertainment, without much behind them besides the need to pack more people in and to sell more DVDs.

This is obviously problematic to any person who might hope to make a career out of art. In order to be an artist and to create art, the creation must be personal and without regard to the potential audience. To sell, though, it is the audience first and foremost that must be considered. Given the definition of art that I've supplied, an artist's art will appeal only to those with similar values or perceptions, which is bound to be too few to actually constitute a career.

This is why many artists choose entertainment as the end of their creation instead of legitimate art. Steven Spielberg, for instance, is a consummate artist who chooses, it seems, to sacrifice any artistic integrity his films might have for the sake of the audience watching. One reason why Speilberg is so successful is not due to his artistic sensibilities but to his knowledge of what will sell. Spielberg is an entertainer.

This is not a negative thing. Everyone's got to make a living, and entertainment is a respectable and long lived profession. True art, though, requires more. The reason why artists are so identified with the bohemian "starving artist" image is because those artists who remain true to their own art generally don't sell so well.

There is hope for the artist, though; there is almost always some person on earth who can empathize with the sentiment expressed, even enough to buy or support the art taking place. In my next installment, I'll examine the musical turned movie Rent as a case study for my discussion on art and how art can be effectively treated in the modern world.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


My simply working definition of art is Randian in nature. In a sentence, art is the creative recreation of the artist's perceived reality and/or subjective value judgments. This recreation can be as concrete (an accurate drawing or poetic description) or as abstract (a song or interpretive dance) as the artist so chooses, and the values expressed can be any values at all, so long as they are the artist's.

This definition entails a few additional elements. First, the art created must be specific to the artist himself. Viewers/listeners/readers with similar perceptions of the world and with similar value judgments just might find merit and worth in someone's creation, but the art is not created in order to express their perceptions and values, only those of the artist. Naturally, this excludes any sort of pandering to an audience as a legitimate form of art. Pop music, for example, when written simply to sell records to a target audience, cannot be held as art. So too are movies with plenty of gratuitous violence or sexual content where the film maker does not actually hold sex or violence as values.

Secondly, the definition requires that art be creative, that is, it must be constructed by the artist. Photography is not art unless is captures reality, or a value judgment, in a creative, constructive way; i.e., the photographer frames a shot representative of a value judgment, or uses color and shape in a picture to make a statement about his perception of the world. By contrast, photography that is not art would include headshots of actors, family portraits, or things and landscapes where no creative effort (mental or otherwise) has been expended.

Lastly, art must express either a perception of reality, or make a value judgment (or do both). A representation of a perception of reality might be a painting of life as it is, whereas a representation of a value judgment might be a painting of life as it should be. A painting that was both a representation of reality and a value judgment might be a painting in which the artist condemned or praised the subjects depicted therein. Postmodern types of art which make a statement against art by making ridiculous the practice of it are, ironically, art. Postmodern types of art which make ridiculous practices of art simply for making art ridiculous are certainly not art.

There is not, can probably cannot be, any real rational justification for this definition and this view. We might look to the purpose of art to see further what it is, but the idea provided is both a definition as well as a purpose: art exists for the sake of portraying perception and values. Furthermore, art exists as an outlet for the artist, an opportunity to share his world with others as well as express the things which exist inside him.

In all of this, of course, it is quite clear that art is only an enterprise for the sake of the artist himself, which is problematic in a world which consumes art like a commodity. In my next installment, I'll examine art as a commodity in light of my definition of art and discuss how it might be effectively traded in our increasingly economic world.