Tag Archives: professionalism

Arts and Crafts

If you want to make your process seem “magical” or “other-directed” describe it as art, right? The “Art” of the Deal, a bullshit “artist”, The Art of War, The Art of Living. But that implies that “art” (a mystical convergence of talent and inspiration) is somehow separate from “craft” (a common integration of technique and practice), and is in fact not really a matter of technique and practice, that it is elevated above everyday workmanship to a semi-Divine state of production.

I call bullshit.

As an artist myself – a poet and musician, principally – I COULD say that what I can do and produce is NOT the direct product of endless repetitious hours of practice, physical endurance enforcing physical memory, and learning how to interpret the work of artists in a different way from the way that “non-artists” do (in my case, listening for different specific things in a musical performance or composition that correspond to techniques and practices I have studied and personally used). But no matter how I present it, it is still more science than magic. As far as I’m concerned, art IS a craft; and by that same token, if we consider Buckminster Fuller’s assertion that while he didn’t consider the beauty of a thing while it was being built or constructed, if it was not beautiful when it was completed, he knew it was wrong, any MASTERY of a craft is in fact art.

We consider the “arts” as “arty” as a way to imagine that we lack something necessary to likewise produce beautiful or eternal art, music, dance, sculpture, architecture – or to negotiate the perfect deal, turn the greatest profit, know which battles are key to winning a war, most effectively (and seemingly effortlessly) complete the most complex and convoluted projects on time, in scope and under budget. But the truth is what we lack, with the exception of perhaps imagination, is the propensity and willingness for hard work. Because ask any dancer: you must be willing to sacrifice a LOT of physical comfort to become a prima ballerina. You have to put in extra hours, behind the scenes, to make “art” seem effortless. Otherwise, what you portray is an “artless” incomplete mastery of craft.

Some would be offended by suggesting there is an “art” of medicine, of law, as opposed to a solid, craftsman-like “practice”. Because although practice IS a critical component of any artist’s training and maintenance, we imply a different kind of “practice” when we practice medicine or law. Or do we? Of course, calling these “arts” makes them seem too arbitrary, too subjective – because as the saying goes, we may not know what good art is, but “we know it when we see it”. And we know medicine, or the law? Again, I call bullshit.

An artist, then, must be considered among other things, a Master Craftsman; in the same way, a Master Craftsman is an artist.

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I Miss Lester Bangs

Hell, I even miss Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau; and that’s saying something.

Whatever happened to credible music criticism? How is it that so many bands that sound so damned similar (and equally monotonous, repetitive, derivative and absolutely non-unique or memorable) are all apparently critical favorites, alternative darlings and award-winners? Other than a few fringe elements, no one out there dares suggest the emperor’s clothing is a bit transparent. Hell, in the old days, even the “gods” of music got shitty reviews. In fact, there used to be a balance of reviews In most “music” magazines: reviews that lauded some and derided others. Where has all the discouragement of asinine, simplistic, rushed, underdeveloped and/or just plain ill-advised and bad music gone? With the record companies (who used to at least serve as a filter ensuring that music released was at a certain level) slowly receding into the background, and radio likewise losing its editorial voice and power of selection, the selection of available music is so large that no one has the time to weed through each week’s hundreds of new releases to find out if any of it is any good – and certainly, relying on the number of downloads, views and/or shares is DEFINITELY not an indication of quality or even listenability, because those numbers are driven by hype, novelty, audacity and/or shock value first, and then only distantly biased by musicality.

I’ve subscribed to a number of music industry publications over the years (Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, Creem, Guitar Player, Bass Player, Keyboard, Fretboard and Paste, to name but a few), and over time I’ve seen the number of even nominally negative reviews shrink. I suppose with reduction of print pages combined with the massive increase in releases contributes to this phenomenon – there’s simply just not enough time or space to cover BOTH the good and the bad. But certainly, magazines pretending to be the arbiters of modern taste should be providing some sort of balance, guiding their ever-revolving audience of neophyte listeners (and honestly, who but an neophyte listener needs someone else to tell them what’s cool?) away from what just plain sucks, as well as toward that which they tout as miraculous and ground-breaking.

Of course, that idea presupposes that there is, among the tons of dreck out there that as I said above sounds disappointingly alike (and as I’ve posited elsewhere about the Billboard Top 100, owes much of its song structure, dynamics and general vibe to Gordon Sumner’s late 1970’s pop-reggae hit “So Lonely”) a small percentage of stuff that is really, absolutely great. Otherwise, ALL the reviews would be negative, and could in fact be very short: SUCKS AGAIN. SAME AS BEFORE. NOTHING NEW, REALLY. TRY AGAIN.

But then again, even as recent as the early 1990s, music reviewers at least pretended to be literary, to know the history of music into which their latest discovery fit, or at least the published biography of the artist releasing. As the quality of journalism overall has deteriorated far below any heretofore acceptable (or accepted) level of professionalism, it is only fair to expect that rock and roll journalism (a dangerously quasi-gonzo genre to begin with) should likewise suffer.

But really? To foist upon a trusting and needing to know public as honest, unbiased advice a set of reviews that instead of spurring improvement, blows sunshine?

Where is Lester Bangs, when you need him?

6 AUG 2014

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The Musician Label II

The definition of “musician” is given as:

1. a person who makes music a profession, esp. as a performer of music.
2. any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.

Interestingly enough, the definitions of pianist, guitarist, bassist, flautist, etc. are not, as I would have expected “a musician whose instrument of choice, or expertise, is…[the piano, guitar, bass, flute, etc.]” or even “a individual who produces music using a … [piano, guitar, flute, etc.]”.

There is, however, no direct connection between being a “musician” (with of course, no specific venue or outlet identified) and a specific occurrence of a musician type.

Instead, a guitarist is “someone who performs on the guitar”. A flautist is “an individual who plays the flute.” Now, maybe I’m a little dense, but it unfortunately doesn’t seem to define WHAT is being performed or played. Is it MUSIC? Alas, only a skilled critic would have the temerity to say.

That would seem to infer … and I have in fact seen it happen … that while some musicians may be guitarists (for example), not all musicians are guitarists nor are all guitarists musicians.

And who determines, using the dictionary definition above, whether or not one is “skilled” in music? What exactly does that mean?

Music, in fact, is a broad subject that covers a multitude of smaller subjects. Besides the obvious areas of music theory, counterpoint, composition and orchestration, there are the lesser aspects: foreign language, history, philosophy, physics, mathematics, audio dynamics, group psychology, teamwork, balance, physical training and discipline, communications, space relations, poetry, breath control, posture, memorization.

To be truly “skilled” in music is to know quite a bit, huh?

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