Too Few Artists

I posted a meme on Facebook of something I’ve said quite often. It was really just an experiment for me, and a way to amuse myself. I was curious to see how much more traffic I would get from a graphic compared to just posted the statement itself as text (about 10 times more, if you must know). A friend of mine posted it to his profile, and over there it started a lively debate, with a thread that seemed to insist that one can be an artist and an entertainer, or that there’s an art to entertaining, etc. Basically, they were arguing with points I never tried to make. So I finally responded with what follows.

I think some folks missed the point I was trying to make. Sure, we can get into semantic arguments over whether there’s an art to being an entertainer, but the reality is that for the majority of the most popular stars of our time the focus is the entertainment and not art.

Let’s face it, Lady Gaga isn’t going to roll out her “Hotel California” any time soon, and Justin Bieber is never going to have his “Sgt. Pepper’s”. Usher’s a great dancer, but he’s not likely to release in his career anything as long-lasting and resonant as “Stairway To Heaven”. And as much as I love Cee Lo Green, he’s not going to do anything remotely as culturally significant as John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

There was a brief time in the late 1960’s, through the 1970’s and even into the 1980’s when Art and Entertainment mixed, and quite well. But these days there’s not much mixing. It’s not about great songs and great musicians anymore. It’s about great dances and great costumes, stage production and savvy social networking.

All you really have to do to get the point I was trying to make is ask yourself one thing. If he were alive today and young, how far do you really think John Lennon would get American Idol, The Voice or X-Factor? Or Robert Plant? Or Bob Dylan? Could you really imagine a young, unproven Bob Dylan singing on American Idol? It’d be part of the joke reel they play when they want to humiliate people who are less-than-perfect singers.

In the end, that’s really the point I was trying to make. None of the people us older folks think of as amazing, culturally significant ARTISTS could get anywhere if they were starting out today. They’d be too different. Too ugly. Too odd. If you’re going to make it today, the most important thing is to look and sound a certain way. Conformity is rewarded. Individuality and originality is punished. I could post a long list of amazing artists who are making incredible music today, who aren’t getting the time of day from mainstream culture because they ARE artists with a voice and a vision all their own, stuck in a world that only wants a rehashing of everything that’s been done before, all set to a dance-able beat and hopefully set up in the package of a young, beautiful blonde girl with big boobs and, if we’re lucky, a sex tape.

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