about art versus consumerism

so, a review I read about a music album got me thinking about this topic recently... here's a few thoughts...

the point of debate was about whether an artist's primary responsibility was to make the art which they felt they needed to make or which expressed themselves, or whether their primary responsibility is to make art that people like (in other words, to focus on the likes and dislikes of their audience primarily).

here are my thoughts - if an artist starts making art with the focus being what their audience will like or not like, they are only feeding consumerism. their creations become things which they hope will make them money or popularity or notoriety rather than things which express who they are...

I may be overly idealistic, but it seems to me that the purpose of art - of real art - is to express something of the person who is making it, something about them internally, their views or beliefs, a particular mood or feeling, something about how they see the world, whatever it may be. I don't think I would be exaggerating to say that the best art (and maybe even all the good art) that I've seen/heard/read/interacted with is that kind of art. The art that I relate to most is not art which was made primarily with my interests in mind, but was made from the artist's heart. If you start making art whose primary purpose is to be well-accepted by as many people as possible, you lose the you in your art - it becomes impersonal. This is what pop music is.

now, that's not to say that those artists who created something from their hearts gave no thought to whether people would like what they were creating, or gave no thought to whether it would sell, or anything like that. the question though is of primary motivation - and that being the need to express yourself and to be known.

I think it's back to the same basic issue - that if you are doing anything for a reason other than the thing itself, it will lose its meaning. if you make coffee in order to make money, the coffee will lose its meaning to you. if you give to the poor in order to gain notoriety, the giving to the poor will lose its meaning to you. if you create art so that other people will like it, so that it will sell, so that it will bring you fame, the art will lose its meaning to you. it's just the way we work as humans, or at least, in my observation this is how it seems to me.

Both in coffee and in art (or anything else), if it happens that you lose the plot, the resulting art or coffee (or anything else) can be pretty bad, and you can see evidence of that all over the place.

Ok, I think that's about all I have to say... feel free to leave your own thoughts on this if you'd like :)


  1. Hey Dave -

    This is something we talk about in every art class at my college and I still am wrestling with it like crazy.

    However I agree with you for the most part - however, is it not part of an artist's duty to meet the viewer halfway and try to make some things more understandable? If you don't consider the audience enough then they lose interest in your art - and when they lose interest, what good is the message in the first place? Is it so selfish to want to make it easier for your uneducated audience to understand/connect?

    I don't know if that makes sense, but I guess it's a question of how much we should cater to our viewer in order to help him/her understand the artwork.

    But I do enjoy your critique of this problem - it sure put a new light on the argument for me. Thanks a bunch! :)

  2. This is one of the reasons I generally like to leave writing prose that's actually talking about issues to other people - I almost inevitably forget something important. This is exactly one of those things I meant to say something about initially :)

    I would certainly say that as an artist, I want people to understand my art. I want them to be able to connect and relate, and so, yeah, I will make some effort to make my art understandable. At the same time, I don't want to put too much effort into making it understandable for a couple of reasons...

    First, let me define a term that I just realized I'm using in the following paragraphs - individual meaning. By this I mean the meaning of details in art - for instance, in a painting of a spindly woman being propped up by poles with drawers coming out of her and a flaming giraffe in the background, there might not be a lot of meaning in the individual elements of the painting, but that doesn't mean the painting doesn't have some intention or meaning - it just doesn't reside in the individual elements of the painting - it's abstracted from that. I hope that kind of clears up what I mean by individual meaning.

    1. I think that if you are honestly putting a piece of yourself in your art, that will come through in the final result. Because of the common-ness in humanity, if you are honestly expressing a piece of yourself, I think you will find more people in the world than you might think who can relate, even if they don't understand it exactly as you do. Even in something like Cubism or Surrealism, where the intent of the art is to abstract as far as possible from individual meaning - still you are conveying meaning in the art - that is that you are searching for an archetype to encompass meaning, or you are revolting against the sort of hard-nosed dogma that excessive rational thought without a balance of heart (excessive focus on individual meaning) can lead to. So, to summarize, I think that if the main focus of your art is self-expression, then people who actually try will find familiarity in your art and connect with it.

    2. I think it's good for a person to have to work a little to find the meaning in a piece of art. As an artist, I don't want to try to make art that is not understandable, but I also don't want to work too hard making it simple or explaining it away, because that takes away from both the sincerity and the impact that the art has. I remember, for instance, explaining a song to someone once, and I spent about 15 minutes explaining every single detail of the song to them, and by the end I felt like I might as well have just not bothered, because then even though they finally understood the meaning of the song, it didn't impact them at all.

    So to recap - my initial point in the post was that as an artist, I think the heavier (not only) responsibility lies in making the art you feel needs to be made, expressing those parts of you that you feel need to be out in the world. Not that there aren't other things that you should think about, but that this should be the primary focus. I feel personally, that I want to connect with my audience, and so I feel that I am willing to put some effort into making my art understandable, but at the same time, I would probably err on the side of putting less effort towards that. That is not to say that I am making an effort to make it obscure, but I feel that there is some inherent transparency in honest expression of oneself that often needs fairly minimal extra explanation to make it accessible to another person (assuming that the other person is actually interested in interacting with it and trying to understand it).

  3. Thanks Dave! I fully agree. :)

    How did we not know we would have so much in common when we were little?

  4. cuz nobody really knows who they are when they're little :) a lot of people still don't know when they die.