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Casualty of Art Manifesto
By J. Johnson Higgins
Friday, December 21, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
An art commentary essay about why artists should resist corporate modification whenever possible. It is meant to be slightly humorous but the bitterness is genuine. It was originally a stapled pamphlet distributed to anyone interested.
It can be argued which components of a society are most important, but the truth is that every piece counts toward the whole. Soldiers fight wars and their leaders tell them where to march. Scientists represent all that mankind has achieved in understanding the universe, and engineers build the environment in which we live. But artists tell the story of what has happened or is happening in a society in a way very different from a historian. It matters not what crisis, perfection, economic state or trend has altered our lives. The artists are always around to capture it in one form or another. It is important to have art in a society, but it is equally important to have that art be True Art otherwise it has no value.
By True Art I mean something very simple. The art must come originally from an artist, directly from the artist, and from his or her experience as the eye of mankind. My definition may sound humorous or obvious but the truth of the matter is that it is no laughing matter because the concept is waning. Yes, artists are the eyes of mankind that see all that we do and nothing should be done to blind them. To make my statements clearer I will use Dennis J. Sporre’s definition for the ‘Art’ half of the phrase True Art. “A work of art is one person’s vision of human reality (emotions, ideas, values, religions, political beliefs, etc.), expressed in a particular medium and shared with others”.^(4)
I consider myself an artist because I adhere to these definitions listed above but I have noticed a growing problem. Others are not experiencing my art because it does not hold enough commercial appeal in the eyes of the corporations. What happens when artists and corporations do not see eye to eye? We experience a loss of some kind. It is also important to realize that corporations are not interested in expression and entertainment side by side necessarily. Corporations are interested in whatever creates profit, even if it is a quick financial maneuver that does not entertain, that does not allow expression, and does not represent True Art. I am not alone in my struggle. Most artists in all forms are Casualties of Art that have been silenced by the corporations’ supply and demand curves. In order for art to tell its story this problem must be eradicated. The monetary goals of corporations alter art and its artists. The overthrow of the situation in which these conditions are true is the next evolutionary step for the arts.
The arts have always been broken down into eras or periods of time in which they share a common influence. Some have called our era Modern for lack of a better term, but I know our common influence quite well and I have a better name for it. We are living in the Age of Green Art. Corporations and capital are the threads that run through our art. This is the age in which the arts are told that they are not allowed to examine the human condition if that means it will harm marketability. The arts are governed, distributed, filtered, and ultimately discouraged by large corporations (record companies, publishers, etc.). This age more specifically refers to the time after recorded music, mass-market books and their equivalences, but following the phenomena such as hits, bestsellers and their equivalences. It is because of the number one position (and in many cases one through one hundred) that the artists of our age suffer. Corporations assure their success by filling a mold based on statistics of previous successes. They have gotten so carried away at assuring their success in this manner that they will bury True Artists in the process. This is how a corporation creates a Casualty of Art.
Casualty of Art- A Casualty of Art is any artist (writer, musician, film maker etc.) or group thereof that is a true artist in the classical sense of the word that becomes depleted, altered, rendered useless, muted, replicated, mugged for talent, or disposed of by a modern corporation while in pursuit of the dollar or equivalent currency. If an artist can be or is replicated by a corporation then both the original artist and the clone become Casualties of Art. Even if the clone is of himself or herself in a previous success he or she is a Casualty of Art.
How the corporations rule the Age of Green Art
1. Corporations exist to make money and will do so even at the cost of True Art. Few art forms are free from the far reach of these super powers.
2. Corporations search for what has been a naturally occurring success and like smart machines they will learn from past errors to fine-tune themselves.
3. The corporations adopt the original successes and attempt to reproduce those successes both with the original artist (if living) and with new clones.
4. The continued success and failure of an artist is monitored and determined by statistics of sales and no longer by their relevance or impact on other artists as they have in the past.
5. Corporations take no chances with art that does not guarantee success as indicated by their statistics, therefore, nothing new or innovative can happen in art unless it is done without the corporations consent (true underground, not corporate created) and somehow exposed to a significant number of people.
6. Knowing that the first five points are true , artists on a mass scale subconsciously amend their art to match the demands of the corporations and not their higher artistic selves. If one lives for art then this urge gradually approaches necessity for survival even if it is false output. Musicians seek to write a hit and dismiss all their other ideas. Writers will trash their original ideas in exchange for what agents will support and agents only support what is marketable for a corporation. Magazines such as Writer’s Digest and the Writer are just riddled with ways to mangle your art for a corporation, thus changing you into a self-created Casualty of Art.
7. This gives both the artists and the art lovers 3 choices: embrace the Age of Green Art for what it is and play the game (which is not to say that an era such as this cannot be enjoyed by those that live in it), retreat into a past era’s art, or rebel against the era in search of the next.
How can we be freed from the Age of Green Art?
The exact answer to this question is unknown otherwise we would be taking that action already and not becoming Casualties of Art in the shadow of previous artists; however, the answer is the next step for art and I am convinced that certain details must be true about this next step. They are as follows:
1. The art must be invisible to the corporation, that is, it must be near impossible to track by sales statistics. Something must happen to the art that is so profound that any data collected on it is faulty or misleading. In this way art cannot be predicted or replicated by a corporation. It can be supported but not controlled. Only the artist can govern the end result of art. If a corporation should try to replicate art it should fail miserably and fall so hard that it should never try again.
2. Though money for art is greatly appreciated, the primary fuel for art cannot be money.
3. The availability of art must significantly rise or fall to a level of indeterminacy. If the availability of art is not a reflection of a hit or bestseller but simply of what exists then the only art to exist is true art.
Traceable Medium (By medium in this case I am referring to the system of communication and distribution, the package in which the art comes or where it is obtained, not the method of expression [as painting, or music].)
The ubiquity of art in mediums so easily tracked by corporations may suggest a need to change dominance to a less traceable medium. While I do not yet endorse all the mediums I will mention momentarily, I must admit that they have crossed my mind as at least possible participants in the movement away from the Age of Green Art. I will mention the Internet almost exclusively because of its history of being untraceable. There is no denying that whatever is placed on the World Wide Web becomes difficult to monitor, even for a corporation. On the other hand I am wary of this direction because the Internet is an untamed beast that often times cannot be trusted with such fragile things. It is such a lawless uncharted land that even the artists could lose their art and the credit for it. Authentication, transfer, and security become a major issue.
A smaller art specific medium change might include satellite radio where more music is available. Excellent mediums include public sponsored broadcasts and events where art is openly discussed and experienced. Examples of such include art related programs supported by nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities where development and forward motion of art is generally encouraged. Independent and usually artist controlled companies are beneficial.
The reason medium change may be the solution is because it is largely responsible for what brought us to the Age of Green Art in the first place. Advancements in technology such as radio, record, tape, CD, and DVD are what made music traceable. Literature has the same curse only in a different form. Literature has paperbacks, hardbacks, corporate driven book clubs (and did I mention that Writer’s Digest has a book club too?), books on tape, CD, and movie screenplays based on them. I am not damning these advancements. I am merely stating that every era had its hurdle to overcome, something that had to be done in order for art to mature. A hurdle in art is when art becomes trapped in something and then (intentionally or not) something frees it from its confines. Once a hurdle has been jumped, the artists are inspired to create in a way very different from their previous confines. I cannot stress what the movable type did to music and the written word in the renaissance. “Printed music spread throughout the world […] the works of composers who otherwise would have been known by only a small circle. It encouraged both amateurs and professionals to form vocal, instrumental, and mixed ensembles to perform the available repertory”.^(2) The great hurdle of our era is money and the corporation as I imagine echoes throughout all fields, causes, and interests in this generally green era. We create art in the confines of the parameters set by these entities, but once we are free we will experience a surge of creativity. Most likely this surge will be something not matched since the birth of romanticism in the way that we will have restrictions of our past removed but still honored by some artists more than others. The change will allow for deeper expression than ever before.
It is questionable how much expression actually exists in the Age of Green Art because artists are being told on a regular basis where the art ends and the corporation begins. We are constantly told that if we express ourselves we do not hold commercial appeal and that a successful artist is a replication of someone who once did express. Evidence of this crisis can always be found in the extreme genres of art. Corporations dominate the genres once thought to be areas of pure expression. Once a corporation finds a lucrative formula in that genre, it transforms all artists that do not follow it into a Casualty of Art. The artists that embrace it may or may not succeed, but the bottom line is that they too are Casualties of Art in another form.
Fantasy and Science Fiction- At one time this genre tested the boundaries of fiction and the imagination but corporations have established a formula based on the major successes of the genre and terminated further exploration.
Punk Rock- This was once a movement of anti-establishment but because of corporate barony it has become a genre of gross establishment and cloning.
Availability of Art
In the Era of Green Art, art is both everywhere and nowhere. It is everywhere because we have hundreds of bookstores with several thousands of books in them. The art is nowhere because I would say that a good 70% of those books are market driven clones of a previous success, 25% are classics that never go out of style, and the other 5% are the True Art books that slipped through the cracks. The corporations my not have actually influenced that 5% but the material was still marketable in its original form. The walls are stacked with bestsellers and the same money making replications over and over again, but all this at the expense of the book that would have actually said something about us and our human progress after years have passed. A great novel is a great novel no matter how marketable it is. Our great novel of the century for example may have been buried in 2004 because the author was new and the corporation sought a bigger name clone to meet its quota. Never mind the relevance the book may have had when it was written. He or she is a Casualty of Art. If a book does not maximize profit it will not be read. The corporations guarantee this because in our society the art must be quickly accessed, it must be convenient, and most importantly it must be available on demand. A corporation is the only entity capable of such feats.
The Trojan Horse concept of recent years
I have seen many artists find their way around the system by actually understanding how it works and using it to their advantage. In the Age of Green Art, record companies search for only hit radio singles. A number of artists acknowledge this key principle and deliberately create those radio successes in order to satisfy the corporations and the ears trained by them. The idea is that the remainder of the album will contain some of their True Art for those interested in more than the green art. I call this the Trojan Horse concept after the music group Deadsy openly expressed its method for the release of the album Commencement. “’It’s kind of the Trojan horse of the record.’” Front man Elijah Blue (or P. Exeter Blue I as he is sometimes called) admits, referring to the radio/video track ‘The Key to Gramercy Park’. “’We are not trying to go into the music scene with something that is asking too much of people’”.^(1) There are many variations on this concept that exist in literature as well as other forms.
The Havens of art
There are some safe havens in this era where a corporation cannot harm art as easily. An example of a compromise without loss of expression is the film score, the background music heard during a movie that sets a mood. Though corporations ultimately commission film scores, the artist’s output tends to be unbelievably expressive and true . This may be due to the fact that the skill to capture a mood in music is something only an artist can produce effectively. Corporations entrust the task entirely to artists because it must be true in order to serve its purpose. While most film scores are orchestral such as Klaus Badelt’s well known score for the motion picture Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl, there have been a few instances where a commercial artist works behind the scenes to produce the same effects without a goal of commercial success in mind. These artists remain hidden and invisible to the general public throughout the process. In the motion picture Resident Evil, rock artist Marilyn Manson collaborated with Marco Beltrami and Tim Skold in the film score effort.
Another untouchable haven of art is graffito or graffiti art. Corporations cannot legally control graffiti art because the art itself is often times not legal.
Electronic artist Moby states that “’the consolidation of all the different record companies under big multinational parent companies,” is reason to search for something more. “There’s so much commercial emphasis on disposable pop music that I think it leaves a lot of people desperately looking for other types of musical expression’”.^(1)
I will also note that electronic music escapes the grasp of the corporation because it approaches indeterminacy in its availability and content. Rarely can true electronic music be traced and replicated because it is constantly changing form and receives its greatest appreciation in a live setting, a rave or club for example. The chaotic behavior that confounds corporations constitutes a step in the right direction in my opinion.
To the reader
I ask the reader of this to honestly consider my words. When given a choice, take the action that allows art to mature. If you, the reader, are or will be in a position of power in an art-managing corporation please keep these words at your side as you make decisions.
To the artists, I ask you not to hold back that idea that sounds deep and meaningful to you simply because a corporation said that it is not marketable. Begin it, finish it, and do not amend it unless for clarity or artistic purposes. Be willing to be an independent artist that continues to create art for the sake of expression and entertainment regardless of your fame or fortune. It does mean something to be the eye of mankind.
The marketability of this manuscript
I would not presume that this manuscript is marketable and it is unlikely that a commercial publisher will publish it.
If you are reading this manuscript then it means one of many things: it was published by a noncommercial publisher, a commercial publisher has taken a risk, the reader is part of or close to a publishing company, this manuscript is not published but is circulating in another form, you are within a few degrees of separation from myself where a publisher is unnecessary or this manuscript has become marketable.
[There was originally a section here called 'Rejections of this manuscript by publishers' which listed all the publishers that rejected it but in the interest of relevance and time that section was discontinued and removed]
1) Farley, Christopher John. “Rave New World.” Time Europe 17 July 2000 Vol.156 No.3 http://www.time.com/time/europe/magazine/2000/0717/rave.html
2) Grout, Donald Jay, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music 6th ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001. p 154.
3) Moss, Corey, and Antonia Napoli. “Deadsy Hold their Breath for Durst-Directed Video.” MTV News 3 April 2002 http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453237/04022002/deadsy.jhtml.
4) Sporre, Dennis J. Perceiving the Arts: An Introduction to the Humanities 6th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000. pg 3.
© 2007 J. Johnson Higgins
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