longevity

07Feb10

I am maybe a little preoccupied with the idea of artistic longevity. It’s gratifying to watch people who push through many stages as artists– visually, musically, or otherwise– but it can also be painful to watch a favorite go through awkward transitions. I was a devoted Cocteau Twins fan in high school. When I was in college, Elizabeth Fraser started commanding her angelic and passionate secret language into a sort of canned therapy session (“Are you the right man for me?  Are you safe?  Are you my friend?  Or are you toxic for me?  Will you betray my confidence?” ugh), and the music followed suit.  I lost interest. After that, the only thing I remember hearing and liking was a guest spot with Massive Attack (the instrumental part of which opens House M.D., if you swing that way).  So when, a couple days ago, I heard the above song, Moses, on the radio, I thought, “This is really great, but that singer is a total Elizabeth Fraser rip-off.”  Later (hooray for KEXP playlists online!) I checked, and it was the lady herself!

Any artist who works over decades of time seems to be required to have awkward stages, and often publicly.  If they don’t take big embarrassing risks, they tend to go soft and mediocre.  But you and I can probably think of many artists who have walked out of either spot to make more fresh and engaging work after a period of turning over the soil (or letting the ground lie fallow).

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2 Responses to “longevity”

  1. 1 Matthew

    “…letting the ground lie fallow.”

    I like that. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. As you know, I’m not really an artist per se. But so many of my musical heroes have disappointed me over the years. I ask myself, is it me? Have I changed? Or is it that the artist hasn’t? It must be very difficult for an artist to self edit. If they don’t have a few trusted confidants around to constructively criticize their work…or if they don’t listen…it seems like it would be easy to end up with derivative work – of your own past work especially! I imagine it is extremely difficult for successful commercial artists to take the risks necessary to continue indefinitely making great art.

    Then again, just as we all are who we are. An artist’s work probably should always look like that artist. Does that make sense? I don’t know if I know what I’m saying. 🙂

    Here’s an interview with the former keyboardist of one of my favorite bands, the Cure. (http://www.stereosubversion.com/features/roger-odonnell-01-30-2009/) It’s arguably on the negative side, but I think O’Donnell makes valid points.

  2. Its hard to learn(though I feel I’m relearning constantly) that the times of fallowness, failure and churning are part of the growth. Embracing all of these seasons seems a bit idealistic when your submerged in the muck, but so freeing once the decision is made.

    Great dialogue, something I’m severely craving at the moment!


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