For an artist to be truly unique, they need to push past the temptation to create for others. This could mean writing a song to please a family member or record label; perhaps a film director doing their best to shock their friends with the craziest content they can put on camera. When art is done for any other reason than to satisfy the artist’s vision, it enters a confused area. Painting is a notable exception: consider portraits painted of the artists’ muses.
But let’s talk about the other side of that equation, the side that isn’t an exception. Many artists, today and in the past, have created solely for themselves. Notable examples include David Lynch and Neil Young, both artists who operate on their own schedules and decide (most of the time) when their art is ready to be released. Coincidentally, their output is often incredible.
There is a penchant for some artists to be more aggressive. When a person believes enough in themselves, why shouldn’t they ask other people to compromise for them? Jack White, who has grown into quite the auteur this year, is touring in support of his new album, and asking fans not to record or even take photos with their phones during shows. In Jack’s mind, a live show should be an intimate experience between artist and audience, not artist to audience’s camera. While I appreciate the noble nature of Jack’s request, it begs the question, is he in the moral right?
Yes, the answer is yes. That was a little test, a minor example of an artist asking more of his/her audience than is expected. Of course Jack can request for his audience to remove their phones before the show. A (much) less minor example is Johnny Depp, famed and recently disgraced actor who was accused (and in the court of public opinion, found guilty) of physically abusing his then wife, Amber Heard. Depp continues to act, and while his recent performances have been less than stellar, he has a back catalog not unlike that of Tom Cruise. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it was hit after hit. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Pirates of The Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, all great films that rely heavily on the actor’s talents, but now must be reevaluated in light of Depp’s revealed character.
This is not the first time the world has been forced to examine an artist’s work after a grisly revelation, but it is one of the few cases (along with Woody Allen) where the actor’s extreme fame paints over some of the hatred. So, if there is any confusion, here is how to deal with these situations: The artist’s past work is still good, and should not be thrown out or destroyed. However, the artist should no longer be able to enjoy the same fame and reverence as in their heyday. In short, stop casting Johnny Depp and stop giving Woody Allen movie deals if you (movie execs) really think they are guilty. By appearing in or making more films, Depp and Allen ask us to move on, to accept them warts and all on the merit of their artistic talent. This is not a compromise you should accept.
Somewhere in between the Jack White’s and Johnny Depp’s falls another group of abrasive artist. Musicians like Mark Kozelek or Jeff Tweedy (Kozelek being the more abrasive) can be hard to defend, especially when one of them releases a song called “The War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”.
While Jeff Tweedy represents the lighter side of this breed of artist, his combative tendencies mostly taking the form of responding to hecklers, singers like Mark Kozelek represent a much trickier case. Listen to any of Kozelek’s material recorded in the last five years, either as Sun Kil Moon or under his own name, and you’ll hear a profound sadness. Kozelek’s work can be challenging, and that coupled with his mean spirited nature at live shows make him a difficult artist.
Not unlike Quentin Tarantino, whose films have done more for cinema than most other directors, Mark Kozelek is a brilliant songwriter whose genius is constantly threatened by his antagonistic antics. Yet, this is part of what makes each of these artists unique. Tarantino can be awkward and rude, Kozelek can be gruff and even a jerk, but I would never ask either of them to change. These traits are part of what make them interesting.
While I would never advise someone to be abrasive on purpose, it is important to take an artist for who they are. Someone like Johnny Depp, a naturally talented actor who is also an abuser, must be taken for all of his qualities. In his case, that should mean Depp’s career doesn’t go much further. There is a middle ground, though, where artists like Mark Kozelek, Quentin Tarantino, and Jack White can thrive despite their inherently intrusive qualities. This doesn’t mean their careers should be halted or cancelled indefinitely; it simply means that if you are willing to be a fan, you have to learn to take the good with the bad. That is, unless they are a rapist or something. Then you should not do that.
Heart2Art Project Contributor