Thursday, December 11, 2008

Music, Art, and Originality

This week I have just finished my first painting of Aspens in yellow fall colors. I am now working on 20 x 24 inch study of the mountain peaks of the Grand Tetons. Having finished most of the Arizona works for my show on January 16th, I am letting loose with the urge to paint some other western subjects that I love.

I remember my French professor Dr Augustin Quilici relaying to me the phrase "le style est l'homme" (the style is the man), and as we can assume that this is always the case in art - I found myself thinking of how much it is also true in music. In the art I have tried to make, I have attempted to create painting that would be unmistakeably my own - that there would be no debate over who made them. It was very important to me not to have my work confused with anyone else's. In the years that I have been browsing galleries I have come to the conclusion that it is easier to be a strong draftsman and absorb the talents brought out by artistic training - than it is to have an original idea and relay that idea on canvas. That is to say, I think more people can draw and paint, than can dream something truly original. And even that depends on what one wants from painting. Some artists are hyper realists, and they get the most happiness from that.

It should also be remembered that nobody who is successful is without their roots. My own roots lie tangled between the work of Jean-Claude Quilici, Vincent Van Gogh, and Maurice de Vlaminck. That is to say, your own original ideas are built on the foundation of the discoveries of those you admire. My breakthrough was to try to apply a certain vision to the Southwest that I had not yet seen. But these ideas came from a fusion of those who inspired me.

For many years music helped me to understand the qualities of distinction that were necessary in a work of art. It occurred to me frequently that songs live by their quality of distinctness - how they stand out from a background of noise and jingles. I remember hearing an NPR interview with a Canadian singer / songwriter Justin Rutledge, and they played a clip from one of his songs where the line goes "They've got armchairs in Vienna, where a man would wanna die. They've got Ludwig Van in garbage cans where the poets go to cry..." and I thought "whoa!" I still remember where I was driving when those words struck me. They stood out as more poetic, more rich, perhaps even a little strange when you consider all the pop jingles and do da do da stuff that gets shuffled around today. It was poetry in music. I became an instant fan because I realized that Justin Rutledge had done in music what I will have hoped to have done in art. That is when you hear Justin's music, you know it. I would hope that when you see a Neil Myers - you know it.

I remember Jim Morrison saying that "the doors is just a white blues band". But even as he seemed to try to find a label for the Doors, it seems they defy anything even he might say. Amazing lyrics, powerful stage performances - a deep sense of drama and a poetry of the times. Unorthodox views of how a song should be created - one of the most distinct aspects being the way that Doors music was held together by Ray Manzerek's keyboards, giving the music the quality of organ like processional - dark and lyrical.

I would also rank KISS as one of the most original super groups ever devised. Take one look at those guys and it's not hard to see that they hit on something different. No doubt about that. But if KISS had only been about 4 goons in makeup, then it would not have lasted. Those same guys proved the ability to put on an astounding rock show, and they had the near infinite capacity to write dozens of songs that are now part of our rock lexicon. I got to see the original KISS in 1996 in Charlotte, NC, so I have seen this for myself and will vouch for it.

What's interesting in music today is that the most original artists are often on independent labels, because the larger labels have become so risk aversive, indie labels are almost all that's left. American music is too much industry and too little art, that's the reason we've not had a KISS, or Beatles, or Led Zeppelin emerge in the last number of years. Because the value of an original idea in music is lower now than it was in the 60s and 70s.

But I still have my Will Hoge, Justin Rutledge, Deanna Johnston, Kathleen Edwards, Drive by Truckers, and countless others to inspire me as I paint. They paint with chords, but to me they are all full of color.

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