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Please, Don't Call Me or Yourself An "Artist"

Posted: 02/15/2013 8:39 am

Can all people making music everywhere just agree to never use the word "artist" when describing themselves? It sounds easy enough to do but try telling them that. Everywhere I look in the music world I'm inundated by this suffix affixed to every person like herpes -- "recording artist," "performing artist," or in some cases just "artist," no doubt to suggest that everything they do should be considered "art," including flatulence, watching television, defecation, making a sandwich or expectorating phlegm.

And to immediately eschew any tangled debate on what art is, let's stick to the best definition of art I've ever heard, said by Frank Zappa: "Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." If anyone even attempts to oppose this statement, they're already rambling.

I can see how "artist" can be attractive for people in the music biz because it's a pretentious sounding word, meant to place the user on par with other more esteemed fine arts. However, its overusage by a line-up of people that would put an American Idol open call to shame has rendered it worthless and akin to receiving a doctorate in psychology off the internet.

When it comes to making music, I find it presumptuous to call yourself an "artist." It's akin to opening up a can of Chef Boyardee Beefaroni and calling yourself a cook. It's based on the assumption that anything anyone produces at the end of the creative process is automatically "art." However, when upholding Zappa's definition of "art," the "art" in question needs to be monetized or else you're engaged in nothing but a hobby. Without this distinction, scribbles made by any random four-year-old can and should be put on equal level with whatever the MOMA is showcasing this week.

Unfortunately, when some of these "artists" ascribe to these tenets and do end up finding recognition it merely provides an excuse for them to blather on relentlessly about their process, their feelings and their creative struggle, as if they shoulder the burden of producing their art to save the rest of us (for proof watch any moderately successful Canadian musical act on a press junket). If they could only hear how self-involved and vacuous they sound maybe they'd quiet down a bit but they'd probably only end up yammering further about how self-aware they are about how self-involved they are.

After 17 years playing music, I've been labeled an "artist" by others many times, more out of journalistic automation than any sincere intent. Still, each time I've been tagged with this word I consider it a slur. Truthfully, it's the weight I give the word that makes me renounce it was such vehemence.

To me, it's a word that takes dogged work to earn and achieve and most people in the music biz (and by most I mean 99 per cent) are overgrown children who don't deserve the title. No matter how many of these so called "artists" kick and scream against my assertions, their significance is not for them to decide.

I know naysayers will be quick to tell me I have nothing to worry about because my output is anything but "art" and I'm nowhere close to being considered an "artist." No argument here. You'd be already preaching to the choir, but don't think for a second the critically-acclaimed doleful troubadours you love so much, with their formulaic three-minute songs containing yet another combination of C, G and E chords, are any different. When stripped of their somber delivery and well-directed marketing, we can all be found trudging around in the same trough.

Don't think that this diatribe concludes by me elevating myself above this throng of wannabes either. I'm just as guilty of wanting the acclaim and honour as the next guy. For God's sake, that's the reason why I sing songs in public and wait for applause. But instead of the hackneyed "artist" moniker, I'd prefer more distinguished and less used terms like "Show-Off," "Braggart," "Blowhard" and my personal favourite, "Ham."

At least my title would be honest.

 

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