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Monday, January 15, 2024

Must Art Be One of a Kind To Be Art?

If You Can't Make It, Then Fake It

Art as defined for a past hundred and twenty-five years was “there” in terms of painting, sculpture or whatever solid thing was one of its kind, not shareable in terms of taking possession to later enjoy at home. Art no longer unique was no longer classified as art, essential aura lost where reproduced and made commercially available. What one could own could not be art. German thinker Walter Benjamin spoke to contrary and on behalf of new arrived photography, recorded sound, and moving pictures, modern means by which art could travel and be anyone’s property that wanted it. No more seeking out a museum to view a masterpiece. Benjamin felt art as accessible was all to the good, but elitists wanting it for themselves, at least control of it, decried movies among other “mechanical reproducibility” formats as fouling streams pure since Grecians chipped at marble. Expert appreciators spoke/speak of sensation one presumably feels when standing before a masterpiece in museum residence. Well and good, but mind you don’t stand too close, or get reckless with hands. My policy is to put both arms behind my back, fingers locked so as to reassure roving guards I’ll not spring forward sudden with a spray can. Widened definition of art makes us all guards to what we personally value and call great, aura achieved from flipping on a remote or opening a new-arrived graphic novel. Latter taught at university level are landmarks along victory lap for folk that define art on broadest terms, Artificial Intelligence next to be dubbed creative and worthy of regard. Today a tool toward art, but will AI eventually become art in itself? I’ve read tech-generated text, am regularly fooled by humans interacting upon digital landscape that is neither landscape nor people, not of concern to me either way, but ones that are interested, often intensely so, have embraced all this not merely as art, but life. The better video games amount to preferred world for many who would leave ours and join theirs. With right tools and expertise, I could make Star War sequels tumble merrily off my desktop, this an abiding fear of once entrenched industry, because who’s to say when ersatz Star Wars will improve upon authorized ones? (some claim they already have)

“Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” went the song, and so chorus too is sung by creators and “influencers” sucking life’s blood from an overfed Hollywood establishment that till recent thought they were unassailable. Appears artists all over creation are breaching walls with better stuff than tired corporate can conceive or even compete with. When what used to be “blockbusters” play to seat backs, you’ve got to figure a new epoch is upon us. Non-specific as they were, folk like Benjamin saw it coming. Were he around today, would Benjamin have a You Tube channel? Course he would. This is the future, not spilling prose over blogs. Toward differ with stolids Benjamin reacted to, I would propose that reproducible art can be, in fact always was, unique art, where you found one-of-kind offering of it. That was especially true of film as celluloid when that one and definitive print of a classic, or seeming one since you’d never come across another, became precious in its way as a Rembrandt. This often happened when film was circulated on film. I’ve talked it plenty where topic was collecting. One man’s print of The Sea Hawk could send others’ begging, difference (crucial) being purpose for which that print was generated. If for television they’d be grey and low contrast, the better for vid transmission. The one in a hundred “unique” was maybe not fully that for surely there was another, and comparable, floating about somewhere, but where? Now it hardly matters because everything is digital and we are all created equal as consumers of quality undreamt of when film on film was object of pursuit.

Recently saw TCM premiering A Man’s Castle intact (1933), cut and denuded since early-on reissues that drew minutes plus much of life out of a much-missed precode. Now it is suddenly back as anybody who cares exults, surprise an element as who knew a complete Man’s Castle existed? This I aver is “unique” in modern parallel to canvas hanging on one wall and no other. Same sense of uniquity applies where we speak of Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Our Dancing Daughters. Every time Kino releases a new Blu-Ray of an old title, or TCM High-Defs another from Sliver Era, there are or should be ringing of bells. Much of this amounts to old becoming new again. Look at what 4K does for Hitchcock and Universal horrors. A You Tube video lately compared iterations of Now Voyager as released on laser disc way back when, then “standard” DVD, and finally Blu-Ray. Cutting from one to the other, then the next, is education in less than seven minutes nutshell. We’ve sure come longest ways of late, but wait, wasn’t laser disc the ultimate thing over thirty years ago? Rebirth is not limited to movies. Weeks ago, I wrote of what Mark Vieira has been doing with still images, his work better than what studios issued when stuff was new. All this is doable on a desktop, though one must have Vieira’s expertise, product of over fifty years in photographic field, mere fact such results are possible miracle enough. Serious enough application might make artists of anyone, though some wonder if advanced tech has made jobs too easy. “Auto-Tune” as adjunct to creation of music enables me or anyone to create an album before suppertime, means no assure of mastery, yet many, and I mean tens of thousands, generate “robot” music without ever picking up an instrument or voicing a lyric, that is, in their own voice. There are devices to make me Judy Garland or Perry Como, or anybody in whatever tune I elect to record, end result my product, yours, anybody’s. Millions upon millions present at Spotify and/or Tik/Tok, but how many possess genuine, individual talent? There’s surely a next Michael Jackson or Joni Mitchell, but how do they get found among such mass?

Great artistry is understood to come once in lifetimes, but with so much churning, how does that one rise to surface and get recognized? I’m told “major” record labels don’t even bother developing talent anymore, the concept outmoded and utterly past. Imagine being capable of great things, yet crowded beyond hope of notice outside a handful who might momentarily come by your work, sample it for ten or twenty Tik/Tok seconds, then move to a next stimulant. Conditions were as tough before, however. Go read about vaudeville for a bracing past parallel. I hear old music now composes seventy percent of sales, growth if any in that market the fruit of catalogue past. Song libraries are a most valued commodity. A man in his late twenties asked me what concerts I remembered seeing, a band called “Chicago” my reply, as though surely he’d not be conscious of the group. “Oh yes, they’re great. I listen to them all the time,” as in of course he knew Chicago, just like he knew Journey (formed fifty years ago) and revered them too. Young people it seems are drawn more to vintage music than to new. How … when … did this happen? (a friend last week told me at least ten years ago) A resource called Auto-Tune in part explains. Auto-Tune is defined as “a software package that automatically manipulates a recording of a vocal track until it is in tune regardless of whether or not the original performance was in tune.” Seems Auto-Tune can fix any instrument, be it bass, strings, or voice. Think of it as spell-check for musicians, who need not even be musicians since sound can now be generated per digital. Such appears to comprise bulk of popular music today. I won’t claim it is “bad” as there are plenty who inveigh to that effect. Many are at You Tube --- just type in “Why Modern Music Sucks” and be off to races.

One among attackers assures us he’s no “Old Man Yelling at Clouds,” a label in heavy current usage (tabbed by Simpsons creators) and neat qualifier for matures who would otherwise express an opinion re pop cultural matters. Irony is eighteen-year-olds yelling at clouds, and looking to the past for music they might enjoy. Seems generations share desire to hear “real human beings” sing or play, or has that become unreasonable to expect? It seems cliché to claim “all songs sound the same,” yet listen and learn at You Tube, where hundreds upload comparisons of then/now and let startling results perform for themselves. And if there’s exodus away from new in favor of old, which there obviously is, why not movies in addition to music? Our Liberty Theatre featured National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as 2023’s holiday attraction. It played pretty much through December. 1500 venues nationwide ran Die Hard, and yes, it charted. Regular scheduled oldies are policy now at lots of houses. I don’t imagine vintage seizing a marketplace but do wonder if youth exiting Die Hard ask themselves why movies today aren’t so vibrant as in 1989. To reclaim past music is one thing, old films something else, as latter dates more noticeably and the uninitiated must make peace with reality of this before embarking upon choppy sea that is classics celebration. One YT influencer compared tunes of fifty years ago to today, using “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross (1973) to show how far we’ve fallen. I remember the song, liked it, but never so much as after comparison with current offerings as sampled in the video. Am I yelling at clouds then? Is it retro-locked and out-of-touch to say modern music sounds all the same?

Greenbriar Now In Its Nineteenth Year of Yelling at Clouds

I look at online comments and wonder if perhaps they are on to something: “Auto-Tune was part of grooming people to accept AI generated music wherein talent of any sort is obsolete.” Can musical talent itself become obsolete, or be rendered obsolete by dark interests who profit more reliably on AI generated content? From millions of songs passed through Spotify and Tik/Tok blenders must come goodness on occasion, but why seek modern counterpart to Buddy Holly if you can fake something as adequate, if not good, from desktop resources? Think of savings inherent in that. If faux Buddy doesn’t work out, just delete him. Does new art merely seek to recapture values of old art? Sure looks that way what with movies chasing intellectual properties from back when intellect was applied to creation of properties. One “ghost” act to lately draw massive attention is the Beatles, two plus specter of two, the forever fab four out with another “new” song, this one called Then and Now, Then being 25-30 years ago when producers couldn’t salvage a crudest recording by John Lennon (far from finished work) as opposed to Now, when technology at sci-fi level permits his found cassette to sound pro as conceivable, result a Beatles release no one could comfortably brand as fake, however cobbled it actually was. What a modern Promethius can achieve, let alone thousands of them creating life from the dead or non-existent. Will this as steady diet eventually do? Robot music might suffice if indeed we have all become robots, or is this mere argument made back when we shouted at 50’s clouds, or any of ones floating in seventy years since? Glad I’m not a striving musician, or even a striving writer, Greenbriar content to be teensiest needle in culture’s so-far vastest haystack. 


Blogger DBenson said...

Today's blog brings to mind non-fungible tokens, essentially digital Franklin Mint collectibles. The idea seems to be that the kind of graphic file you might print out or use as a screen saver can be rendered unique, ownable and sellable, and therefore a good investment. Art, or pure monetization?

PS: Congrats on nineteen years of great stuff, and on "Showmen Sell It Hot" and "The Art of Selling Movies" (the latter is presently an impossibly cheap $14.98 on Amazon -- Grab it!).

4:21 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The only purpose of art is to inspire more ( and hopefully better) art; if the work aims at anything more than that it becomes a utilitarian design and/or a type of propaganda - the work itself becomes a selling of something outside the work, serving a commercial or political or other function beyond serving as a creative inspiration, as a spur for others to create yet more art.
On this analysis, whether or not a given work of art is "reproducible" seems to be beside the point - the question of whether or not it is art becomes an examination of the intent of work's creator, not a question of reproducibility.
The fact that any movie ( and other types of creative work too) is the work of many hands also complicates this question of intent in the execution of the work and inevitably drags in the question of what specifically counts as "the creative authorship" of the specific work which results - for whose intent is the work embodying? - so some would say film-making being essentially collaborative must therefore itself be considered a craft, and the resulting movies examples of craft-work; and so cannot any movie be an example of "true art", which by this way of thinking requires a solo creator. I'm not sure that's so; but as art is usually assigned a solo creator, I suppose it's become customary for people to expect any "work of art" to have such.
If it's made by humans and inspires other humans to be creative, it's art, as far as I'm concerned - but if it's selling something it's not art but it may well be using art to sell whatever it is it's selling.
Other than inspiring others to create, all art is useless - beautiful, but useless.

3:24 PM  

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