On Longevity

A couple of weeks ago I tried to write a post about the small group of artists* who I thought had always produced work that was, at worst, good. That make sense? Good. As John Darnielle put it “Why do good things not only have to stop being good but turn to utter shit?”. It was going to take list form and I was going to write about their work….

The Red House Painters – who’s Mark Kozelek made my list.

But then I started thinking; what I found more interesting was not why these artists had continually pleased me but why everyone else had done at least something I considered to be below par. I had  a few ideas as to why this was but nothing concrete; People are put under pressure. People lose their initial spark. What made them good was their age. People work in a collaborative medium  and the “chemistry” changes. A person’s relevance to the times wains…

So I gave up. It was also pointed out to me that this was a very selfish way of thinking. What did these musicians, writers, directors, painters, you name it owe me? And isn’t taste completely subjective anyway? “Fair enough and yes,” I thought.

But it still niggled at me. Wouldn’t every creator of art admit, in their heart of hearts, that some of their work has been below par? I know I’ve put out my fair share of shit and barely anything that hits even par.

My Heart Of Hearts

And then a couple of days ago it hit me with an unusual clarity: people only have a finite amount of things that they can say (in art at least). People have something they want to say in a medium, perfect it as best they can and then… then they have to change. A band can’t release the same song over and over, an author use the same plot – they have to say something different or find a new way of saying the same thing. Eventually this becomes impossible. Even Shakespeare wouldn’t have been able, given another thirty years, to write another thirty completely different plays of the quality of Hamlet – but don’t let that stop you cybernetic Shakespeare!

Cybernetic Shakespeare

What was once fun and easy becomes a slog. I think of the band Suede, who started off pretty well but eventually released a song with the rhyming couplet, She lives in a house/She’s as stupid as a mouse.

But why should someone even be expected to keep producing new ideas and art for their whole life? I like to think of the days when the craft of art, the playing and singing, the painting, the acting even, was seen as more important than the creation of it. Back way over yonder folk singers used to sing other people’s songs, the Sistine Chapel’s roof was painted on commission and even the aforementioned (non cybernetic) Shakespeare was an actor as well as play-write. Were things “better” then? Not really –  we have a whole wealth, possibly too much, of  art to enjoy now and if people weren’t encouraged and expected to create for themselves this wouldn’t be the case. But do we need to listen to anything Paul McCartney did after 1982? Or more importantly does this stuff detract from what he did with The Beatles?

So what’s my point you may be wondering? Well I don’t expect anyone to be consistent any more,. I’m just going to try and enjoy what good there is in the world. To take the flip on Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crud), 10% of everything must be good.

John November 11

*as in people who create any kind of art. So painters, sculpters, musicians, writers, n’ that.

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One Comment on “On Longevity”

  1. […] couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on how every artist puts out work that isn’t “good-or-better” at some point during […]


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