Are Modern Artists More Like Modern Politicians?

No, this won’t be another post telling you why you should turn to your favorite celebrities for advice on politicking.

When we think of the modern artist we think of them in multitude: They are sharp, savvy, and successful in all areas of fame, from social media to performance. They bring an energy that only they can bring, and they make it all look so good. Increasingly there also seems to be an outcry when the layers are peeled back and—lo and behold—they weren’t behind every single element of their production.

It’s that auteur theory, popularized in France during the 1940s, that a director or creator was responsible for every little piece of their art, that grinds people’s gears. It’s given us some fascinating artists, and even more fascinating works of art; Cronenberg, Wilson, Truffaut, to name a few. But I think the auteur theory would be more successful if it functioned more like modern politicians—who, in turn, are functioning more like modern artists anyway.

Principally that we expect artists to represent themselves with a team, not as the sole engine of these works alone. The idea that Obama would have personally drafted any of the hundreds of executive orders his administration has released is laughable. So why do we hold modern artists to be failures unless they are the (largely) sole creator listed on their works? When’s the last time someone made sure we credited Michaelangelo’s 13 assistants on the Sistine Chapel?

Of our modern politicians we expect talent, but that talent extends to who they choose to surround themselves with. President Obama has a fleet of staff members all working towards his vision (which, is not even solely his vision). Hillary Clinton has proved (despite whatever other controversies have dogged her along the way) to be an effective leader because she chooses to listen to input. Similarly, animators at Laika create stunning stop-motion animation because they work as a team, and Beyonce rocked the world with Lemonade, and her subsequent Formation World Tour because she sought out the best people to help her create her vision. Prince wrote The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” but that song would’ve sounded much different in his hands versus their own. Toy Story passed through more than a few hands, including Joss Whedon, but is much different than the original treatment from John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter.

Obviously some of these carry a different weight than others—a studio implicitly represents a team effort, where a writing credit on a script or a lyric does not—but the truth is no artist can be the best they can be without a team. Nathaniel Hawthorne didn’t think he could. Why should Beyonce? As Fusion writes:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-2-52-27-pm
Photo Credit: Daniela Vesco

Having more voices and more brains on an album gives it the opportunity to reach greater depth, achieve better sound, and draw from more varied experience than one person alone could ever bring to the table. Not only do the collaborators who helped create Lemonade lend the album more nuance, but this process allows Beyoncé to promote lesser-known artists through her work.

Think about Beyoncé (or any pop star, really, from Kanye West to Taylor Swift) not as a musician working alone in a dark studio with only her own thoughts for company, but as a conductor in front of an orchestra, a curator filling a museum, a director blocking a scene. Pop music is a kind of auteurism.

Where some see a yielding of control, or a lack of creativity, I see a larger scope of that same auteurism. Artists like Beck, Bob Dylan, and Prince have upheld that loner artist archetype despite being the exception not the rule, but I’m not even sure how much credence to even give arguments that they are implicitly better artists because they were a human swiss army knife. The theory holds that a piece of work represents an artists’ personal creative vision, and I think a resulting album’s ingenuity and creative force. To me Lemonade‘s is undeniable.

So the next time someone argues that an artist should be the sole mind behind any one work, remind them that we don’t hold our politicians to any such notions. Remind them that it takes a village to make stunning art—and sometimes it takes a credit to avoid IP litigation.

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