Monday, August 12, 2013

Good Art, Bad Art, and Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra. The guy in the
boxers is Chad--he looks just like Jamie-boy, for the record.
Last Monday I decided, as a depressed crazy person, to do something properly crazy for once in my life.  I bought a non-refundable bus ticket I couldn't afford and went to NYC to see Amanda Palmer play at Lincoln Center.  I went by myself and slept on the couch of a complete stranger that night and the scariest part was deciding to do it. Once I was there it wasn't scary at all.

But this isn't a "look at my amazing vacation" blog post. I do have a point.  I'm even going to talk about writing eventually.

First, if you don't know who Amanda Palmer is, you need to fix that.  She's kinda rock-pop-cabaret-everything. She plays the piano and the ukulele, often only 1/2 clothed. She doesn't believe in shaving her pits.  Her music is beautiful and emotional and true. Some people find her off-putting because she's so brash and wears her heart on her sleeve (and they don't understand what she's trying to say), but I wish I could do what she does and be the kind of person that she is.

So the point. Right.  At the show Amanda sang two songs that I want to talk about.  The first one is not one of my favorites by any means, but it makes a point. She wrote it as a response to the existence of Lady Gaga a few years ago. Its called "Gaga, Palmer, Madonna: A Polemic."   In this song Amanda talks about how "art is great: you can do anything--you can make pop music, you can paint ducks" and that "art is simple, just ask Andy Warhol." As a rule I don't like 95% of pop music and I think Andy Warhol is kind of...weird and unoriginal (I've seen one of his pieces IRL--it was giant wooden boxes painted like Brillo Pad packaging and I was all "I don't think he's trying to say anything....") BUT what it breaks down to is--Andy Warhol or Lady Gaga, they are artists, and while they might not be what I consider good artists, that's not really the point. 

The other song I want to talk about is fucking amazing and one of my favorites.  It's called "Ukulele Anthem" and it talks about Sid Vicious and John Lennon and how if Lizzie Borden had been able to express herself musically she wouldn't have axed her parents.  The song is about making art, and how it enriches the world because making art is more important than anything. "It takes about an hour to teach someone to play the ukulele, about the same as teaching someone to build a standard pipe bomb--you do the math!" she sings at one point.  Art is important. Art is the whole reason we are people instead of animals, and this song is saying, it doesn't matter if you can't make art well--the point is you need to do it.  

Good art takes years of practice, dedication, skill and talent. But making bad art is fine too, because it's all about passion and being alive.  "Stop pretending art is hard: limit yourself to three chords and do not practice daily," Amanda suggests. She's right--good art is hard, but art doesn't have to be good to be worthwhile, and even if you don't have the time or the inclination to dedicate every moment of your life to mastering something doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Ten years ago I had a great singing voice. Now I don't spend 2 hours a day in choir rehearsals so it's not so great anymore, but I should still sing and not be ashamed of singing in public (mostly I sing only when I'm home alone) because I love to sing even though it's bad.

I admit that I can be mean sometimes. I bitch about bad writing a lot, and while it's fine that I don't like it, sometimes I say these bad artists (especially Stephanie Meyer and E L James) shouldn't be creating their art.  And that's wrong. 

They should be able to write as much bad sparkle porn as they want.  I'd rather I didn't have to see it, and I sure as hell am going to be mad and jealous when they make millions of dollars with their books while I make $75 a month, but to say they shouldn't do it is mean.  Make as much bad art as you want, and if, for some bizarre reason the world wants to see it, good for you. And good does come out of bad art.  For example, when Twilight came out all of L. J. Smith's excellent teenage vampire romances from the '90's went back into print and she got a bunch of TV show money with Vampire Diaries.

And when E. L. James' terrible self-published porn went big I looked at my own work and thought, "Fuck. I'm 50 times better than this--I need to get out there and share my work too." And now I get $75 per month that I didn't have before doing what makes me happy--writing sappy gay vampire erotica. And people love it and tell me they love it and they feel for my characters and that makes me feel so good inside. Because I'm a depressed crazy person and being an artist is the only thing that has ever mattered to me.

So I'm going to try to not make fun of bad art so much. It's not fair and it's mean. Make as much bad art as you want. It's healthy and liberating and free.

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