Saturday, November 04, 2006

art or entertainment? possibilities of dissent

I have, for various reasons, rejected the labels art and artist. Ask me what I do, and beyond the more specific monikers of guitarist, musician, improviser and performer, I’m likely to respond that I’m an entertainer: What I do is entertainment. Well, for the last ten years or so, that’s been the story, but recently I’ve begun to look under the hood of these terms. I’ve again begun to question if these particular terms—entertainer, entertainment—also come with unacceptable cultural, political baggage.
The label of ‘art’ signifies many of the problems of… well, the art world, and the ‘New Music’ world in particular. Stuck-up, cloistered, reclusive and exclusive, ‘New Music’ is a subculture with a rapidly diminishing audience outside its own ivory towers. ‘Artist,’ in this context, stands for those who are unable or, more worryingly, unwilling to engage with audiences. Certainly, while in academia, I found it useful to symbolically (if not materially) reject these trappings by embracing the role of entertainer, the task of entertainment.
But that was years ago. Although I don’t believe ‘New Music’ has changed much, I can’t assume that the political situation in general remains the same. Whilst I remain skeptical as to whether the term ‘art’ can be resuscitated, I’ve become troubled by the implications and connotations of the alternative label I have been using. I worry that when print and broadcast news aspires to spectacle and diversion, that by claiming entertainment as purpose, I am sidling up to CNN and News Corp. Is dissent and resistance possible from the position, at least lexically, shared with Murdoch and Berlusconi’s grand smokescreens? I wonder if the recent voices of protest from Hollywood cannot change the political landscape because they are hampered by the ‘entertainment’ label. I wonder if Michael Moore is too easily dismissed as a clown?
Yet, on the other hand, I know the transformative, political power that clowns can have. That clowns can tell (create) truths, and though they may never topple rulers, they can shakeup the status quo. And I cannot help wondering about the rhetorical power of figures such as The Coup (who, in fairness, probably call themselves artist), Bill Hicks, Paul Verhoeven or Frank Zappa (who situated himself in the entertainment industry). All entertainers extraordinaire, yet, in their own ways, powerful political voices of dissent and resistance.

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