Monday, September 04, 2006

I Do Not Blend in Well in Malls

I once interviewed an artist who said the world didn't need any more decorators.

He was referring to surface art; the shallow stuff that is designed to make things superficially pleasant, but has no subtance. Decorators do not try to challenge or provoke. They program elevator music and airbrush pictures of flowers. They would finesse the guts out of a song and sand down any rough edges. They run the bandwagon. They blend in well in malls.

He said that real art does none of these things - it does not exist to be safe, familliar or conventional. It does not need to be suitable for family viewing, and if it doesn't make you feel something, something wild or strange or scary, it's not doing its job.

"It's too tough out there right now to moon over things that are pretty," he said at the end of the interview, as I was typing away steadily, trying to get it all down. He spoke quickly and constantly, barely sneaking in breaths, and my fingers and arms were getting sore. He was going to be showing his work at an event the following weekend - pictures of sex, torture and wrestling, he said, arranged so that you couldn't tell the difference. I was intrigued. I thanked him for his time. The story would be published in four days, I said, and I looked forward to seeing his work.

But then I got to thinking...

As a songwriter, in theory, I try to provoke, challenge and purge until my lips turn blue. It takes a lot out of me to write something I can live with, let alone something I think someone else might want to hear. But my style and sound is admittedly "pretty," even if I had never thought of it like that before. It just always seemed to work out that way - I tune obsessively, I was dragged to singing lessons as a child, and I like a melody that I might want to hear again someday. Surely these things are not all bad, I thought, pushing back the nagging doubt. But as I read over the interview again, I hoped to God I was not a decorator.

I have since avoided the local mall.

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