What is Art?

What is Art?

This article on Rolling Stone’s website about Wu Tang Clan’s most recent album led me to the website about the project.

If you’re not in the mood for links and reading, here’s the short version: a hip-hop group is releasing only one copy of their latest album. To hear it, you will have to go to a museum or gallery and listen. After that, the one physical copy will be sold like a work of art…possibly never to be heard again — or at least for a long, long time. (Or maybe mass produced right after sale.)

But is it Art?

Some would say, “Is it art?” and many who simply don’t get a style of music would say, “No!”

But music is art — even if you don’t like it. Like the person who looks at a [good] abstract and says, “My kid can paint that!” so goes a certain ignorance with [good] hip hop.

One may not like Wu Tang Clan; however, I can name many artists I do not like, but can still look at and appreciate their effort, what they stand for, and the conversations that arise from their work. Wu Tang Clan seems to understand this — from the linked site above:

By adopting a 400 year old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale, as any other contemporary art piece, we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music. We hope to steer those debates toward more radical solutions and provoke questions about the value and perception of music as a work of art in today’s world.

Many may not agree with that, but I think it’s cool as hell!

Old Ways

I think the reason this fascinates me so much is it’s something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year and a half. I’ve mentioned before that if someone approached me and said, “I will pay you this nice, annual fee to write a novel every other year and several short stories each year — that only I can ever read,” I’d take their patronage. Patrons used to be more common, and in the case of Wu Tang Clan…music used to not be as far reaching as it is today.

There was a time when, to hear music, you had to be present as it was played or you didn’t hear it

Art and Effort

For me, writing is about the work — the art in the effort — and not about the fame (that is rare for most writers anyway). I’ve thought about this very thing: creating a single, beautiful book and selling it to an individual like a piece of art. Much like a painting, what the buyer chose to do after the sale would be up to them. But there’s something appealing about a work only a handful of people — or only one other person — may ever see.

Even if this were a hoax, it’s already getting people talking, and that’s great. Even better, though, is imagining the mix of people in museums and galleries all bobbing their heads in unison as music only they and a select group of others will hear plays just for them through headphones…

…and the rest of us will only hear through their stories…

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