• Noble Dust
    5.5k
    A hallmark of great artists seems to be their ability to always re-invent themselves and push boundaries, almost to the point that this phenomenon has become a stereotype. The Radioheads of the world are lauded for their chameleon-like skin...until their skin stops changing colors.

    This fetishization with creative reinvention leads me to two questions:

    1. Is the breadth of an artists work indicative of the quality of their work? Or no?

    2. Is there such a thing as a "creative arc"? A sort of life cycle of an artists vision which evolves from their early days when their work was full of untapped potential, through to the "magnum opus" phase in which they did their best work, and finally falling off into a sort of denouement phase in which they rehash their old successes?

    Or, consequently, is it possible for an artist to maintain such a deep tap on their creative potential that they always are evolving and never sitting still, even up until their death? If yes, who is an example?
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    This reminds me of the notion that the hallmark of a classic is a work that endures through time.

    I think this is just one common perspective. It might also be the case that a work created at a particular point in time and place is of staggering merit (then) but does not endure (now). So what? Maybe some types of genius are transitory or evanescent. hard to measure in the past tense since merit is generally about the present.

    But it seems we've already decided that multifarious reinterpretation across time is the central criterion of merit - hence eternal preoccupations with, say, Shakespeare or The Beatles (who I dislike). And for artists, the equivalent is reinvention, whilst retaining an enthusiastic following (some usual suspects include Bowie/Waits/Madonna... up to a point; but also Gustav Mahler and Stravinsky). I think this is the stuff of hipster music criticism, if nothing else.

    All this presumes an objective notion of what constitutes good aesthetics across a range of artforms and whether this is genuine or 'constructed' by elites; culture and criticism.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k


    Thanks for the great response.

    What you say brings up the daunting question of whether there is an "eternal" aspect to great art. Because let's be honest, what's hinted at in the veneration of Shakespeare and The Beatles is that this art is truly eternal; we say it's "timeless" and we seem to assume that that's a figure of speech, but do we really mean it in that way?

    I often think of Scriabin when it comes to artists that were lauded in their day and subsequently forgotten (to a degree).



    And attempting to steer back to the thread topic, Scriabin is actually a pretty impressive example of an artist who's creative arc is quite long and complex. He's almost like a mirror image of the shift in the early 20th century from post-romanticism to the introduction of atonality and the onset of the modernist movement. His unique arc almost represents the actual world's transition into modernism.
  • javra
    1.7k
    1. Is the breadth of an artists work indicative of the quality of their work? Or no?Noble Dust

    I'd say "no". I've got folk that only made on album in my library that I don't get tired of enjoying. Good quality, little breadth.

    Or, consequently, is it possible for an artist to maintain such a deep tap on their creative potential that they always are evolving and never sitting still, even up until their death? If yes, who is an example?Noble Dust

    Assuming one shares minimal tastes with mine, Leonard Cohen comes to mind (now deceased), as well as Tom Waits and Tori Amos (not deceased but fairly well blossomed by now). There might well be others but this is what I think of first. All these have gone through a creative evolution with sustained quality that hasn't slowed down with age.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    Agree on Scriaban.

    Because let's be honest, what's hinted at in the veneration of Shakespeare and The Beatles is that this art is truly eternal; we say it's "timeless" and we seem to assume that that's a figure of speech, but do we really mean it in that way?Noble Dust

    That's why I raised them and hence the expression the evergreen classic. The notion that the themes, wisdom or humanity contained apply across ages.

    When it comes to Shakespeare it's complex. Reinterpretation is a different proposition. Works are reinterpreted out of their author's intentions, so is the text really evergreen? But since all authors died some decades ago, would anyone complain except for the remnants of old school Levisite criticism?
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    Assuming one shares minimal tastes with mine, Leonard Cohen comes to mind (now deceased), as well as Tom Waitsjavra

    Sure and agree. Nick Cave anyone? Waits is one of the few artists who became less accessible and more difficult with age. Mahler too in the classical realm but that's a whole different dynamic.
  • javra
    1.7k
    Nick Cave anyone?Tom Storm

    Yes to some of his works being close to timeless for me, but not all. Personal tastes though.

    Waits is one of the few artists who became less accessible and more difficult with age.Tom Storm

    I'd say sharper as well. But again, tastes.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    I'd say "no". I've got folk that only made on album in my library that I don't get tired of enjoying. Good quality, little breadth.javra

    I agree with you. I always wonder, though, about those artists. Why did they stop? Did they say all they needed to say, or did something external prevent them from having a so-called "arc"? Could we have enjoyed their arc if it had had a chance to blossom?

    Assuming one shares minimal tastes with mine, Leonard Cohen comes to mind (now deceased), as well as Tom Waits and Tori Amos (not deceased but fairly well blossomed by now). There might well be others but this is what I think of first. All these have gone through a creative evolution with sustained quality that hasn't slowed down with age.javra

    I like Cohen and Waits, just haven't dug into Amos properly. I would say I tepidly agree, if that makes sense. I don't disagree.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    When it comes to Shakespeare it's complex.Tom Storm

    I have no expertise in theatre, but I do agree. I didn't care at all for Shakespeare until I saw my old roommate perform (I think Lear) in an outdoor setting, at close range. Spellbinding, and all of the outdated language and dress seemingly fell away. I was glued to the stage.

    Works are reinterpreted out of their author's intentions, so is the text really evergreen? But since all authors died some decades ago, would anyone complain except for the remnants of old school Levisite criticism?Tom Storm

    I don't think the text is evergreen; the older a work gets, the more we rely on experts to explain to us why it's important. I don't say that to suggest that it isn't important, but to suggest that the concept of "timeless" is really only based on our ability to continue to uphold a work as such.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    @Tom Storm @javra

    In terms of artists that are still evolving, I would throw Steve Reich into the ring. Maybe a bit questionable, as the demarcation of eras in his work are less clear, but what I love about his arc is that it's so logical. He's in his 80's, and wrote this piece a few years ago:



    It's certainly not my favorite piece, but the evolution is so apparent if you're familiar with his work. There are few artists that I feel a sense of "reverence" towards when I listen to new work; Steve is one.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    Something timeless is something independent of the popular fads or trends of any given time period. Someone continually reinventing themselves successfully is either riding the wave of ephemeral and unpredictable popular fads or trends, or else progressing toward timeless independence from them. Someone reinventing themselves without success is trying to do that but missing the wave. I smell a more complete surfing metaphor in here somewhere; I’m not sure what timelessness is in that metaphor; being out beyond the surf, or safe on shore...?
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    Someone continually reinventing themselves successfully is either riding the wave of ephemeral and unpredictable popular fads or trends,Pfhorrest

    I think you can also make the converse argument and say that someone continually reinventing themselves is creating the fad or trend. Or, more likely, it's a complex matrix of creating trends and following them at the same time.
  • Joshs
    3.2k
    Pop music may be different from classical in that pop trends change rapidly with the social zeitgeist. It seems a large percentage of pop artists lose team by the time they reach 40, and I think this may be due to two factors. First, the r aeros are carrying forward a sensibility, attitude and approach to the world that remains relevant and edgy up to the point where a younger generation of musicians more effectively taps into the new zeitgeist. Thus the Beatles(as a group and then as solo artists) Stones and Dylan remained relevant as they continually reinvented themselves , up until the point where they couldn’t keep up with the new trends. But this doesn’t explain why they cannot keep churning out highest quality ‘classic rock’ that their older fans would still find great, instead of sounding increasingly derivative and bland. I think this may be because certain creative fields are more suited to younger than to older artists. That is , the ‘has-been’ older pop musician continues to evolve as a person , but it becomes more and more difficult to convey this personal growth in terms of powerful sounding music. (They say that mathematics is is a young person’s field also. )
    Philosophy , on the other hand , privileges those who are in their 30’s and 40’s. In Kant’s case, it was his 7th decade. A common. trajectory for at least some philosophical writers is to move from the more concrete and systematic style in the early years to the more ‘spiritual’ and poetic in the later years. Perhaps pop music doesn’t lend itself to the more murky and abstractive modes of thought that comes with older age.
  • Kasperanza
    39


    One thing I hear frequently in the self-help community is that the greatest artists are often the ones with the largest bodies of work. The larger the breadth of their work, the more likely they are to create a magnum opus or something popular. The more shots a person takes, the higher their chance of scoring points. Quantity leads to quality.

    The Beatles, Shakespeare, Beethoven and Mozart, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Picasso etc... These people made significantly more in their field than their competitors. Beethoven and Mozart made 400% more music than the average composer. Kobe Bryant was always the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He literally took the most shots.

    The thing is, we don't like these people for everything they've made. We only pay attention and notice a few key pieces of their work. Most of the music written by Mozart we never have and never will hear.

    As far as artists having an arc.. I think artists rehash old hits or masterpieces because they've found a formula, market niche where they have a "monopoly" or reliable source of money and attention. I think artists can continue to create new and wonderful things if they keep taking more shots, instead of fear forcing them to rely on shots they've already taken.

    The trick to creativity is about showing up and being consistent. The more you try and fail, the more likely you are to strike gold.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    Or, more likely, it's a complex matrix of creating trends and following them at the same time.Noble Dust

    :up: :100:
  • frank
    10.9k
    Tom Waitsjavra

    Coincidentally, a coworker insisted that I listen to Tom Waits on the way home today. Excellent stuff.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    The trick to creativity is about showing up and being consistent. The more you try and fail, the more likely you are to strike gold.Kasperanza

    I agree. The same thing is true for photography. If you want some excellent photos, you have to take a massive amount of shots.

    I think artists rehash old hits or masterpieces because they've found a formula, market niche where they have a "monopoly" or reliable source of money and attention.Kasperanza

    That's true. But also I suspect that creative expression generally has built in limitations. Some artists don't mean to rehash but return to themes, sounds and subjects because there's fence around even the most fecund of creative imaginations.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    I believe that your idea of a creative arc does make sense, but the only thing which I believe that it misses is the way in which life circumstances play upon creativity. In some ways, musicians, artists and writers may incorporate aspects of life, including adverse factors and lack of popularity due to cultural trends. But, I do believe there may be severe challenges which really affect the creative spirit, and impinge upon any underlying arc, making the picture far more complex.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    Some artists don't mean to rehash but return to themes, sounds and subjects because there's fence around even the most fecund of creative imaginations.Tom Storm

    Absolutely; I return to lyrical and musical themes on accident all of the time. I've grown to embrace it rather than avoid it. I guess I'm almost disagreeing with my premise in the OP by saying this, but there is also something creatively fulfilling about trying to do the same thing over and over again. Maybe it's psychosis, or maybe there's something noble in the pursuit. But the more I try to push myself and create in new ways, the more I often find myself falling back on the same creative obsessions that I've had for my entire adult life.
  • Tom Storm
    4k
    but there is also something creatively fulfilling about trying to do the same thing over and over again. Maybe it's psychosis, or maybe there's something noble in the pursuit.Noble Dust

    I agree. I've known a few writers and artists. It looks to me, watching them, that sometimes there's an idea inside them that needs to be exorcized and they keep returning to it again and again in a kind of ritualistic catharsis. Perhaps it's intensely satisfying.

    You can actually see this repetitive theme exploration going on here from some members. There's an idea that they seem driven to pursue in endless variations.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    sometimes there's an idea inside them that needs to be exorcized and they keep returning to it again and again in a kind of ritualistic catharsis. Perhaps it's intensely satisfying.Tom Storm

    I wouldn't say it's satisfying, except in a momentary sense. The itch is scratched until it starts itching again, which can be very quickly. Maybe "mania" is a good descriptor.

    You can actually see this repetitive theme exploration going on here from some members. There's an idea that they seem driven to pursue in endless variations.Tom Storm

    A more apt sentence I have not read on the forum recently. :up:
  • T Clark
    9k
    The Beatles, Shakespeare, Beethoven and Mozart, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Picasso etc... These people made significantly more in their field than their competitors. Beethoven and Mozart made 400% more music than the average composer. Kobe Bryant was always the first one to practice and the last one to leave. He literally took the most shots.

    The thing is, we don't like these people for everything they've made. We only pay attention and notice a few key pieces of their work. Most of the music written by Mozart we never have and never will hear.

    As far as artists having an arc.. I think artists rehash old hits or masterpieces because they've found a formula, market niche where they have a "monopoly" or reliable source of money and attention. I think artists can continue to create new and wonderful things if they keep taking more shots, instead of fear forcing them to rely on shots they've already taken.
    Kasperanza

    I think this is a good way of looking at it. I think of Woody Allen. He makes a movie every two or three years. Some are masterpieces. Some don't work. Those in the middle tend to be good, workmanlike films. Even when they don't work, his movies are well-made.
  • T Clark
    9k
    Is there such a thing as a "creative arc"? A sort of life cycle of an artists vision which evolves from their early days when their work was full of untapped potential, through to the "magnum opus" phase in which they did their best work, and finally falling off into a sort of denouement phase in which they rehash their old successes?Noble Dust

    I think there often is an arc. I don't think it's inevitable. I think it is common with authors that my favorite works are their earliest. It seems like there is a vein of stories for them to mine. When the vein runs out, they often keep going, trying to recreate the magic. I think of John Le Carre and Alan Furst, two wonderful writers that I generally avoid these days. Even though I think "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," and "The Polish Officer" are wonderful, I've been disappointed too many times with more recent books.

    Which brings us to country music. I include in that category much folk and what they call "roots" music. Country musicians don't seem to be trying so hard to go anywhere. They just want to make good music, even if it is a cover of a classic rather than something newly written. Do you know how many singers have covered "Poncho and Lefty." Country albums are much more likely to have instrumentals. Sure, a lot of it is crap, but a lot of everything is crap.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k


    I'm re-reading your post now, and have some thoughts.

    You say your favorite works from your favorite authors were their earliest. Were they also the first works of theirs you read, or no?

    I ask, because I've noticed something in my own appreciation of music: my favorite album from an artist tends to be the first one that I heard; not always, but usually. So rather than the arc of the actual artist determining the aesthetic worth of their work for me, it's my own arc as a listener that determines my opinion of their arc as an artist. Is this some sort of art appreciation juvenilia, or just par for the course of appreciating art?

    I like folk and roots music (hell I even like bluegrass), but I'll leave your comments about country music where they should be left. :razz:
  • T Clark
    9k
    You say your favorite works from your favorite authors were their earliest. Were they also the first works of theirs you read, or no?Noble Dust

    No, the early books I'm talking about were not necessarily the first ones I read. In fact, generally they weren't. A writer's first book, a songwriter's first song tend to have something raw and immediate about them. The artist is trying to figure things out for themself. Beyond that, even when an author's later work is still very good, often they eventually run out of whatever it was that kept them going. They've done what they do so many times the blades get dull.

    With musicians there is also the band factor - often the lead musician goes off to a solo career. Although it may be true that they were the driving force behind the band, their new work doesn't have the same spirit. I could never listen to Lennon and McCartney songs written after the Beatles broke up. They really sucked.

    I like folk and roots music (hell I even like bluegrass),Noble Dust

    Roots music, bluegrass, and much of folk are country music. You can't judge rock based on Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band and you can't judge country based on a lot of the crap on mainstream country stations.

    In case you haven't guessed, I will be mentioning Crazy Joe and the VSB a lot in my future posts.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k
    No, the early books I'm talking about were not necessarily the first ones I read. In fact, generally they weren't. A writer's first book, a songwriter's first song tend to have something raw and immediate about them. The artist is trying to figure things out for themself.T Clark

    Sure, I've noticed the appeal of early rawness, but I've also noticed the appeal of later refinement. Is one more valuable than the other?

    Roots music, bluegrass, and much of folk are country music.T Clark

    In my mind those genres preceded country. I worked for a folk/bluegrass/roots radio station for a few years, and there was a clear distinction between what was acceptable and what not.

    Keep mainlining me Crazy Joe and VSB and I may just come around. Maybe I'll trade songs with ya.
  • T Clark
    9k
    Sure, I've noticed the appeal of early rawness, but I've also noticed the appeal of later refinement. Is one more valuable than the other?Noble Dust

    It doesn't happen to everyone. Paul Simon. Bob Dylan. CJ & VSB. Bob Seeger did what more musicians should do - said what he had to say, made the money he needed, then sat down.

    Roots music, bluegrass, and much of folk are country music.
    — T Clark

    In my mind those genres preceded country.
    Noble Dust

    Are you serious? Jimmy Rogers. The Carter Family. The Stanley Brothers. Hank Williams died in 1951 if I remember correctly. These are not the musicians I really like - I like Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Son Volt, Chris Knight best.
  • Noble Dust
    5.5k


    Ok ok, calm down. Again, in my little universe, there's what we called "early country" or whatever the fuck we called it. Many if not all of those artists would be included. I'm also younger than you, so gimme a freebie.

    Back to the serious stuff:

    It doesn't happen to everyone. Paul Simon. Bob Dylan. CJ & VSB. Bob Seeger did what more musicians should do - said what he had to say, made the money he needed, then sat down.T Clark

    Sure, but it does happen to some. Maybe it's a phantom of the popular music world; when I think of artists who grew better with age, my mind immediately goes to "art" music; French symbolist classical (Ravel/Debussy) or late jazz (Jonn Coltrane/Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders). What if the popular music phenomenon brought on the age of the idolization of art? of the artist's age? What ever happened to artists getting better with age? What about Pharoah Sanders heart-renching, soul-destroying collab with young electronic artist Floating Points (which was released THIS fucking year? )

  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    I suppose, from one angle, your question boils down to that of the difference between a generalist and a specialist. The usual way it pans out is the former knows something about everything while the latter knows everything about something. It's a tough call if you ask me.

    If you're a generalist, the only future for you is, as they say, Jack of all trades and master of none. On the flip side, a specialist can master his trade so to speak.

    I don't know how it was back a 100 or more years ago but the modern world seems obsessed with so-called experts - every problem reflexively calls for one. It makes a whole lot of sense because a specialist/expert, Masters/PhD, will have in-depth domain knowledge.

    Generalists, on the other hand, would be an asset since fae is essentially a swiss-knife, multi-purpose and can, for that reason, wear many hats. Despite such range most generalists these days are to be found doing blue-collar unskilled work i.e. it's easier to be a generalist when the tasks at hand don't require thinking.

    Plus, what are teams? Instead of investing resources in one generalist, we can hire multiple specialists - it'll be expensive but I'm sure you'll get the bang for your buck.

    I haven't derailed the thread I hope but, as per my analysis, it's better for an artist to focus in one particular area. Fae can master it and dazzle us with faer works.

    As for the creative arc, I thought everyone was familiar with how the world works - ups & downs, you're in a trough (artist's block) one moment and riding a crest (peak creativity) another. It appears the artist is at the mercy of the sinusoidal wave of his creative spark. Perhaps he can attempt to ride the cresting wave for as long as possible like a surfer or simply increase the frequency of faer creativity. Basically long creative spells or more creative spells. All this assuming that the artist has any degree of control.
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