In the maelstrom of conversation about Beyonce’s visual album, my friends and I keep returning to the same question: “What is an artist’s responsibility?”
Up there with other ambiguous questions, such as “what is art?” and “who is an artist?”, this is an equally important question–not only for the artists, but for the audience members who consume that art. One of my friends wisely stated that music companies don’t care about the depth of an artist; they simply want to make records that will sell. Artists with depth cultivate the ability to stay whole and sane in a world that wants to consume them, not only the art that they produce.
The constant interaction between fan and artist (or her PR team) means that fans can overstep their boundaries, assuming that an artist “belongs to them.” So we hold artists to a standard. They have to be political. Or apolitical. They have to be skinny or stay fat.
They have to have long hair, or short hair. And their decisions transfer to hardcore sales. Because we live in a visual culture, the way an artist looks–not only their beauty, but the way they clothe themselves–matters more than ever. The combination of visual culture and fan-artist interaction on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram means that fans have a considerable amount of power over the rise or downfall of a “star.”
It is dangerous for fans and artists to be so tied together. Of course, artists need money, and fans need art. But artists are being forced to do more than just offer their art. They offer themselves up as a sacrifice for their fans, and, in turn, fans worship them.
Artists can never create just to create–the relationship they have with the fans has to be constantly cultivated, encouraged, massaged. Their art has to meet the expectations of the fans.
What would it look like if artists didn’t cater to their fans, or to record companies? What art would be created if every mainstream artist just produced art for art’s sake?
What would art look like if an artist was only responsible to herself?
I’m not sure we’ll ever know. In the meantime:
–be conscious about what type of art you want to create before you start branding yourself excessively.
–if you become famous, don’t give all of yourself to everyone. that is a sure way to fall apart. the fans will live on, even if you are destroyed. remember that.
–make money, if you can, making the type of art that you want to create. if you can’t, make money, and make the art you really want to make on the side. there is no shame in that.
After all, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”–Andy Warhol