Oversharing on Stage

I love live music but don't make it out to shows as often as I used to. Lately I've been trying to do some networking for Evrywhr so I'm trying to get out more often.

I recently attended a show and I was really struck by the amount of on-stage banter happening. The bands were mostly local and they sounded great; the music was right up my alley. But I noticed that several of them had the habit of stopping after every song to introduce the next song and then explain what it was about. I'm not exaggerating they did this after every song. At some point it was so bad I couldn't help but laugh. 

This next song is about Donnie McDonald, my best friend from 5th grade. It's called 'Donnie'

Back in the early 2000s I saw Pedro the Lion play several times when they were on tour. It was pretty common for David Bazan to ask the audience if they had any questions between songs. He was an interesting guy and it was cool to hear the informal Q+A but after a while you kind of just wanted him to get back to the music. 

I also love listening to John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats talk but even he knows that we're there for the songs.

Explaining the meaning of every song is a good indication that you're not finished writing the song. I'm sure there are folks out there would argue that no song is ever truly finished but let's table that for now. Let's also assume that we're discussing traditional pop songs that aren't experimental, improvisational or avant-garde in nature.

If you're going to write, rehearse and perform these pop songs for an audience it is safe to assume they are finished. Of course, songs can and do change as they are performed live over time but most of these changes are related to the performance and not the actual song.

Don't get me wrong, it can be good to preface a song or two during the show. It's part of the performance to engage with your audience (this is something I've always had a hard time with).

Nevertheless, if you're confident in your ability to finish your songs you need to trust they can stand on their own without explanation. Your lyrics should be interesting enough so that they don't require you to explain them.

How to Stop Making Bad Art

Several months ago I had a discussion with several friends about modern art. It all started because of two articles in,
The articles have several photos from recent exhibits showing ridiculous examples of what is being called art. For example: a neon sign that reads "My Cunt Is Wet With Fear", wooden shelves of porcelon dogs and cats, a photograph of the artist rubbing money against her vagina.

I understand what the author is trying to say but contemporary modern art is kind of an easy target.  The guy should challenge himself: write a story mocking juggalos, or arguing that corgis are cute.
I know very little about how art criticism works in any academic sense. I spent most of my time in art class during college flirting with a very cute (and talented) red-head named Lara. But I have also spent the past 15 years creating music in the hopes of getting noticed. So my thoughts aren't completely uninformed but I'm still shooting from the hip.  
Let's pretend there are 3 criteria that we use when looking at any given art piece.
  • is it interesting?
  • is it well-crafted?
  • is it challenging?
All of those are subjective but seem to sum up the initial interaction between the art and the viewer. So perhaps the quality of the art depends on how those criteria interact. And artists who want to be noticed can manipulate their art to accentuate one criteria at the expense of another. For example if your art is interesting and challenging then perhaps it can be less well crafted. Is your art difficult enough to be challenging but not too difficult?

I would further assert that all of these criteria rely on different skills. By the time you get to undergrad art most professors may assume that you've at least started working on the craft component. One difficulty with modern art is that it's difficult to judge the quality of the craft - "are those really well crafted neon signs?"

I think a lot of times younger artists want to put the interesting/challenging criteria ahead of the craft criteria. At eighteen it's easy think you are so interesting and challenging that you don't have to deal with the boring mechanical parts of learning how to paint/draw/sculpt. And of course there are always the outliers who are interesting and challenging enough to do this.

There is also a 4th criteria that I like to call Magic. It's difficult to explain; maybe it's two-parts "right place at right time" and one-part "you know a guy". I've seen it before with local bands who unexplicably blow up. They're not awful but they're not amazing so it's got to be something else. I also kind of equate it with the LUCK skill you find in certain video games. We don't really know how it works but its still seems to have an impact.

There are no hard and fast rules for being successful. But it's safe to say most of the art from those articles doesn't meet any of the criteria above. Sometimes the art doesn't meet any of the criteria and still sells for millions - MAGIC! Sometimes the art meets all of them fairly well and still goes unnoticed - MAGIC!

Video Games and Aesthetics (A response to Magical Wasteland)

I would like games to be seen as art if someone can clearly place them within an understood artistic tradition. It hasn't really happened yet.

Video games are a young medium and if the community wants to push to re-define art as it is currently understood they need to have clear understanding of art as it is currently understood.

Wikipedia isn't a lot of help here in finding the two-sentence blurb on art definition. To be sure, there is plenty of subjectivity to be found when discussing art but there is also much to draw upon in terms of artistic tradition and history.

The recent N+1 article Cave Painting was an attempt to discuss that context. It touched on general aesthetic understandings as articulated by Kant and refuted by Nietzsche. Its conclusion in brief was that to the extent that they are both currently understood, games are not art.

Author and journalist, Tom Bissell submitted a thoughtful reply which disagreed with the article and suggested comparing game interactivity to theater.

Matthew S. Burns from Magical Wasteland also replied on his website and questioned N+1's understanding of gaming, art and aesthetics.

I am not a game designer or student of Kant; however; I feel that many of N+1's points were misunderstood.

Much of Kant's discussion of beauty centers on the context within which it is found. Therefore the suggestion of beauty qua beauty is problematic because its meaning is not objective. This is what N+1 means when they say "Art-beauty is not the same as being good-looking, or else Bond movies might be the most beautiful films ever made." Context is paramount or meaning is lost.

And while we're fairly certain Kant never thought about video games this does not mean his concepts are invalid. As you'll note from the link below Kant spoke generally enough to remain relevant.

All that said, any headway in this discussion will be helped by writers and thinkers who are able to have meaningful discussions in both art and gaming contexts (even if the intent is to re-imagine that context). Nietzsche understood Kant's arguments clearly so he could adequately refute them.

Unfortunately discussions on games as art rarely touch on any sort of nuanced understanding of artistic tradition or criticism. Most immediately understand art's problematic subjectivity to mean that nothing has (or can) be said on the matter, thus games must be art. N+1 acknowledges this when it asks "If video games have turned out to be art, then what has art turned out to be?"

At least with Tom Bissell there's the idea (the hope?) that his training as a journalist has conditioned him to try to see all sides of the argument as he frames the narrative.

Here's a great primer on Kant's ideas of beauty.