The Artist in Context

This interesting interview with David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) has been on my mind the past few days. He discusses the myth of the lone artist off creating eternal works in isolation, and how, rather, every artist creates only within layers of context. These layers can be viewed from different perspectives; you can zoom in (as it were) or zoom out to these different viewpoints. You can zoom in to the artist’s current surroundings and milieu, zoom out a bit to their localized era (the ‘spirit of their age’), zoom out some more for more historical perspectives (gender, race, politics, age) and even further for more general insights into the human condition, animal being and so on. Even when you zoom in all the way on the artist in isolation, he (or she) is in fact teeming with influences from within and without, such as thoughts flitting around, emotions from circumstances past and present. As an artist develops their work, the events of every day life intervene and make their presence felt. Each piece, whether it’s of music, writing, painting, or drama, carries with it all these layers of context. Byrne also emphasizes physical context – how the acoustics of a place influence the music that is created there, how the light in a studio influences the colors a painter uses. Very interesting stuff.

The idea was driven home even further by my reading of Patti Smith’s memoir, “Just Kids”. The name-dropping in this book is jaw-dropping (but being one of those names herself makes it justified). She brought her raw self into the circles she found herself in (New York City, 1969-1970’s, Chelsea Hotel) but her raw self was shaped and molded by many powerful influences. You find yourself wishing it had been your own damn raw self that had also been dropped into that blender of space and time and that yours too had turned out so outrageously! Yet it’s not merely accident, not merely luck. You – whoever and whenever and wherever you are – also have to align yourself, and also on many levels. You have to align within yourself (be and accept who you truly are) and where and when you are. Go where you ought to be and do what you ought to be doing. Are there people who can actually do this? If so, they are some lucky bastards.


2 thoughts on “The Artist in Context

  1. Haha they are lucky, the people that can do that. Wow.
    I’m going to see David Byrne pretty soon, today I was listening to him a bit so your post caught my eye. I’ve also been thinking about the musicians I listen to, and what they write about as well as where they are coming from. I’ll have to read that interview.
    Reading your words makes me feel more inspired to feel at peace with myself and have the courage to sort of put myself out there with more people. It seems so easy and fun when I think about the moment as just being the past of a future moment, for some reason. You never know what the situation will add up to..but if you give it your all, then at least you have a nice vivid memory!


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