Summa: Indulgences (December 2021)

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December 1. Indulgence #1: Much of the creative practice that I encounter online lacks ambition, in terms of both its intent and execution. The art is slight. The work could hardly have failed, even when it barely succeeded. The artists didn’t demand enough of themselves or push at the boundaries of their medium and discipline. As a consequence, the results are obvious, derivative, and unchallenging; the artists’ efforts lack rigour and aesthetic surprise; and the audience (if there is one) isn’t inspired to engage with the artworks for a second and third time. The quality bar is set far too low. Artworks are uploaded to the internet before they’re fully resolved. At worst, the practice is self-regarding. In the absence of filters that might otherwise separate the wheat from the chaff and the exceptional from the merely interesting, gatekeeping responsibilities lie with the practitioner alone. Nothing that is sub-standard should be allowed to enter the public domain. Followers will not be impressed by quantity alone … if they are at all.

December 3. Indulgence #2: Only those who have a command of their instrument, compositional intelligence, a fertile imagination, and a good ear should improvise in public. As an audient, I need to be confident that what I’m hearing is intentional rather than entirely accidental. Whether or not I find it engaging is secondary. The musician doesn’t need to be able to read or write music. Jimi Hendrix and Django Reinhardt couldn’t, and they rank among the best ever guitar improvisers. However, each knew where every note could be found on the fretboard. And their fingers were connected directly to their hearts. In the absence of these preconditions, what’s sometimes proffered as improvisation amounts to little more than musical doodling. The hapless performer is clearly enjoying themselves, in a somewhat masturbatory fashion. That’s to say, there appears to be little if any intention to connect with the audience in a way that’s transactional, as well as meaningful and enjoyable for both participants.

Jimi Hendrix (1967) and Django Reinhardt (1946) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

December 7. Indulgence #3: ‘Experimental’ is a descriptive adjective that artists use as to introduce work that’s often as new to them it is as to their audience. From a scientific point-of-view, an experiment is a procedure that’s undertaken to either confirm or refute a hypothesis or supposition. Scientists make trial of their suspicions under controlled conditions, in a manner that can be repeated either by themselves or others in order to arrive at the same outcome, in order to demonstrate the relationship between cause and effect. By contrast, artists’ experiments are often undertaken tentatively, and without a defined intent, method, plan, and underlying question or problematic, or an evaluation of the outcome. They’re an excuse for making artwork that’s insufficiently considered and realised. Thus, ‘experimental’ is a defence mechanism on the part of the artist, and a tacit appeal to the audience not to be overly demanding in their expectations and uncharitable in their judgements.

‘Women working in the laboratory of a Chemical Works, of Messrs. Brunner Mond & Co. Ltd., Northwich, Manchester, September 1918’, Ministry of Information First World War Official Collection (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

December 8. Indulgence #4: ‘Lost in wonder, love and praise!’, to quote Charles Wesley’s hymn. Our craving for ‘likes’, and other dopamine-inducing attestations of self-worth, has become something of an addiction. This mode of drip-fed approval has a tit-for-tat nature: ‘I’ll like you, if you like me’ — rather like the negotiated friendships of young children in the playground. ‘Friends’ feel obliged to respond to everything we post with ebullient and effusive plaudits. ‘Astonishing!’ describes what’s simply good; and ‘excellent!’, what’s only ok. We can’t put a foot wrong. Granted, all of us appreciate encouragement now and then. But these assessments must be sober, balanced, measured, and justifiable, as a well as true, if they’re to be meaningful. Otherwise, we risk infantilising one another by feeding an unhealthy mutual dependency upon affirmation.

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