Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What is Meant When It Is Said "Hollywood Needs Artists"

Many years ago in New York, a dear friend of mine who was head of NY SIGGRAPH called me up and announced "<Unnamed Studio> needs artists! <Unnamed Studio> needs artists!".

I laughed at her endearing naivete.

"Yes," I said, "Sure, absolutely, <Unnamed Studio> needs artists. No doubt. But what you mean by the word 'artist' and what they mean are completely different."

"Huh?" she said, completely baffled by my cynical response.

"When you say 'artist', you mean something along the lines of 'a person with a strong personal vision and an even stronger ego who works for years or decades to establish a unique or at least a personal style associated with their name, exhibits generally through galleries, establishes themselves within certain very specific contemporary art communities and strives within the very narrow bounds of whatever we currently call Contemporary Art, for grants, recognition and to become collectable. They cultivate their Art in America mentions, and other even more important critical venues whose name I do not even know."

"But when <Unnamed Studio> says they need 'artists', they mean something along the lines of 'a person who has been highly trained with certain specific technical skills associated with the visual arts who are able to use those specific skills under the direction of a hierarchy of other management and in peaceful coexistence with their fellow biped mammals, doing that exact same task, at a certain level of productivity in order to achieve on time and on schedule a very complicated entertainment-related consumer product. They are not expected nor are they likely to contribute any personal vision to the project, that vision is provided at another level and their input is generally not desired or tolerated. They will have no ownership of the project either creative or financial beyond very limited contracturally specified rights, generally of using material for a demo reel. They are the classic disenfranchised labor described by Marx and Engels and, when the project is over, the providers of capital expect them to attend a wrap party and go away.'"

The term "artist" is one of those terms, like "freedom" or "happy", that is layered with meaning that is culturally determined.  Not every culture, or industry, redefines all terms but when they do redefine a term, they do so with complete sincerity and, generally speaking, do so while being completely unaware that they are doing so.  It is important for a visitor or observer from outside to realize this and be sensitive to the issues.  So therefore, be aware, in the entertainment industry, the role of the artist is to manufacture consumer products in order to maximize shareholder value.

Also be aware that the term "artist" is often used as an insult, meaning self indulgent and difficult, as in "he/she is a real artist, if you know what I mean".

Art In America

revised 1/2/2015

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