When I tell people that I am a musician, I am often met with derision, or asked what it is that I really do. While it is true that I have to undertake other work to sustain myself, I do and always have considered my primary occupation as being a musician.
But a lot of people do not consider this as a legitimate job; and this is the same across all art forms. There is a pervasive attitude that any artistic ventures are merely hobbies, that they serve no purpose other than to entertain.
However, such jobs at the forefront of art have never been more important than they are now. What follows is the context.
My generation will be the last in the western world to remember growing up without the internet. At the time of writing millions of people across the planet are connected in an unprecedented manner. I vividly remember the joy of being able to discover and listen to any music I fancied at the click of a button.
This is the first part of art’s importance – the flow of ideas and inspiration. Anyone with an internet connection has access to pretty much any piece of music, any book, any film, any painting that they could possibly want. As such, collaboration is easy, inspiration is easy. It’s highly possible to amalgamate so many artistic influences to break down so many compositional rules and create something entirely new and befitting of this age.
Not only that, but to consider anything artistically in the here and now, you have to consider it through the prism of connectivity that has become a part of our lives, and accept that the way that we consume art has irrevocably changed. Art is in dire need of people willing to push the boundaries and express their ideas through this medium.
The old models for selling art are dead in the water, as has been often proven over the past decade. Radiohead released In Rainbows through their website encouraging their fans to pay whatever they wanted for it rather than set a price – this is something that could only be achieved online; record stores would not be convinced to sell music in this manner.
In 2009, a protest occurred against the mainstream media when Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’ was propelled to the much desired Christmas No.1 chart ranking in the UK ahead of the single from that year’s X Factor winner – a process which had been the norm for the few years previous.
In the days of connectivity, social politics have become suddenly more visible; and their importance has been amplified. Art must accept this, as the old models for its consumption do not take connectivity on its current scale into account.
So that’s some context as to how the art world has changed, but what of its importance?
We are living in very dramatic political times. Everything that happens in the political spectrum is analysed ad nauseum online and often sensationalised by the media. Britain has turned its back on Europe. The USA is in danger of electing a dangerous sociopath as its president. Across the world the political spectrum is lurching violently, either to the right or to the left – with greater political awareness thanks to the internet; the status quo is rejected, threatened as people begin to realise the power of connectivity.
As such, there needs to be philosophy to challenge the long held views of many people, to put these events into context. There is now so much to explore on both a political level, and on a socially political one, that art needs to find an expression for this.
Of course, many people are doing this, but for it to be put into its proper context, many more need to also. This art must also be consumed; with so much going on, everyone is looking for a way of describing what they experience and how they feel. Music is one way to do this; film, writing, visual art etc are others. It is this exploration of our world that makes us human, whether we create or absorb, and it’s quite necessary to aid our evolution.
Which leads me to…
As we have seen countless times through history, new technologies render old professions obsolete and so the way the population lives changes – people have more time, and the species can invent and advance.
One of the main threats we face currently is that so many professions that employ the majority of people around the world will be made obsolete by automation. Once transport can be automated, human drivers/pilots/etc will no longer be needed – a robot could drive a lorry non-stop (apart from refueling), whereas a human would need breaks, and would have a higher chance of crashing. Why would you let a human surgeon operate on you when a robot could do so with absolute precision, whilst also knowing your full medical history, and what out of the thousands of procedures and drugs it would be best to apply?
With the advance of technology currently, it would be a fair estimate to say that most jobs held down by people currently will be run by robots in the next fifty years. So what does that leave for us?
It is innately human to create, to empathise and to appreciate art. As people will have so much time to play with and the cost of living dropping dramatically when goods can be produced without the need for human cost, there will be a greater demand for artistic expression.
It might sound like fantasy, but combine this vacuum for meaning with the hyper-connectivity we already have; and becoming a species of adventurers and empaths, doesn’t seem to far-fetched.
The maddening thing is, however, that the UK government is repeatedly slashing arts funding, despite the fact that it reaps a profit, which is showing a stunning lack of foresight.
Especially when you consider that art is not only one of the most viable options for the future, but the impacts it has now are far reaching.
I write a lot of music about mental illness because this expression of it and my experiences is the best way to come to terms with these concepts. A blog for another day is how music has helped me to cope with bipolar disorder.
Plenty of studies show the effect that music has on dementia patients, as it affects a less damaged part of the brain; you can see patients regain some of who they were when they listen to a favourite song from their youth.
Art can connect with people to help them reassess their lives, especially helping people to turn from crime or addiction. Quincy Jones first played the piano in a house he was robbing – art, not just music, has an incredible power to completely change somebody’s life.
Consider it on a smaller scale. Was there a song that helped you feel better when you got dumped? Was there a book that kept you entertained during a cold winter? Was there a film that helped you to consider something from a different point of view?
All things considered, could you condemn art as being unimportant when it can motivate social change, express the troubled times we live in, challenge an authority, provide work in an otherwise bleak future and help people to empathise, connect and overcome servere difficulties?
The choice of how to interpret that is, of course, up to you…