While aimlessly watching TV for the first time in days, I noticed the above spot, and it reminded me of something Stanley Kubrick once said about how some of the most "brilliant" cinema happens in TV commercials.
If that is true, I wonder about the effect -- either for cinema, or for art in general.
The clip above is fairly "weird" by the aesthetic standards of, say, People magazine. It has the feel of something designed to provoke, and intended as art. It is informed by experimental techniques, however inauthentically. But it is being deployed by a major corporation. To sell jeans. And it will probably be seen by millions of people.
The problem that follows is at least as old as mass media itself: how can there be an outside-of-the-mainstream, if anything can be absorbed and used by the mainstream?
Once upon a time, there was this idea (probably hooey to begin with) that being a "true" artist was about staying a step ahead of whatever the latest cultural "norm" was. Our mission as artists (so we thought) was to figure out which components of a particular practice had been done to death, and then to innovate something new.
We have that impulse toward innovation still, but what's the upshot? It doesn't even matter whether "everything has been done before" (the big complaint of young artists). When the raw power of anything can be instantly appropriated by the people who have the budgets, and the products to sell -- recall Jim O'Rourke's comments on "context" -- there has to be some other reason to make art.
As artists, we may find this or that aesthetic approach tiresome, and we may go after something different in the process of escaping what we already know (that's part of the fun) -- but nowadays, that's ultimately a personal journey, never a broadly groundbreaking act of artistic rebellion.
Which is maybe how it should be -- and maybe how it's always been, under the surface of our mass media economy. There really is no "mainstream" or "avant-garde." No "in" or "out." Art wants to be de-centered, despite all our attempts to organize and rank it. Art wants to be local (and not strictly in a geographical sense). And critical categories ("hip" / "square," "cutting edge" / "predictable") may make sense in the context of a particular microcosm, but beyond that, who really knows? Or cares?
(My wife just walked through the room. She wanted to know who I was yelling at.)
[photo credit: meddygarnet]
Avant garde or mainstream, the Industrial Jazz Group needs your help! We're having a fall fundraiser, in support of our October tour. You can find out more, and contribute to the cause (for as little as $1!), here.
Also! Check out the remix contest -- and, as of today, the IJG "The Job Song" video contest.