Cultural bias when judging art

I’m almost shocked by the Pitchfork review on Yeasayer’s new album, “Amen & Goodbye”. To me, over the years, it was baffling why originally Pitchfork endorsed Yeasayer in 2007, but they killed them in their subsequent albums (which in my opinion were more interesting). This was answered in the first paragraph of their latest album review. Basically, Pitchfork hated the fact that Yeasayer weren’t writing lyrics about things they truly believe in, that they were in fact, trend-hoppers.

Wait a second, so did Pitchfork truly believed back in 2007 that a bunch of kids from Brooklyn would ever want to leave the city and become “handsome farmers”, as their lyrics claimed? Are their writers that gullible? Or do they live in a fantasy world that the first Yeasayer album reinforced in their heads, only to be deflated by the clearly urban sound of the albums that followed?

Why blame Yeasayer for it? Why blame a bunch of musicians who want to make it in the industry? Why would anyone think that art is only about what the artist believes and not what the masses want to see/hear? Because let me tell you, if you’re a professional artist, by definition you have to make art that people want to see or hear. Only a part of it could coincide with what the artist actually truly likes/believes. Why? Because that’s what “professional” means. It’s not about “selling out”, it’s about literally being able to sell.

The artists who create only what THEY want to create, they’re by definition either not professionals, or they can’t live off their craft (and need a second job). It is EXTREMELY RARE that an artist creates only what they want to, and have commercial success at the same time. And even when that happens, it also means that they will be out of favor within 3-5 years, as trends naturally change. Tough luck after that time passes.

I know a lot of people would like to make art sound special, but art today is no different than anything else. It’s democratized immensely, and that also means that it’s been commoditized. And anything that is a commodity, is bound to trends. Even trendsetters have to build on top of existing trends, nothing happens in a vaccuum. Everything is connected.

So yeah, going back to that Pitchfork review, I have trouble understanding how they can call Yeasayer “trend hoppers” but also at the same time “out-of-step with current trends”, and judge their music on their character or how they do business, and not on the music itself. In fact, a lot of Pitchfork reviews are like that: they judge the people themselves, not their work. A lot of bands have been destroyed just because Pitchfork didn’t think they were hipster enough, or for being hipsters in disguise.

In my opinion, the album itself is rather “blah” (not as interesting as their 2010 “Odd Blood”), but I try to judge the music itself as music and what it does to my synesthetic brain. Does it turn it On, does it transport me to another dimension? Does it make me feel something, or makes me see something that wasn’t there, as true psychedelics do? If yes, it gets more points, if not, it gets fewer. I care not about lyrics, because I almost never care about what others think about stuff. To me, especially as a non-native English speaker, it’s only about the music.

But I won’t judge music or art in general based on the creator’s character, or what my own beliefs expect that creator’s character to be. This raises the philosophical question: “is the art separate from the artist?”. And the answer to this depends on your point of view, how you consume art. From the point of view of the artist, the art and the artist are not separate. But for all third parties, it depends: if you can only understand art by understanding the artist, then yes, judging the artist himself, might make sense. But if you make the art your own by separating it from the artist (as I usually do), then I don’t need to know about the artist’s convictions. Because at that point, his/her art and me, are one. And by proxy, that makes myself and the artist one. So it’s a synergistic/symbiotic way of consuming art, rather than a conditional one (e.g. “I might like that art if its artist is in agreement with my beliefs”.)

My score for their new album: 5/10 (lower than Pitchfork’s score in fact, but without a cultural bias attached to it)

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