By Trent Rentsch
My friend, the “real” artist (the guy who has had 10 paintings for sale for the last 7 years at a local coffee house), has been giving me crap for years over my insistence that Audio Production is an art form. He assures me that “real art” comes from hours of hard work… from connecting with “the muse deep in your soul,” displaying your emotions and blood and guts across a canvas, for all the world to see. I usually counter that most Creative Audio Producers DO work long, hard hours, usually prying something out of the depths of their brain pan at a moment’s notice… and always wear their hearts on their sleeve.
“Of course,” he laughs, “An emotional plea to buy a used car! THAT’S one that will touch people for all eternity!”
My painter friend is a jerk, but in his definition of art, we probably don’t fit. That doesn’t bother me… we disagree on a number of subjects… but it made me wonder if his definition was shared by others. Ironically, I ran across a quote about art later that day from a writer I do consider a true artist, Neil Gaiman. He wrote,
“The art you make is not a democracy, nor are the stories you tell.”
Ouch. My idol, with a gut punch to my theory. After all, radio production is ALWAYS a democracy… from the sales rep to the customer to their employees, everyone has an opinion, and a commercial is never really “yours.” If there is any dictator in the mix, it’s the client, and that hardly fits this definition of art.
I couldn’t let paint boy be right… surely someone he would respect would have a definition of art that had a place for audio production! I began to poke around. I discovered that Picasso said:
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Another bust. One might argue that we provide an entertainment factor that amuses people for a moment or two, but my friend would argue that it’s more of a sponge bath with a dry rag than a soul-changing soak in the scared ether of neverwhere (yeah, I told you, he’s full of crap). I had to dig deeper. I ran across this quote from writer Rick Riordan:
“You might as well ask an artist to explain his art, or ask a poet to explain his poem. It defeats the purpose. The meaning is only clear thorough the search.”
Great. So you have to search for the meaning in art. So in other words, if production for radio WAS art, the listeners would be left scratching their heads over every commercial, wondering exactly what product was being pitched… what bar is holding a trivia contest on what night.By our nature, we are promoting or selling something… it must be obvious. So, we must NOT be art? I couldn’t give up that easily. When I found this definition of art from my comedic hero, Groucho Marx, I hoped I had an answer:
“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... now you tell me what you know.”
It’s always sad when your heroes let you down. Steve Martin was another example of that:
“I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you’re an idiot.”
I was losing hope, but damn it, canvas brain couldn’t be right! There had to be a place for radio production in the legitimate art world! If there was one thing my 6 horrible months of debate class in High School taught me, there’s always an opposing view… you just have to dig deeper for it sometimes. I saw a bit of light in this quote from writer Jasper Fforde:
“If it weren’t for greed, intolerance, hate, passion and murder, you would have no works of art, no great buildings, no medical science, no Mozart, no Van Gough, no Muppets and no Louis Armstrong.”
OK, some potential there. I mean, we ARE in advertising… what industry is more greedy that that? Then there was this from author Jarod Kintz:
“Rembrandt painted portraits, The Karate Kid painted fences, and I paint my toenails. But I’m not a snob, I still consider those other two guys to be artists.”
So the artists aren’t so intolerant… and some of them are nearly as snarky as your average Imaging Producer! Still, I needed something more… a definition that made room for all forms of expression as art. And I finally found it in this quote from photographer Ansel Adams:
“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”
So, we ARE artists, medium and life expectancy of our work be damned! We Create, we promote the Creative Spirit, and we certainly put a lot of ourselves in our work! And if that didn’t convince my paint sniffing friend, this other quote from his hero Picasso might:
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
Just hang around a Production Department on a Friday afternoon and see how “Creative” we’re tempted to be.