Visual Art 11-18-2002

Art and Media: Alan Sparhawk

Our second interview in this series concerning the relationship of art and media is with Alan Sparhawk of the band Low.

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Our second interview in this series of talks with media people and artists concerning the relationship of art and media is with Alan Sparhawk of the band Low. For this series, several editors, writers, and artists were asked the same six questions; their responses are as thoughtful and various as we hoped they’d be. The first in the series, an interview with Jon Spayde, senior editor of the Utne Reader. can be found in “Recent Interviews.” More will follow . . .

Alan Sparhawk

Do art and media have responsibilities and obligations to one another? What are they?

In their purest form, neither is responsible to the other. True art ignores and has no need for the media, and media, though it looks like it is the vehicle for art, answers to the complete opposite of art.

Which is more powerful, art or media? Does that balance shift?

Well, of course media has more power, unfortunately. Sometimes media is influenced by art, but the inherent motivation of media has no dependence on art.

Are there examples from your field or career that illustrate how art and media work in symbiotic or opposing fashion?

The music industry is a confusing mixture of art and media. The core, ideally, is art, but because it’s very much about public interaction and money, the media side sometimes seems to overshadow. We like to think of our music as art, but then we are involved with promotion and marketing. At the end of the day, the moment an artist endeavors to share art with others, it becomes media.

At what point do media and the arts converge?

Good question for Andy Warhol.

What is the purpose of art? Of media?

To serve whoever made it.

What’s exciting or encouraging about the current state of media, the arts, and their roles in everyday life? What’s discouraging or boring about those same things?

Well, it’s nice that technology has made it possible for art to be “viewed” all over the world. The ability for an artist to be found by those who appreciate what they do is better than ever. However, like most things, there is a down side; the proliferation of media hurts art in several ways:

*Because of the ability of media power to make just about anything “popular” (Backstreet Boys, etc.), the general public is exposed to crap, and eventually learns to love it because they don’t have the time to search for what’s good.

*With media so loudly telling you what is art, there is no room for people to search and form their own opinions.

*Being that media is so easy to take part in, the world is glutted with “art” that is no good. Does the fact that there are 10 times as many people putting out CDs now than there were 10 years ago mean that there is 10 times as much good music being made now? Access doesn’t necessarily mean better things happen. The Beatles played 8 hours a night, 7 days a week in Germany for a while before recording anything. Would they have been as good a band if they would have started making records 3 days after they met? Who knows, but I run into bands all the time who just don’t understand why they aren’t selling any records, meanwhile they have yet to go on tour to play for nobody, and they have only been a band for a year. Am I dating myself when I talk about how we played hundreds of shows for nobody when we first started ten years ago?

Somehow I think if someone painted the Mona Lisa today, nobody would notice because there’s too much other crap to look at. It will be very difficult 100 years from now to look back and figure out what art was being made now that has any worth.