Low and behold. It is I, the follower of Bokonon, the humble loopdigger who only leaves his existential crisis for a gram of Pollem and winegums. Shedding light on topics cloaked in darkness, revealing a wonderful dance-a-tron of shadows. Today the shadows will be rather hard to view, not because of a limited shedding of light, but because of a thing I would like to call: artmist. This mist dictates the range of mystery an artist cloaks himself in. We could call it a blissful mist for when our sight is impaired by the clouds of wonder, it’s easier for us to see what we want to see. This mist allows us to project what we want on the artist and feed our need for mystery.
But these days my lovers and fighters, strong winds are blowing. And they have been for a while now. The wind of new media (mostly social media) has done away with the thickness of artmist. And now our dear artist stands with a bare back revealed for all to see. The image of that perfect, coherent silhouette has left our sight and instead of that we have an imperfect, clear entity standing in front of us. The image of the imperfect artist is far from new. A lot of rockstars back in the day actually thrived on the imperfect ‘bad boy’ image. But the way this image reached the audience was different. The way information reaches an audience is crucial for the way we view an artist.
At first I wanted to limit myself to rappers referring to artmist, but I feel that this is relevant for artists of all kinds. After all, many different types of artists took the shape of fantastical creatures in my childhood. I put them on these pedestals, turning them into Demi-Gods. By doing this, I enjoyed their art more. A musician was something more than just a person, but he still conveyed raw human emotion. And now a days, especially because of Facebook and Twitter, artists are going in the opposite direction. They’re becoming more human. Opinions on this matter are split. Some people seem to enjoy an artist’s work more if he’s down to their level. Without the pedestal, they can look them in the eyes. Others, like myself, miss these pedestals. But whatever your opinion is, I invite you to follow me into the adventure of the disappearance of the ‘artmist’.
The Medium is the Message
Let’s start by kicking in a big open fucking door. The internet has changed the way people receive information about an artist. But to fully grasp what this means I’d like to delve into Marshall Macluhan’s theory of The Medium is the Message. Every medium (like television, newspapers, radio) influences the audience in a different way. The visual look of a newspaper and the closed, individual perception of it will make you process the information in a different way than watching the news over dinner, together with your family. Even if it’s the same piece of information. The visual experience of the tv is different. Even though they’re both transcendent experiences, they will take you to different places. That’s an example of the medium containing a message. Listening to Public Enemy’s Fight The Power? The same song is experienced in different ways depending wether you’re listening to it through headphones or speakers a la Radio Raheem.
So let’s take a look at the different media artists use to reach you. This is a very important process and is closely linked to the image the artist wants to convey. An artist tends to trickle down his personality to a few comprehendible aspects. This is understandable. If you really want to delve into someone’s psychology, you’re going to need years of study. There are over 600 books written on Winston Churchill for example (and I bet you could write a hundred more on Riff Raff). So it makes sense to tone down a few aspects of your personality and throw a magnifying glass on others. This leaves the audience with nice chunks of digestible personality and creates a coherent fantasy we can fall in love with. This is what I mean with the artist’s image. Because this is so crucial for sales, there are often teams behind an artist to create, perfect and control this image. The image gets controlled and then it gets sold. The further we go back in time, the more likely this is.
Experience of spaces
This image is conveyed through all kinds of media. Music videos, interviews in newspapers, magazines (accompanied by stylized photographs), radio performances, albums, live concerts etc. It’s important to notice that these are all art forms on their own. They are spaces that have no direct connection to familiar spaces we experience everyday. That’s the reason they’re romantic spaces. They are separate places we can become infatuated with because there’s a specific design behind it to make you feel a certain (positive) way. If you see your favorite rapper as a guest on a talk show, the lighting and set-dressing is already designed to make you view the artist in a certain way. So these spaces are by no means neutral.
Before the arrival of the internet, whatever your medium of choice was, it was not closely linked to your own experience. Sure, you listened to the radio but you didn’t perform there yourself. You watched music videos but it wasn’t you between all those big-booty girls. So there was always a distance. Remember the strong winds that were blowing? Shreds of artmist disappearing everywhere? Yeah, that’s the internet and social media bridging this distance. Let’s use Facebook and Twitter as an example.
Facebook and Twitter are worlds on their own. They have their own rules for communication. We use these two websites to stay close to people we like and people we appreciate (like celebrities). The way we experience information on Facebook is very different than when we see the same thing on TV. Sometimes I see breaking news on Facebook and don’t even think about it because it’s all part of one giant heap of uninteresting information. Cat video (meh). Somebody gets beat up (swell). Cure for cancer (oh, cool). Cat video (meh.) But when the cure for cancer gets highlighted by an anchorman on the news it’s different. Even a news set is designed to make you feel a certain way. Remember, the medium is the message.
So when an artist uses Facebook or Twitter instead of different media to convey something, it feels closer to us. We do not receive this information in a romantic space. We receive it in a space familiar and known to us. Because they’re directly using a medium the same way as we do. They post a picture of them taking a shit on a beautiful monday morning? Why not post one of yourself in a comment. The artists are performing on social media and we have the option to perform along with them. In spaces that are known to us. And these performances aren’t controlled by teams. They’re controlling it themselves. The artist is no longer only conveying information about themselves through stylized photo’s (romantic spaces) and controlled imagery. They’re uploading grainy photos (familiar spaces) of themselves. They are becoming more human. They are closer than ever. They’re here. TUM-TUM-TUM.
If you’re curious how this affects the place artists have in our lives, then stay tuned for part 2, and if you enjoyed the read please share it along.
Love through connection,