Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

Mindless television is one of my best friends when it comes to battling jetlag. Last Tuesday evening I was particularly lethargic, so I tuned in to Barbara Walters’s The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2006. During a chat with Jay-Z, the rapper sermonized about truth, claiming that his success was contingent upon his ability to impart absolute truth via his music. It was a convincing enough rant to make me feel a little self-conscious about my own work as a composer.

Artistically speaking, I’ve never even attempted to convey truth—truthiness, maybe, but not the “whole and nothing but” variety. However, looking back upon works created by some of my heroes—Andy Warhol chief among them—I can see a whole lot of truth going on that I wasn’t mindful of in the past. Even the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, who gave me that final motivational shove into Composer Land, certainly wasn’t fibbing in his work, unless you think it’s dishonest to hire others to create your work for you.

I know a lot of folks out there might think that framing a blank sheet of paper and displaying it inside a museum amounts to a huge load of bollocks. But I’d argue that there are certain artists who are amazingly adept at pulling off such stunts—John Cage was among them. Getting back to that thirty-two-and-a-half inch square piece paper hanging on the gallery wall, in this case it’s Tom Friedman’s 1000 Hours of Staring (1992-97). Friedman puts forth an interesting, if not poetic, paradox: Does it really matter? Does a piece of paper change if someone stares at it for a specific amount of time over the course of five years? Unless you’re one of those metaphysical new-agey types or something—not that there’s anything wrong with that—I believe the answer would be no.

I find Friedman’s potential sham fascinating. Because there is no evidence left behind, except of course that blank piece of paper housed inside a frame, we have to either take the artist at his word—have faith, in essence—or simply not care about the whole conceit and just move on. Personally, I think Friedman’s “stare on paper” might be even more brilliant if he actually cut some corners. That aside, truth becomes a much more elusive concept when it comes into contact with music. There’s simply no point of reference, and if there were, I’m not so sure how artistically relevant I would find such a thing. Anyway, after Jay-Z’s discourse, all I could do to make myself feel better was to say to myself that it’s way more interesting to create with a full ideological spectrum—truth and lies—to shroud a listener in some kind of dysfunctional, yet healthy, relationship. Trust me on this.

2 thoughts on “Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

  1. atizzo

    The problem as you stated, is that the truth is elusive. The real issue here is that I think it’s extremely difficult to use the term “truth” when discussing a work of art in any media.

    I didn’t see the interview with Jay-Z but is it be possible that he was really talking about “artistic integrity” and not “truth”? To me, they’re two different things.

    I think it’s possible to sense integrity in a person’s work, and by this I mean respect for their craft and a belief in the value of what they’re exploring artistically. “Truth” implies that a piece has value because the creator is truthfully conveying his thoughts or feelings, which I don’t think is a viable standard in judging artistic success. If that were the case we’d have a lot of sad clown paintings hanging up in MOMA.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and provocative topic, and happy holidays.

    Best Regards,

    Tom Izzo

    Reply
  2. JKG

    Truth vs. realism…
    It’s an imnteresting thing, how the generation of Beethoven and on were confronted with the truth of ancient times thanks to the discoveries by Champollion and others. As a result, Romantic composers saw plainly that to be human meant, not only being intellectually and logically astute, but full of passion as well. It was precisely the knowledge that, despite wonderful gifts of reason and debate, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures all eventually gave way to this hoilistic aspect of humanity. Personally, I think an artist or composer can only describe truth as an adjunct to being true to themselves, and that is not a particularly marketable quality in today’s modern culture. Thus truth becomes only too relative, to the point where political correctness actually becomes reasonable and fashionable. Those with the luxury of saying whatever they like musically, regardless of any consequences with respect to the listener, are the ones least inclined to believe there even is such a thing as truth – much less truth in music.

    Reply

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