Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Difficult Artist

I'm pretty good at ruining friendships, and a lot of other people who indulge in creative activities (like, say, writing multi-paragraph analytical essays on artists and social dysfunctionality) are pretty good at that too. So I wondered why artists and other performers (e.g, Charlie Sheen) are such fuck-ups when it comes to their interpersonal relationships? This might make for a dubious premise; perhaps creative sorts are no more prone to meltdowns or wildly erratic behavior than any other groups of people you could invent. But since "the difficult artist" label seems to have become a generally-accepted cliché, and since I've been in a meltdown mode of my own for the past couple of months--and yet at this stage still luckily find myself lucid enough to express myself in writing--I thought I'd take the opportunity to gather my thoughts.

A lot of things go into making an artist, but two personality characteristics that are essential and most relevant to my argument are vanity and delusion. You will find these traits in most artists, both the successful and un-successful ones. Vanity and delusion are generally regarded negatively, but in fact both are essential for the artist, as these bolster an artist's spirit and self-confidence, without which one cannot create.

Vanity is essentially self-love, and since art reflects oneself and is an extension of oneself, vanity can also be thought of as pride in one's creative output. This is what compels an artist to create in the first place; if you hated your work, your output--effectively yourself, then why would you ever put in the time to create new things?

Delusion gives the artist the strength to labor through the tough times that most artists must go through (and many never emerge from). For many people, religion is that life-affirming delusion, an irrational belief in a heavenly reward to compensate for the pain of life. For the artist, delusion offers strength through the conviction that he or she is talented, a genius, a creator of things that will emotionally transform and better all others who bear witness to them.

Life inside the artist's head is often surprisingly cheerful; illusions are pleasant things. Where problems occur is when reality rudely collides with the delusion. For example, one might create 20 amazing paintings for an upcoming art opening under the delusional conviction that the opening will be a huge success, but when the doors open only two or three people arrive, and they came for the beer. Perhaps the delusion is that several of one's photographs hanging prominently on a wall in a popular café will sell, but no buyers materialize, and all the joy spent under that happy illusion--mounting those images and preparing the labels--is washed away by this unhappy fact.

But what's worse is that most artists, myself included, are not particularly or even slightly successful by any compelling measurement. This is what creates the bipolar mania of the artist; laboring happily and passionately (if exhaustingly and sometimes worriedly) on a project, followed by the deep dip that occurs when the delusion gives way to the rude awakening: nobody is interested. The impact of reality on delusion then roughly demolishes the vanity, the depression sets in, and the low ebb of the manic cycle is reached.

For many artists, even success fails to deliver real happiness, because the artist is always failing to measure up to a delusional yardstick that never corresponds to the metrics used by others.

And if that describes the artist's relation to his or her art, why would it be any different with his or her interpersonal relations? The artist lives in a strange world that oscillates between a keen ability to see things as they really are vs. a world that is twisted to suit the artist's particular vision. It follows that artists sometimes see the people around them more accurately than those people see themselves (this has its own drawbacks). However, they also sometimes err severely. In a sense, the artist, in viewing a person, captures the reality of the individual in order to render that thing in a recognizeable fashion; but the artist also creates a personal impressionistic portrait of that individual which says more about the artist than the person rendered in his or her mind.

When the delusional, false image of the person collides with reality, there is then a tempestuous explosion, like Mr. Sheen's towards "Two and a Half Men" executive producer Chuck Lorre (I know this is perhaps a funny example, but these are real guys and they're in the news and they make my point). Sheen's expectations were based once-again on unreasonable yardsticks. There is a meltdown, a blow-up that serves to rupture the relationship perhaps forever, and then the stunned reaction of us onlookers asking, "What happened?"

A footnote: artists are also often associated with drug addiction and alcoholism, which makes sense since drugs and alcohol provide a distance from self which affords a useful perspective on what one is creating. Artists are also prone to working manically on their projects at the cost of sleep. All these aspects also serve to make the artist vulnerable to interpersonal meltdowns.

So, I think you will, unfortunately have to get used to the "difficult artist," and the difficult artist will have to get used to losing friends. But have I actually only described the nature of all of us?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sweden's "Popular" Worst Song of Eurovision 2011

I've heard 'em all, and the worst Eurovision 2011 competitor is not Armenia's "Boom Boom," though there has been some debate. No, it's Sweden's "Popular." And lest there be any momentum building behind this song, any at all (Pop Justice seems to like it), it's time to bring down the hammer.

"Popular" is performed by 20 year-old Eric Saade. The gist of the song is that our protagonist fervently wishes to be popular so that he might impress some chick. He expresses this desire with the grace and subtlety of a Columbine High School shooter. "I will be POP-ular! I will be POP-ular!" he hisses.

Problems with the song are evident in its opening lines. "STOP! DON'T SAY THAT IT'S IMPOSS-IBLE!" Mr. Saade begins, "'CUZ I KNOW! IT'S POSS-IBLE!" every syllable enunciated with the zeal of a serial killer repeatedly stabbing his victim. Rhyming "impossible" with "it's possible" is pretty amazing, but there's also something jarring about starting a song with the word "STOP!"

"Sorry, Eric, but the thought of you actually getting that chick to notice you is just impossi—"




"Well, how do you know it isn't impossible?"


Then comes the chorus, which is ripped off of this very-80s tune from fellow Swedes Lili & Susie. Note that underneath the Lili and Susie video the top-rated comment (163 thumbs-up and rising) is "Hörde precis Eric Saade sjunga den här låten i melodifestivalen 2011..." Which translates to: "Just heard Eric Saade sing this song in Melodifestivalen 2011."

But one should not be surprised by the derivative nature of the tune, considering that the author of "Popular" is Fredrick Kempe, who ripped off "Nessun Dorma" when he penned "La Voix," Sweden's Eurovision 2009 entry. Lest you think that was only a coincidence, one need only recall that Mr. Kempe gave us a thoroughly trashed-up version of "Nessun Dorma" himself back in 2002. Anyway, this appropriating spirit is befitting the land of the Pirate Bay.

Not much else going on in "Popular" lyrically, though "My body wants you girl" is worth a mention.

All this is delivered with the bluster of hurricane whirling round and round as it charts a random course farther and farther out to sea. The lights are flashing, the dancers gyrating, Eric is spitting "I will be POP-ular!" And then, at 2:30, there is shattering glass.

To be fair, there is one other Eurovision 2011 competitor that arguably is worse than "Popular," and that is Belarus's bizarre, ultra-nationalistic entry, which comes on the heels of yet another rigged election and violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in that country. The current entry, "I Love Belarus," features a young woman repeatedly telling us that she loves Belarus. But the country's original song submission, pulled because of a lyrics dispute with the Eurovision organizers, was called "Born In Byelorussia," and waxed nostalgic on the good old USSR days. ("Born in Byelorussia! USSR time! Byelorussia! Crazy and so fine!")

But the audacious, gawk-worthiness of Belarus's Eurovision antics are at least somewhat interesting. "Popular" is just incredibly irritating.

Goodbye, Eric! See you around! Hope you become POP-ular! Jeez...