Re: An anatomy of artistic theft: NIN vs. Johnny Cash
This post is in response to Carter Gillies "An Anatomy of Artistic Theft". Click here to check it out.
"That seems to be the outstanding fact of a human life: In the very depths of our beating hearts and pulsing veins we are forever and without question cannibals of ideas and robbers of any ingredient that isn’t nailed down." C. Gillies
After reading Carter's post I immediately thought of great cover songs. The definitive example being Johnny Cash's cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt". Cash transcends the beautiful melancholy of Trent Reznor's lyrics transforming the song into a potent autobiography. It was Reznor's idea that created the lyrics but it was Cash's life that created a recording that stands the test of time.
Reznor said of Cash's cover "I listened to it and it was very strange. It was this other person inhabiting my most personal song. I'd known where I was when I wrote it. I know what I was thinking about. I know how I felt. Hearing it was like someone kissing your girlfriend. It felt invasive." (click here for the full article) I can see Reznor's point of view. He displayed a huge dose of vulnerability to write this lyric. What have I become my sweetest friend, everyone I know goes away in the end. and you can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt. What makes this work is that Cash's life supported the content of the song he was covering. The intense spirit of reflection that Cash brings to his version came from his own experience with grief, loss, and isolation.
This same principle applies to borrowing ideas from other potter's work. If you can get inside an idea, absorbing the content, then the idea becomes a natural extension of you. This isn't a matter of technical skill. It is a matter of matching skill with content. At some point in every artist's development the "Aha" moment occurs when it becomes clear that with enough practice you can copy any pot. Then the question changes from "How do I make this handle, spout, etc, etc. " to "Why should I make this if it has already been done? What does it mean if I copy this? " Answering these questions enables the evolution of an idea.
I like what Carter says about replication. "My heritage from Ron Meyers to Michael Simon to Linda Christianson seems pretty obvious to me, not so much as line for line replication but genetic indebtedness." The qualities in their work apply to his own because they all came to the same conclusion about pots. It is possible for potters to come up with the same answers to aesthetic questions without ever having direct contact with each other. This type of evolution is like two scientists coming up with the same solution to a similar research problem. If you take the birds eye view our art community is working on the problem of reacting/documenting cultural change. We cycle through larger ideas every five to ten years as culture shifts. For an example look at old Ceramics Monthlys. Periodically there are major shifts in technique and methods. This corresponds to shifts in cultural content that ripple through the community. We develop new methods to better communicate the change we see in the world around us.
My last point is that evolving other people's ideas is a healthy natural progression of knowledge. When I teach I am non possessive about techniques and ideas. I show students every possible solution because at the heart of my teaching I want my students to be better than me. Isn't this the whole point of teaching? I want them to absorb what I know and build on it for the next generation. How can our field grow if we are constantly reinventing the wheel out of some misplaced sense of ownership? I have been fortunate to have compassionate and patient teachers that would answer all my questions to the best of their ability. It is my responsibility as an educator to grant my students the same courtesy by demonstrating techniques and offering conceptual questions that will challenge their development as artists.
A hearty to thanks to Carter Gillies for providing the topic of today's post. Check out Carter Gillies Pottery here.