Is Ella Fitzgerald less of an artist than Bryn Terfel? Is Tony Bennett less of an artist than Thomas Hampson? Is Bernadette Peters less of an artist than Natalie Dessay? Is country music less of an art form than a recital? Is gospel music less of an art form than opera? Is rock and roll less of an art form than oratorio?

Are those who sing jazz, pop, rock, folk, gospel, country and rap lesser artists than vocalists who sing opera, oratorio, art song, operetta, orchestral solos, or chamber music?

Who gets to decide that they are lesser, if they are? Who gets to define what is an artist and what is artistic? Who says this music is better than that? This artist is more of an artist than that one?

I dare you to answer these questions.

But people do answer them, sometimes definitively.  Sadly they invest great passion in their arguments. The question is, why?

This argument is a waste of time. Is a sunset better than a sunrise? Is the Atlantic better than the Pacific? Is skiiing better than ice skating?

The people in this world who have made life more interesting, more vital, more exciting, more inspiration, more fun, more MORE, are all artists. Master furniture makers, special chefs, fantastic craftspeople……all kinds of people are creative, courageous artists. Is Grandma Moses less valuable than a present moment painter? Is Billy Joel less valuable to society than Murry Perahia? No. Over and over, the answer is no.

I don’t want to have anything to do with a world that says Elvis was cheap entertainment pandering to the masses and Luciano Pavarotti was an artist because he sang opera. Luciano sang with all kinds of people. He was no classical music snob. Elvis was amazing. Luciano was also amazing. Placido Domingo recorded with John Denver. Both of them are amazing. You cannot possibly compare them.

The idea that being “commercial” is somehow a put down is exceptionally narrow minded and reflects a parochial point of view about both art and life. The world decides who it wants to put in its various “halls of fame”, not academicians, not educators, not critics, not writers and certainly not single individuals. Recognizing what the world has defined is a sign of broad awareness of things as they are, not as how any particular individual thinks they should be. There is a big difference.

Contemporary — goes all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. Stravinsky was born in the 19th century but he died in the 70s. Copland was born in 1900 and died in the 90s. Both of these men are still thought of as contemporary composers, because we contrast them with composers born (and working) in the 18th, 17th and 16th centuries. In fact, modern music, going back to the 50s, is still very much a part of the present moment contemporary scene, alongside compositions being written at this very moment. A rigid definition of this word makes no sense, either. It is meant only to say that the music we hear now that is commercially based (but absolutely artistic) is not from the 19th century or earlier.

Contemporary Commercial Music: music theater (old and new), jazz, rock, pop, gospel, R&B, country, rap, alternative, and all the derivitives in between, perhaps also including world music ain’t classical folks. It is important, significant, deserving, worthy, important, valuable, and should be respected for the art that it is by everyone. There is no such thing as music that is “more artistic”.

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One thought on “Artists”

  1. One could even argue that Classical music is LESS artistic than the other styles mentioned if we are considering the creativity of the musicians. Classical music is very “rigid” and full of rules. The other styles almost all rely on improvisation at some point.

    Jeff Costello

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