artculture

#297 Seriously though…what is art?

By December 17, 2013 2 Comments

Imagine my lack of surprise today when I came across an article about “DJ” Steve Aoki breaking the news to his fans that he is not actually a DJ. To be honest, I have no idea who Steve Aoki is…even after reading the article. I only clicked on it b/c there was a photo of him with Kanye West…and on occasion I like to read articles about Kanye West b/c I find that I still somehow manage to be surprised when I hear about the things he says and does. That’s besides the point.

Anyhow, today Steve Aoki told his fans that he is not actually a DJ – that he has spent the last 15 years of his life (his whole adult life, mind you) pretending to be a DJ because he wanted to mock the music industry by confronting it with its absurdity.  The article, though said to be completely satirical, is intriguing. Aoki says, “I wanted to explore the fickle nature of popular music fads by devising a public and onstage persona that could push the bounds of ridiculous behaviour to an extreme and still manage to get away with it.”  Mission accomplished.

Aoki stated that as the years went by his onstage persona became even more and more ridiculous to the point where he loathed waking up in the morning only to face this version of himself that was not actually himself. “That’s always been the toughest part, seeing myself become this clown and never being able to say ‘Hey guys, it’s not real’.”

For me, this begs a very serious question: what is art? What counts as real? And are we being faked out every single day? This is something I think about alot. 

In 2011 I attended an arts conference in NYC hosted by International Arts Movement (IAM). It was the first time I had ever heard the term “generative” used in the context of art-making. The conference’s focus revolved around what it would look like to live in a world where art is truly original to the point of producing healthy offspring  (art begets art). We were challenged to ask questions like, “Is my art a clone? Does what I create bring life or death? Is what I have original?” We talked about music,  furniture, visual art, Ikea,  Walmart, and so much more. I didn’t know it at the time, but this conference significantly shaped my view of what I currently do (or believe I’m doing) as a singer/songwriter/performer.

I often ask myself whether many performers out there think they’re actually artists (I ask myself this too). Are they willing pawns or naive and unknowingly playing a game they never knew they signed on for. I know enough about the music industry to know that most of it is math.

x: make the song sound a certain way
y: find someone with sex appeal
z: spend $$$ on marketing. lots of $$$

Eventually you will have a hit single, top the charts, and you can have as many wrecking balls as you want (if you know the right people, of course). And in Aoki’s case, you’ll be able to to get away with absolutely anything!   “I kept adding more and more unnecessary vulgarity to the show, bright flashing lights, topless performances, silly hair, Indian headdresses, trampolines. I kept thinking that at any moment people would realise that this was no longer dance music but that it was an absurdist pantomine and the game would be up. But no-one has ever even suspected.”

“Even when I started throwing cake into the audience, which I intended as a not-so-subtle reference to the circus that my show had become, the audience just lapped it up. No-one thought to themselves ‘Oh look, he’s started throwing cakes into people’s faces like a f-ing clown, surely this can’t be legitimate dance music?’.”

I guess I’ve got alot of question here.  Did Aoki become a victim of his own creation? You’d have to think that after 15 years of living a lie a person eventually becomes that lie. I’m sure he asked himself the same question. But my ultimate question here is: How did we get to the point where its ok to have cake thrown in our faces? When do we wake up and realize that we are being duped?

This video should bring the point home. (Portlandia is stupid, though).

And if you need some edifying food for thought, here is Makoto Fujimura’s keynote speech from IAM’s 2011 Conference. This will be a breath of fresh air.

  • P Fresh

    I’m not a professor of art or anything, but who is “Steve Aoki” to say what art is or isn’t? I know he’s the “Artist”, but using his definition of his own art would undermine the concept of Artistic Autonomy. Maybe he’s bummed that his art is a sham to him, but it must be art for the people in the crowd who like cake. Pharrell Williams has been quoted as saying that artists are just the vessel. Aoki is bummed because he created a monster in his eyes. But that does not make his art any less “generative” to borrow a term from your 2011 art conference. Anyone that has ever gone to his shows or been influenced by EDM knows his art is alive. Just because it’s a monster doesnt mean it’s not living. It’s up to him to make peace with the monster he created.

    • ehhh, i dunno. I’m willing to say that we get away with calling alot of things art that really aren’t – or because we dont know what else to calle them. Just because a beast is alive doesn’t mean its giving life. It could actually be taking us space.