August 5, 2007

Personal essay: The CCLaP Manifesto

(Every day, I like to post at least a thousand words of original content to the CCLaP website; on the days I don't have a review of a book or movie ready, I thought I would try other material, such as this series of personal essays, looking at a topic in the arts from my life that I think you might find relevant or entertaining too. You can click here for a master list of all personal essays now written, if you're interested.)

The CCLaP Manifesto: Like the Reformation, but for nerds

Hey hey, it's a special weekend essay here at CCLaP! And that's because the subject today is not something I think interesting enough for a full weekday entry, although is something I did recently catch myself contemplating, because of a series of reader emails on the subject. See, now that CCLaP has been around long enough to start picking up a regular audience, a number of you now have caught on to the fact that I'm not only attempting to write a series of artistic reviews and profiles here, but also to really try and explain in detail what about the arts I specifically like, why I like these things, and why you should like them too, a process that a number of you have mentioned in emails might be an interesting thing for me to try to formalize one day.

And I was thinking about that this weekend, actually, and thinking of just what things I would include in such a formal document if I were to write one, and in fact what such a document would best be called in the first place. A list of lessons for artists and smart fans of the arts? Rules for being a good member of the underground? Or okay, how about simply the CCLaP Manifesto? Yeah, I think I'll stick with that for now. And if I were to write a CCLaP Manifesto (which I guess I'm about to actually do), it would have to include at least the following bullet-points:

1) There's nothing wrong with declaring yourself an intellectual in public. When used in the right context, after all, it simply means that you choose to use your intelligence as often as possible, and appreciate others who do the same. The thing to watch, and what usually makes this a dirty word in public, are all the undesirable traits that come with being an intellectual: arrogance, competitiveness, self-importance and others.

2) There is a difference between 'intellectual' and 'academe.' And it has nothing to do with how much schooling you've had, or where you got that schooling, or what you studied at that school; it has everything to do with whether you're using that ivory tower as a jumping-off point into the real world, or as a shield against it. Academes are fussy and unyielding people, drawn to academia precisely because it hasn't changed in any major way since it was first invented by monks in the 13th century; intellectuals, however, are open-minded and roll with the punches, understanding that formal education and practical experience go hand-in-hand. And similarly...

2A) A person does not necessarily need an advanced academic degree to be either an artist or an intelligent fan of the arts. In fact, sometimes such a degree actually hurts a person's ability to achieve either of these things. That said, it's also important to be as smart as possible when it comes to the subject.

3) Different types of projects can and should be enjoyed for different reasons. That's why we've invented different mediums for artistic expression over the centuries, because some artists are better at expressing themselves visually, others cognitively, etc. Both the well-rounded artist and fan of the arts takes in a variety of projects on a regular basis, and appreciates them for different reasons.

4) Enjoying both silly things and thought-provoking ones shouldn't be mutually exclusive processes. Just because you occasionally enjoy projects that don't have to be closely "thought about" doesn't mean that those are the only things you're allowed to enjoy; and if someone tells you otherwise, it's because they have something to gain by keeping you from thinking too much in the first place. No matter who you are or what you like, there are always opportunities to be as smart as possible about these things.

5) Generally speaking, the more corporate sponsors that are attached to an artistic project, the worse that project will be. We live in a complicated age, of course, where a clear line between the independent arts and the corporate ones can often not be drawn; many small presses and record labels, for example, must rely on corporate distributors to get their work in your hands in the first place. In general, though, having the least amount of such middle parties will always cause the least amount of complications; less interference, less hidden costs, less need to turn a profit, less compromise to appeal to a wide audience, etc. And similarly...

5A) The more direct the relationship between an artist and fan, the better off for not only the artist but the fans themselves. Of course all artists need a certain amount of external help to achieve their specific goals, from printers to retail outlets, agents, publicists and more. Each one of these additions, however, creates a bit more distance between the artist and their audience, leading to worser projects and less-satisfied fans. The more of these middle steps an artist can avoid, the better off they are.

6) There are multiple criteria by which to judge an artistic project, and all should be considered. This is the entire point, after all, in breaking down the "scores" in each review here to not only a general number but also a series of specific ones, relating to specific subjects within the arts (story, character, style, etc). And this is also why a project can sometimes get low specific scores at CCLaP but a high general one, or vice-versa; because such projects must also be considered as a whole and not just a sum of its parts, with there many times being an opportunity to enjoy something in both a "surface-level" way and a deeper, more introspective one. It isn't enough to simply say that one "likes" or "doesn't like" an artistic project; the smart fan will stop and figure out why as well.

7) The audience is as integral a part of the creative process as the artists themselves. If there's no audience, after all, then it isn't art, but merely masturbation; and there's a reason they don't call it the "masturbatory process," at least not to your face. An artist's job is to persuade others to believe what they also believe, to see the world the same way they do; the smarter that audience is, and the more care and attention they devote to understanding that artist, the better a shot that artist has at succeeding. Enjoying the arts is not a passive endeavor but rather an active one; the intelligent fan will jump into that project and meet that artist halfway, not expect that artist to traverse the entire distance and spoon-feed their message to them.

That's how I feel about the arts, and more or less have since high school in the early 1980s, when I first started forming these opinions in the first place. They are lessons that I try to point to all the time during the daily reviews and profiles I publish here, the rules by which I decide whether a particular project succeeds or fails in my eyes. I encourage all of you to approach the arts in a similar manner; I can almost guarantee that you will both like the projects in your particular life more, and get more out of them, if you do.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:13 PM, August 5, 2007. Filed under: CCLaP news |