Comment of the Moment: The Difference between Art and Entertainment:
Deja Vu Press Conference - Berlin, February, 2008
In the aftermath of the 2009 Bridge School concerts there's been a lot of discussion about Neil Young's approach to recording and performing in this phase of his career. This is somewhat similar to the whole debate that raged around whether Neil following his muse was such a good idea given the critical reaction to Fork in the Road.
So here's the Neil Comment of the Moment on his "Imperfect Nature" by the always insightful D.I. Kertis:
When it comes down to it, Neil Young is about being real.
My impression, from his work and from interviews, is that what he abhors and always tries to avoid is being *fake*: manufacturing a product that expresses something other than how he feels and what he wants to do. With each new project he undertakes, it seems that Neil runs these constants through an equation. This is why we have Everybody Knows this is Nowhere; Harvest; Tonight's the Night; Rust Never Sleeps; Trans; Landing on Water; Sleeps with Angels; Are You Passionate?; Greendale; Living with War; even the Archives. All of these are expressions of Neil at the time they were created.
Even album like Trans, although it is not organic in that it utilizes digital equipment to distort Neil's voice, it is very personal and captures what Neil wanted to say at that time as he wanted to say. Similarly, Are You Passionate? has a very polished sound because of the style of music Neil wanted to express himself through. All of this work is in fact organic in the sense that it comes from his mind and soul.
One of the most consistent and pleasing elements for me of Neil's catalogue is that, unlike other stars, he is never afraid to be human: to allow his uncertainty and indecision show. He doesn't pretend to have answers if they aren't there. In fact, he encourages the listener to answer the questions he poses for themselves. His answers, when supplied, are given as one point-of-view. He doesn't profess to provide the only correct perspective. And if he's feeling down or insecure, or if he doesn't know where he's headed next, he'll say so-- in whatever way suits him. He's not about putting on any sort of "show" or artificial exterior but about honest expression of the self.
Which comes back to Greg's comment: "The art is not about you." Well, I for one don't think any art is really about *you* unless you create it. Art is by its nature an expression of the person who creates it one way or another. The audience may relate on some intellectual or emotional level--that is another essential element of art, that it stirs the mind and soul, that it evokes feeling--but it is not created simply to please the audience nor designed for them in any way. If they like it, great. If not--make your own if you want to be exactly what's in your head. Otherwise, move on and look for other avenues of pleasure and fulfillment.
Of course it is a mark of good art that an audience can relate, but this is ultimately secondary to the artist's needs and desires, for art is is one's expression of one man , which another may perchance appreciate but which he need not be obligated to give the time of day if he is not inclined to do so.
This is the difference between art and entertainment: the one is designed for self-expression while the other is designed purely to appeal for others. Art can constitute entertainment where it stirs the observer emotionally or intellectually and entertainment can be art if sufficiently effective to its aim. But whereas entertainment must be pleasing to others, art need only please the artist.
As always, thanks D.I.!
More on Neil Young's "imperfect nature".