Artistry awards runs counter to the craft, but…

We still love those awards, don’t we?  There is something about our competitive culture that even in something as subjective as art we still want to compete, quantify and win. We may was well put a competition on love while we are at it… oh wait, we do. It’s called The Bachelor.

Competition is insatiable for our culture — perhaps also a necessarily refined tool of evolution to keep us from being food — and is woven throughout the most artistic things we do. From Pulitzer Prizes to Academy Awards to Time Magazine calling Jonathan Franzen the greatest American novelist of our age, the compelling need to quantify art both inspires and hampers our divine expression.

As an intensely competitive person I both appreciate and abhor the competition. Art is where I flee from my competitive drives, yet those drives fuel my art.

I create art with writing because I have to do it. I have to express myself in this way. But I’d be foolish to say I don’t want to excel at it, which means in some way to compete, be it through awards or book contracts or sales or whatever signifies a degree of acclaim. Artistry and competition form a deep-seated contrast that serves as fuel for my artistic vision.

Now keep all this in mind as you reconsider the foolishness that was Kanye West following the recent awarding of Beck the album of the year Grammy Award. West quickly shot off his significant mouth blasted Beck’s artistry. He claimed his galpal Beyonce got screwed. It was an ugly repeat of his ridiculous up-staging moment of Taylor Swift at the same show a few years ago. West took so much heat even he backed off and said he dissed Beck.

“I was completely hypocritical,” he said, admitting he’d never heard Beck’s album. “I bet you the album was really good.”

 

For the single best reaction to this controversy, read this by Buzzfeed. It’s spot-on and hilarious.  As a writer I can appreciate the lyric comparison.

West, ironically, was complaining about the competition, but he used the word artistry. His point was simple: We are here to sell records and nobody tops Beyonce.  Just another example of how we forever confuse and mix the two things that ideally would be kept separate.

Kanye is an artist as well, an important one who like many of his genre tell the stories of disaffected people in urban areas in a way that both chronicles the saga of civil rights and freedom while also spreading hope in the effort. And yes, her perpetuates some of the worst of it. It’s all part of the complex story that hip hop artists have been trying to accurate tell for a long time now.

For all his considerable flaws, West has been bold. He also spoke out against the Bush Presidency’s lack of response to Katrina victims, for example. Listen to his sincerity, even if the eloquence was lacking a bit. But consider the context, where everyone is polished and worried about their brand, West stands in contrast.

He also knows a thing or two about a good lyric, like this:

“They take me to the back and pat me/ Asking me about some khakis/ But let some black people walk in/ I bet you they show off their token blackie.”

In speaking his mind about the politics of disparity, West is both playing to his base through rebellion in a way that sells records AND speaking against the racism and classism that still exists despite all the so-called political-correct love.

He also said, “Ghetto is fun. I’ll stay ghetto.”

Speaking out, even if it reveals both ignorance and arrogance, is part of the confusion around artistry and competition in the first place.

Let’s face it: all artists have a bit of diva and we all want to win even if winning is random and perhaps even counter productive to the art.

It’s a knot of oddities that simply won’t be untied any time soon. So why not in closing consider a quote from Kanye that is a bit more helpful in this instance: “If you see greatness you gotta respect it.”

(Side note: Speaking of competition, for those keeping score at home, the Bride defended her Oscar title — sort of! — by picking 12 of the 14 major award winners. But she tied because she didn’t pick the best picture, allowing me to slip into a tie! The battle continues until next year. I won’t mention how I should have won but confused The Imitation Game for Theory of Everything, which cost me the winning point.)

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