The Dissonance Between Artistry and Industry: Is It Possible for Individual Artistry to Exist Within the Creative Industries?

If you haven’t heard The Beach Boys’ album, Pet Sounds, I really suggest you give it a listen right now. This article can wait, or if you’re feeling up to multitasking, you can read while you listen. So go grab the record, buy it on itunes, pull it up on spotify, whatever works for you, just go put it on and play through the whole record, don’t skip any songs.

Okay, you’re listening now, right? Perfect, now we can move on. The reason I bring up Pet Sounds, besides that it is a phenomenal album, is because it brings up a question of artistry and who the artist is. The Beach Boys don’t play a single instrument on Pet Sounds. The band’s lead songwriter Brian Wilson delegated that role a to a group of LA session musicians informally dubbed “the Wrecking Crew.” Moreover, the lyrics aren’t exactly Brian Wilson’s either. Wilson brought in lyricist Tony Asher to co-write the lyrics, which meant that while the general ideas were Wilson’s, Asher truly wrote the lyrics. To summarize: Brian Wilson constructed the idea for a record and wrote the songs along with a lyricist, then brought in a group of musicians to record it, before finally allowing the Beach Boys to sing over the tracks.

On paper there’s nothing wrong with any of this, but there’s a notion that it betrays the construct of how a band should operate. Like in your stomach there’s a feeling that this diminishes the record a bit, isn’t there? The people on promo picture should be the people who do everything start to finish, right? It is comforting to be able to point to a name and a face and say, “they made this.” The music industry has been built on the illusion of a singular artist, while in truth a whole group of unnamed individuals help to create the record, but even before the music industry was a thing, you saw a similar situation in Renaissance paintings. As Rosamund Davies and Gauti Sigthorson note in their book, Introducing the Creative Industries: From Theory to Practice, most Italian Renaissance painters produced their works as part of a “workshop system” (28) and that, “…although the artworks of course bore the stamp or signature of the master of the workshop, Italian Renaissance paintings were most often produced as part of a production line, rather than as a sole work of a single individual” (28).

Something about that just doesn’t sit right. I think that the discomfort here comes from the fact that the piece isn’t identified as the work of a workshop, it’s not  “Da Vinci and the others” that’s on the painting, it’s just “Da Vinci.” Again there’s this sense of deception and discomfort with the idea of mass produced or the industrial when it comes to arts.

Look at how people defend pop singers. Whenever someone goes on about so and so being “fake” or “mass produced” fans will always defend them as a “true artist” by claiming that, “they write their own songs as well as sing them.” As people, we want to give a single person credit for the work as a non-industrialized craftsmen. In fact the industrial scares us, maybe it’s a hang up from the industrial revolution or maybe we just like the idea of a definable person we can relate the creative work to.

Look at films, where auteur theory reigns supreme. We want to give François Truffaut complete credit for his film The 400 Blows. I mean he directed it for starters, and the film mimics his early life, but how much of the film is a product of cinematographer, Henri Decaë, who worked on the film with a young Truffaut who had only just switched from film criticism to directing?

Within the creative industries there is a constant struggle between the industrial and the artistry of an individual. We want to label creative works as the product of a single artist or a small definable group, but we can’t really– the industrial elements of the process forever tamper with the idea of a single craftsmen.

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  1. […] About two blog posts back, I talked about the myth of the artist as a singular being. One of the things I focused on in that post was the how we as consumers like how relatable the individual artist or craftsmen is. In Hesmondalgh and Baker’s Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries, Raymond Williams is brought up early in the book as a way to present some discourse on creativity. Williams writes that,“‘No word carries a more consistently positive reference than “creative”’ (2). Now creative, like artist and craftsmen, might be seen as positive, but industry is usually seen in the complete opposite light by most people (the obvious exception would be mustache-twisting-top-hat-wearing Englishmen from the 19th century). So how do people deal with dissonance of the two elements of the creative industries? The phrase itself is a bit challenging, the words themselves go together about as well as Marx and coca-cola. So the essential question for today is, ‘how do creative industries and the workers in the creative industries justify, or at least cope with the negative image of the industrial?’ […]

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