In Jeff Chang’s book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop there is this quotation from graffiti artist FAB 5 FREDDY, about working in New York City in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s:
“As a painter at the time, and having read a lot about art, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t being perceived as folk artists.”
For comparison, in this review (page four) I wrote of the 2009 national conference of the Society of Composers, Inc., I began by walking alone to the Museum of International Folk Art, then insisting that the contemporary music I listened to all week was, in fact, also folk art.
The two-mile hike to the museum occupies the whole first paragraph. Curious, that I felt my walking deserved such emphasis.
The obvious point here is that the hip-hop generation grew up in and around poverty, whereas I, um, didn’t. They were “invisible” (Chang’s word), living in inner-city corners of America hidden from popular media. None of us feel invisible anymore. Now, thanks to the internet, we all feel like we’re celebrities—if not already, then any minute now. (There is the idea, attributed by Ronald Wright to John Steinbeck, that the American poor “see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”)
Anyway, it’s clear that I was mostly anxious not to be identified with what I saw as a socially impotent caste of music professors. One supposes that 2009 Me, a lowly master’s student, would not have objected to one of their paychecks. But primarily I was interested not in these composers’ professional accomplishments, but in the ways—whatever ways I could dig up—that they represented different, colorful cultural viewpoints. I talk about their music, a bit, but wherever possible I hasten to attach it to salient aspects of their biographies.
What I saw at the folk art museum was culturally and geographically marked artmaking, each object inextricable from social existence in the place and time it was made. My aspiration toward the title of folk art was not just privilege talking; it was my anxiety that new music is not socially, culturally, or geographically specific enough.
FAB 5 FREDDY wanted the art world to see his and his peers’ serious and creative “aesthetic intentions.” I wanted my work be perceived as the idiosyncratic and personal efforts of an individual, rather than as gestures toward history.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts