Friday, September 22, 2006


Apologies up front for the heavy dose of philosophy.

Is a music video art? Or is a music video an advertisement for a product pushed on consumers by mega-corporations? Like most things, the answer lies in between.

Music videos are certainly art. In fifty years, when curators are looking for art-works that represent the last 20 years, my guess is they will choose lots of videos, commercials and video installation pieces. Moving electronic images will represent who we are now.

Cutting edge artists tend to gravitate to the newest mediums - whether that is oil based paints, new bronze casting procedures, or home based video editing systems. Music videos are every bit as capable of expressing the real and complex themes of art as paintings and sculpture, they just utilize a larger "team" - like architecture or ballet.

But music videos are also definitely commerce. A hot clip on MTV can make or break a career and generate big profits for Sony, or Universal. Labels wouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on music videos if they didn’t think they would earn their money back off the promotion the videos provide.

For people involved with the creation of music videos – directors, label types, production companies, artisans and technicians – I believe that music videos are best treated as neither art, nor commerce but as the combination of the two – a craft.

Music videos are a craft. Art is made to express something and that is the only purpose. No audience is even needed and no outcome necessary, just expression. (Please note that these definitions are my own and not necessarily from Webster’s.) Commerce is purely to make money and for music video directors – a career with only dollars in mind will be short and ugly.

A craft is an artistic endeavor with another goal in mind. Building a chair is a craft. The thing built by the chair-maker HAS to keep one’s ass off the floor, otherwise it is not a chair. Once the ass is raised, the chair could be a Louis XIV, a Shaker or even a beanbag variety, and still be a chair. There is plenty of room for creativity and self-expression in a craft, once the main goal has been satisfied.

Stand-up comedy is a craft. The comic MUST make the audience laugh (and by extension buy more drinks) for the comedy club to be successful. When the comic does get the audience laughing, he/she can expound on religion, race relations, politics or even airline food. Some faux-comics seem to take perverse joy in annoying audiences or going over the heads of those paying them, but those comedians will never have much of a career and I believe they are sorely missing the point

A craftsman does both – he satisfies the marketplace and expresses himself at the same time. That is why the music video is a craft – the best work sells records and expresses what the musician and the director want to share with the world. That is the challenge, and in my mind the pursuit of this balance is a noble one.

Some folks believe that only “true” or “pure” art is real and good. These folks like to imagine that satisfying anyone other than themselves is “selling out to the man.” That mind-set is fine for a painter or a poet, but is completely wrong for a music video director.

I talk with quite a few youngish directors – who seem to be bumping up against this issue. They want more creative freedom, but yet they also want the production budget that comes with a record label. Making a video involves a host of compromises – and that does not have to be a bad thing. If it troubles creative types that they have to shoot close-ups of the lead singer or insure the colors are “crispy but edgy” I suggest they imagine themselves as Renaissance artists painting endless images of religious figures at the behest of the church or Dutch Masters doing wedding portraits for their wealthy patrons. Doing something cool for the guy with the cash IS the job.

A video should make the artist/band look cool/edgy/sexy eclectic/funny. A video should make viewers want to go out and by the CD and share it with their friends. Otherwise the director made a short film that they like and scammed the band/label out of the money. making a video that audiences and the label likes is not selling out, it’s being a video director.

That whole thing was a bit too preachy. I’m sorry. Watch this amazingly fun Blur video by Hammer & Tongs. It runs an end-around on all the philosophy I just spouted and puts a smile on my face every time.

Have a great weekend and send me a comment or an email.

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