Monday, February 05, 2007

musicians and their labor

“Of course filmmaking takes energy, but at least I’m not doing alienated labor.” R.W. Fassbinder

For a couple of weeks I've been mulling over a question that my friends father asked me. This was do musicians think of themselves as regular laborers. My initial response was well no, because they are creating art.

But this wasn't really satisfactory, I mean certainly it seemed to be true, yet one could imagine a situation in which an individual played an instrument...let's say the oboe, showed up everyday, played the notes in front of them and then went home. In fact I imagine that this actually is the case in some circumstances.

What defines a musician for me is someone who always strive to make music, who are actively engaged with their work, as Fassbinder alludes to not alienated from their work. Here in lies the difference between an artisan....and well a brickaleur (I think a brickaleur might be an artisan as well, I really just wanted to write brickaleur) more aptly put someone working on a manufacturing line straightening wire for pins....if we lived say 300 years ago, or you know when Adam Smith lived, whenever that was... whatever my point still stands.

So can a musician be alienated from their work? I would argue yes, but if they are they were not approaching the situation as a artisan or true musician would. What creates the difference is the effort and care that is put into an item. One does not look at a pin and say, I sharpened the point of that pin, however one does look at a performance with a personal investment. Despite how much we musicians try to avoid it, and say that we create music for ourselves, and the music making process is mostly outside of performance and therein lies the most important part of music, the judgement of a performance weighs on a performer.

anyhow, perhaps I'll rehash this when I have a better head on my shoulders.


Nina said...

True, but doesn't that argument depend on the assumption that the key difference between laborers and artists is their personal investment in their work? While this may be a general trend, I don't think its the inherent, key difference. After all, you can always find laborers that are intensly personally invested in their work -- gardeners, nannies, maids (I'm trying to stick with low-wage earners as they correspond better to Smith's factory laborers. If we talk about higher-end service workers, there is clearly a hellova lot of personal investment in your output).

But then maybe one could argue that its that personal investment that reveals the artistic sides of being a gardener, maid, nanny...hmmm...

Is art inherent to personal investment? Or are we using art as a euphamism for something bigger?

Or am I enjoying being theoretical too much as a distraction from the very practical work that I should be doing right now?

Let's ponder that.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what happens if we go further back in musical history. Granted it's not like I have a lot of information on the subject, yet it is interesting to think about what distinguishes artists. While I'm pretty sure no one has a vested interest in making pins... and I really appreciated that reference by the way... but consider occupations such as masons, carpenters, even going a little bit higher in the ranks architects, bankers, and computer programers. As I continue to turn this around in my brain, I think that musicians are not exempt from the risk of alienation. But I do think it's harder to distinguish the alienators, it's not like comparing stone masons and brick layers.
Art, whether it be computer code, a painting, a book, well raised children, or arias, reflects time, care, effort, and dedication the perfect product. This is what distinguishes a person in any field of employment.