Culture Articles

Don’t Worry There’s Always Prozac

Would there be creative arts in Utopia? Are we only creative through adversity?

Close your eyes, meditate, sit cross legged, lick a battery…just do something that will allow you to imagine a Utopian society. It’s pretty right? Everyone is smiling at each other, there are no left or right wing politics, there is no Ipad. La vie est belle pour tout la monde. Try writing something, try drawing something… can you? OK maybe you can but I don’t know if I’d want to read it, it would probably be as fun to listen to as Abba or as interesting to read as a manual for how to watch paint dry!

I love art that has been created through hardship. I grew up on blues, I read Steinbeck and I have every Radiohead album on my Ipod (except Pablo Honey but hey I own Neil Young albums so why would I need it!) I like to hear the pain in art, I like to feel the roots of creativity firmly planted in difficulty. I am not solely into depressing stuff, I love Mr. Scruff and Amelie and even E.T! I just feel that without strife we wouldn’t have 99.9% of the powerful or intriguing art we’ve had throughout the existence of humanity.

As I said, I love blues music. Songs like ‘St. James’ Infirmary’ or ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground’ cause me physical and emotional pain when I listen to them but it’s not depressing, it’s like being on ecstasy without the gurning. It’s a cathartic and profound experience that I don’t feel as much when I listen to say ‘Agadoo’ or ‘Dancing Queen’. It’s dirty, raw and muddy. It’s real! Now I’m not advocating the slave trade or saying I’m glad that there was racial segregation in America but I am saying that without it I don’t think we would have had the explosion of musical creativity we’ve had for the last 150 years. Without Thatcher we wouldn’t have had punk or rave cultures, without Tony Blair we wouldn’t have had S Club 7!

I’m currently learning a lot about the melting pot that was New Orleans, or N’awlinz as it should be pronounced, and the culture of creativity that sprung from there. You can see these cultural epicentres throughout history, Messopotamia (Iraq) in 3000BC, Greece & Turkey in around 300BC , Rome for a while, Central Europe in the 1700’s and UK in 19th Century with literature. New Orleans provided a sounding board for disadvantaged people about a 100 years ago from which the roots of most modern music have sprung from. The jazz, blues and R’n’B which flowed like the Mississippi itself around the world infecting everyone and everything in it’s path are still being felt today. My Grandad in the wee isle of Thanet drank American jazz like it was purifying elixir, he wasn’t black and living in Southern U.S.A, but he could relate to the human aspects of what they were singing about, life.

In my opinion the current dip in popular music is centred around that very thing, I don’t have any relation to what Rihanna is on about and so I can’t ingest it in the same way. Whereas I hear a song like Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone and I immediately feel the passion of the song and the life behind it. My passion for Hip-Hop stems from the fact it’s a culturally progressive means of rising above the hardship lived through daily by people around the world. It’s using creativity and community to recognise misery and extract not only yourself from it but provide a crutch for those around you.

Literature reflects this as well, if Harry Potter was about a middle class wizard succeeding all the time & generally being cheerful I don’t think it would have the cultural impact it currently enjoys. It always suprised me when I used to go on family holidays and my Mum would take the most harrowing books in the world about war, murder, pain and suffering and I used to think how can you relax reading about a young girl giving birth to a stillborn then allowing a homeless man to suckle her. I thought that there was a separate line for being happy and being sad, a distinction that positivity was enjoyable and negativity wasn’t but I think you’d struggle to find a solely positive book ever being on a bestsellers list. The end of Grapes of Wrath although harrowing has bought such significance and meaning to my life that it is for me a wholesome, gratifying experience, a strange sense of enjoyment from despair.

Don’t worry I’m not just obsessed with pain and suffering, although I admit I do put Schindler’s List on at parties. I just feel without the struggles of life we wouldn’t have the passionate art we all love and are inspired by and subsequently we wouldn’t have the moments of positivity which allow for more joyous fare. It’s the same with religious music, some of it is very pained and filled with remorse and other times it is jubilant beyond measure. As a writer there are times where I write in a bad mood and there are times I write in a very positive mood but I feel we need both to truly encompass our craft. I also believe as a striving freelancer that although the difficulties of succeeding are hard and sometimes upsetting there is also a powerful drive behind that which allows for passionate creativity which I might not have if I was successful. It’s an interesting concept and one I won’t know until I potentially succeed but I feel that struggling is a part of life so hardship and life are a part of art. Have you succeeded in your art dream and lost the creative spark or does it all become easier when you attain fulfilment? Let me know your thoughts.

Keep struggling everyone and if you need inspiration stick on Gloomy Sunday by Billie Holiday, put Requiem For a Dream in the DVD player and open The Diary of Anne Frank and remember Don’t Worry, There’s Always Prozac!

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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The Left Side of The Brain or Why the Government are shallow to demonise alcohol

Let me be honest with you, I’m not a scientist. I have no statistics or graphs which will fight my corner, I have no mathematical equation with which to prove my point. What I do have is my own inference, tabloid hearsay and media gossip which as we all know is much more reliable than science anyway. Today we’re going to look at the place of recreational and hard drugs in the creative world, I want to see if they’re a catalyst for influential art or a necessity. So roll a big one, grab a spoon or pour a glass as we delve into the precarious world of getting smashed!

I grew up on music, from an early age I was turned on to such delights as Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison and Bob Marley by my parents. I soaked up the wonderful songs with their magical harmonies and sounds of cash registers clinking, it was as they say, all about the music. In 2011, I made a point to a friend that everyone we listen to has been under the influence of something and this grew to a challenge for everyone in the pub around us to try and name an influential and talented artist who hasn’t been stoned, drunk or cooked like a stuck pig on skag. After much posturing nobody could name a single musician and so we opened the challenge up to the world of art and literature and it began to dawn on us that the theory worked across pretty much every creative discipline. Try it yourself and remember we stated ‘influential and talented’ so no X-Factor contestants or manufactured pop vacuums. Got anyone yet? No didn’t think so.

This is nothing new, we all know the arts have existed on the edge of our imaginations and derive their beauty from everywhere in the universe so there would always be some link with mind expansion. We know that dreamlike states and higher planes of consciousness are the playing grounds for those who create theories, stories and interesting works of art, drugs or booze are just a way of getting them there. Do we need these drugs as artists or at least to have tried them to expand our minds or can a sober, tea totalling prude who’s never seen the inside of a seedy Camden venue really yield beauty with the rest of them? Dali once remarked “Everybody should eat hashish, but only once” and maybe this is true, maybe we just need to have a link to the left side of our brain which then stays open. It could be that the path to creativity is through a longing for a different realm of thought and so anything which takes us out of our everyday processes encourages invention. Who knows and who cares right…. can you pass the Jaffa cakes please?

Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus is a work of fiction created whilst shut away from the rain in the middle of rural France, very very high on opium. The Mae West Sofa was crafted in Spain after Dali advocated eating hashish. Thomas Jefferson founded a country whilst farming and smoking dope. 60’s counterculture was conceived using nudity and LSD so we got Bob Dylan, The Beatles & Jimi Hendrix all rolled into that groovy bargain. Radiohead were stoners, New Order took everything and The Arctic Monkeys probably do whatever drugs The Who did. What I’m trying to say is that drugs shape our culture whether we like to admit it or not. I recently spoke with someone at work about this and their first answer to my question about influential artists who haven’t used drugs was ‘The Beatles’. I had to shatter her idyll and explain their crazy years but it got me thinking how society gets to a point where we hate certain artists for being ‘Druggies’ but others are given accolades beyond their wildest dreams. Do we even comprehend the nefarious deeds of certain artists before worshipping them and sometimes is it part of the reason we do?

The Beatles are Britain’s biggest and most loved musical export and are seen as cheeky chappies but the busker who plays in Ship Street is seen as a stoner bum? The heroin addicts currently shunned by our society are on the same trip as Byron, Shelly and Oscar winner Trent Reznor. Is it fair to promote drug use through our adoration of famous artists and belittle and segregate drug users who aren’t well known? At what point did Pete Doherty stop being a “dirty skag-head” and become a loveable rogue of the British tabloids, I’d put money on it being around the time the NME started idolising him. It’s shallow and uninformed to allow our society to be shaped by drugs and alcohol but keep up a pretence that they’re evil and harmful. I’m not advocating their use but I am highlighting their importance and continuing affect on our culture and arts.

Where do you stand on this? Do you feel that recreational drug use or at least an exposure to drugs or alcohol at some point in your life is an integral part of being an artist? Is it necessary or is it just a middle class perception of the process of inspiration? I know I don’t believe that drugs or alcohol are necessary to create or be inspired, they are closer to a useful tool to forgetting the day to day and focusing on different aspects of the psyche. I also feel that they can lubricate otherwise shy and retiring people’s social interactivity and desire to converse and so can permit those who otherwise may not have allowed themselves to be creative or part of something to do so. I don’t believe we should just open the doors for drugs to be sold and used all the time but I do feel as a society and as artists we need to understand their place within our lives. Prime Minister’s should stop telling us they adore drug addled bands and drug inspired art whilst also saying that none of the rest of us should be allowed to do them.

Should we go Miaow Miaow over drug users or should we be blunt and treat them all as dopes? It’s up to you but my closing argument is would you prefer a world with Cliff Richard & Peter Mayhew or one with Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Pope Leo XIII, Nina Simone, Mary Shelley, Aphex Twin, Alan Moore, Van Gogh and Amy Winehouse?

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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Judge, Jury & Executioner

Oh hi I take it you read my last few articles? Really? that’s great! What did you think? Oh, well you didn’t need to be quite so cutting in your appraisal, I’m only a writer and we’re thin skinned. Well hopefully, you’ll like this one today…what?! you only came on here to print off my previous articles to use as toilet paper and you saw this one so wanted to print this one as well?! But this one could be amazing! Oh, you’ve already judged me after the ‘Prozac’ article, well in the words of Saddam Hussein “I Can Change! I Can Change!”

Imagine if you were always viewed on your ‘first time’ by every sexual partner. Maybe you lost your virginity on a slightly drunken evening, then in your twenties you got better and better and occasionally harnessed magic and over the years maybe you became a proficient lover. So what would it be like if every subsequent romantic encounter under the sheets was followed by a rating of the proceedings in comparison to your past excursions? Ridiculous as it sounds this is what happens to artists lucky/unlucky enough to sustain a career.

Have you ever noticed that some artists are always critiqued in relation to their back catalogue rather than on the artistic merits of individual pieces? We look at dead artists’ collections retrospectively as they are finished creatively (except Tupac) but living, successful artists can be unfairly judged because of their more signature work. Currently Damien Hirst is being dissected through his past achievements but can these tarnish any future works that he may yet have in him? Painters, directors, actors and all creative types suffer from career longevity syndrome even Morrisey can’t make a career for himself without everything being about ‘The Queen is Dead’ and Johnny Depp may never escape Captain Jack.

I feel Radiohead are unfairly maligned in this way, their first album is an ode to Neil Young and is wholly unoriginal but everything since then has been exciting, well crafted music. My issue is that whenever they release an album it is automatically critiqued compared to The Bends and OK Computer and any gig they play is deemed successful by how many tracks they play from the nineties! How is that fair? Woody Allen is a force of nature in cinema and comedy and has provided the world with insightful films for decades but even if he released a vignette about Vin Diesel and Ted Danson counting the rings of a Redwood tree it will always be compared to Annie Hall, no matter what. Is this a proper way to look at art?

In a previous article I touched on whether we should take people’s politics into account when we experience their work and I think this argument has similarities. In 2000, when Kid A was released, if it had been by a band calling themselves ‘Papa Legba’ I think there would have been a marked change in popular music at that time. If they could have released the album with the same promotion but without the baggage of their days as critics’ darlings then tracks like ‘Everything in it’s Right Place’ or ‘Idioteque’ would have been valued on their own merits rather than with the prefix ‘ego project’. How many of us were shocked by Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy after growing up on the splatter, gore that was his hallmark? If we solely focus on people’s past works then we can miss out on opportunities to appreciate an evolving artist and a human being who is maturing in their lives and their art.

I’m as guilty as the next person and it’s something I’m hoping to change. Obviously, there are some lines I cannot cross like listening to Beady Eye or watching a Michael Bay film as I’m sure their output will always remain the antithesis of my existence. However, I’m going to try and not let people’s history undermine their artistic potential and my enjoyment of any new art in my life. Were you so appalled by Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ that you will always judge her unfairly from now on? Have you had enough of Jack White’s voice or will you listen to his latest work with an open mind?

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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Play It Again Sam!

NEWSFLASH: Claude Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ is to be repainted by a budding new artist who hopes to reinvent the masterpiece. “We just felt that there wasn’t enough made of the algae at the corner of the pond, we want to see a new take on Giverny” a spokesperson told us in France.

Preposterous? Pithy? Pretension?… Probably but it doesn’t make it any less plausible even if I did just make it up! Sorry I got a bit alliterate with the P key there but nothing shouts consternation more than a spittle-fuelled P sound, and today I’m ‘consterned’.

I read the news today, oh boy and found that 3 of my Top 10 films are being remade. The quirky style and horror of Evil Dead maybe due to become a new boob-fest flick like Piranha 3D, the graphic lines and post-nuclear vision of Akira looks set to be the next Tron: Legacy and the nostalgia of Flight of The Navigator will no doubt star the latest teen heartthrob in a 90 minute advert for their new album! My life and some of my true silver screen eureka moments all set to be remade in front of my eyes in Digital 3D with bankable names attached. Crushed doesn’t begin to explain it, but….

John Carpenter’s The Thing is another of my favourite films; it is one of the perfect horror films and a real turning point for me as a youth to understanding the roles of screenplay, narrative tension and director. It’s also a remake of a classic 50’s horror, one I’m sure was as important to people in the post-war era as Kurt Russell, flame-throwers and dismembered heads or stomach jaws were to me. I’d be a hypocrite to tarnish remakes with a bad brush as I can see the business sense for companies to work with established properties to ensure a return on investment. Sequels tie into this too with a lot of big franchises only realising a significant monetary return through sequels like the Ocean’s or Pirates of The Caribbean films. The quality of the subsequent films may be up for discussion but in these times it would be wrong as a lover of cinema to begrudge producers, writers, actors and directors a chance to gain profit through recognised material. So why only now are myself and the message boards of film sites constantly aghast at the tide of remakes and sequels?

I think the issue for most of us ‘cinephiles’ is that although we agree that using bankable stars and properties has it’s upsides for the industry a lot of the decisions made are sometimes a wee bit off on the artistic front. Companies like Platinum Dunes, whose business plan cleverly focuses on consistent remakes of previously banned or controversial films with a lot of gore and/or nudity, aren’t openly concerned with visual flair or intuitive scripts. Critics berate their output but the box office returns on very modest budgets speak volumes and in a time where studios, film councils and projects are struggling to stay afloat you can’t blame them for ingenuity. My issue is when business plans infringe upon the artistic integrity of a decision. I have no problem with hack-job remakes of previously hack-job films allowing a new director a modest budget and a familiar premise but I have an issue with original, artful cinema being treated to slapdash updating for profit. That’s where the difference between Platinum Dunes’ remake of Friday 13th and John Carpenter’s The Thing is apparent, one is turning a profit the other is a labour of love.

How would you feel if your favourite painting was redone by a new artist who was just doing it for profit? How would you react if someone rewrote a novel you loved just to get a name for themselves rather than because they respected it? I know I was devastated when a cover of a cover of a Leonard Cohen song came out and it was clear that the original meaning of the song had been overlooked in an effort to sell records and be sexy. It seems to happen in music and film a lot more than in other areas of the arts and I think that’s because of the way those industries have evolved over the years.

The infringement of large companies making crucial decisions and forcing money issues into the creative process feels much more prevalent in the film and music worlds. A novelist or painter may decide to tackle an interpretation of a classic work like Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice or Rolf Harris’ Mona Lisa but it’s usually their decision. With film remakes it feels more like a studio decides an idea will be bankable because it’s similar to another film which did well rather than think of any of the other factors that caused the success. This is no more apparent at the moment than the wave of films based on popular board games or comics just because some other films based on these did well. Just because a film about an Alien directed by Ridley Scott with incredible designers, a talented cast and an intuitive screenplay did well doesn’t mean every other film with an alien will make money and be acclaimed, it’s about the whole artistic package not just what the film’s about!

I love film and that includes many remakes (The Thing, Cape Fear, Annie) sequels (Toy Story 2 & 3, Dawn of The Dead, Look Who’s Talking Too) and films based on novels (The Diving Bell & Butterfly, Wag The Dog, Babe). I don’t feel that working on something you have passion for or can see an artistic way of adapting to show another side of it is a bad thing and if it makes more money for the industry that’s fantastic. I think we need to get away from viewing things as trends and profitable just based on their face value. David Cameron naively believed we should tap into films that will make money but as many critics pointed out it’s impossible to determine this as who would guess a film about speech therapy would do well? We should be more focused on allowing directors, producers, writers, musicians and artists the opportunity to fully explore their ideas rather than impeding them with business rhetoric or forcing them to put a speech therapist or bespectacled wizard in every film just because they’re cool!

I’m off to watch Akira and listen to Easy Star All Star’s Dub Side of the Moon but I’d love to know how you feel about art being updated or which works of art, literature, film or music are too precious to touch?

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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A Guide to Appreciating Art – The Death of Culture

Have you every looked at a Monet down your nose?

What I mean is have you ever looked down your nose at a Monet painting? Many of us who go to galleries or live-art performances will know that this could be perceived as, the ‘best’ way to view art. It’s cool right? Everyone seems to be doing it, but does it really help you appreciate it? In another audience, a music concert, it may seem the done thing is to swill beer and flick your sweaty hair to understand rock or to sit straight backed and tight-lipped to enjoy an orchestra. Do we have to smoke a fat spliff and sit on a cushion with headphones to fathom Pink Floyd?

Art is fluid. It should be a fulfilling, wonderful experience no matter how you decide to ingest it.

Art is subjective. It should be discussed and debated for all time as to its merits and its flaws.

Art is life. We live it everyday whether it’s a typeface, a song or a graffiti tag, so why should there be rules as to how to enjoy it?

I feel that in the 21st Century we are at a point where we’ve forgotten the true meaning of exhibiting art. We go and see a Shakespeare play in a completely silent theatre where even coughing is frowned upon, this isn’t how it was intended. When Shakespeare wrote plays the theatre was a loud, crass environment, not unlike our stand-up comedy circuit is today. So why do we feel inclined to instil this Victorian, silent approach to theatre? In the 1920’s, Antonin Artaud, the famed French theatre practitioner, wrote manifestos to try and bring the immersive and invasive aspects of theatre back to what he saw as a stale and lifeless form of performance. Unfortunately we don’t seemed to have moved on much since these ideas were written, maybe because he was self-diagnosed as insane and so we treat his theories with disdain or maybe because we are becoming more and more detached from art and performance.

Despite some incredible pieces over the last few years like Cirque De Soleil’s ‘Della Guarda’, theatre can sometimes seem a stuffy and dull style of performance. Similarly poetry is no longer something which is recited as it once was by Homer and poets are not revered as they once were. Unlike theatre however, poetry is being given new life by the wonderful Spoken-Word scene which has evolved from this and has sparked an interest in poetry again. It’s this level of evolution and finding a new way to perform something that keeps the live aspect of art fresh and more disciplines need to take a step in this direction.

Fine Art is one such discipline, it has become, in the words of Grayson Perry, Turner Prize Winner, “disengaged with the real world”. Art galleries and exhibitions exude an air of snobbery and seem to have this impenetrable forcefield to normal, everyday conversations or opinions. You never seem to hear people discuss a piece of art as “It’s alright but I wouldn’t buy an album”, you have to use long words and stare from afar at something that you’d need to re-mortgage your house to own. Recently famous works by Picasso and Degas have failed to sell at Christie’s in New York as they failed to reach their reserve of £25million. How are we as general public art lovers supposed to relate to something with that stigma? This kind of art doesn’t connect with people because the manner in which it’s exhibited isn’t tailored to specific audiences despite most artists wanting their art to connect with people in some way. I love going to see art, I’m not saying galleries are a bad idea or artists being paid is unfair but it’s become too focused on the world of collections and investors. If you attend just a few exhibitions or visit most cities in the world it’s clear we have very few spaces where art can be connected with in a way that permeates our daily lives. We need some fresh ideas on different ways of performing “fine art”. Graffiti and street art are redefining the gallery space by situating it in peoples lives and this is exactly the kind of idea we need to focus on. The internet means we all have access to famous paintings but how can we make them more than just a google image on a screen? With the advances of the Ipad and other products like Kindle we could work on ways to re-invent online galleries and have mixed media applications which allow for artists to collaborate in this way. I’d love to make a mixtape for an exhibition which allows a user to scroll through different pictures or writings on a certain theme and the possibilities just keep expanding the more you think about it. Real world galleries need to take some bold moves, not completely away from the library like atmosphere they have at the moment but allowing for more performance to be granted to the space for certain exhibitions. The Tate Modern Turbine hall is a great example of this and look at the amount of people who visit that gallery for that reason though they’d never dream of entering the National Portrait gallery.

I don’t want to do away with the legacy of art but I do feel that we need to look back at how performance and exhibition was in the past and use all the knowledge we have to advance it. Some plays should encourage a more vibrant audience who are able to change the shape of the performance, some music gigs should move away from the standard proscenium-arch rock concert to utilise the entire venue and arrangement depending on the type of gig. The rave scene realised this in an amazing way and these type of ideas need to be re-found. Television, one of the newest art-forms in the mainstream, used to be an all singing, all dancing affair where interaction was they key to the programming. Why not bring this back? I could say that it’s all the performers fault but I feel partly the blame lies with us, the audience, we are far too submissive and willing to sit quietly, why don’t more of us dance around the living room when we watch X-Factor or Jools Holland? This is what used to happen, is it really too far fetched? Why do we not immerse ourselves into the performance space and allow our creativity to infuse the work we are viewing with live energy? In the words of Artaud,

 

“The spectator who comes to our theatre knows that he is to undergo a real operation in which not only his mind but his senses and his flesh are at stake”!

Quote from Antonin Artaud – The Theatre and Its Double ISBN-10: 0802150306

 

Now doesn’t that sound more exciting than just sitting watching Michael Bublé shout at you for a while through binoculars at Wembley Arena? Doesn’t that sound more interesting than sipping cheap wine whilst faux-rich ‘Hoxtonians’ discuss art but forget there are words with less than 7 letters? Doesn’t that sound better than feeling like a plebeian in the face of a dictatorial art-form? I don’t think art can be a dictatorship and as much as we may have fallen into a routine with how we view certain disciplines there’s nothing to say we can’t take back performance and make it vibrant and powerful again, the most important thing is to enjoy it.

Art isn’t about being dictated to it’s about being part of it, immerse yourself in art.

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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I wrote a celebrity’s novels & all I got was this lousy T-Shirt

“I’m currently sitting at a grey plastic desk. The walls on either side of me are made of a strange grey felt material and I can hear the sound of typing from the hundred other little booths in this grotty, grey office. She hasn’t been here today so nobody’s crying yet but if we don’t finish ‘Diamanté Fairy’ this week the woman I’m employed for will eat our souls. We are ghosts, we write to connect with the outside world. Millions of people read our words and yet our tongues are tied by those who lay false claim to our creative ecto-plasm. We will die here and become yet more ghosts whilst those we work for live forever in infamy. We are the muted masses of the written word.”

EDITORS NOTE:
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To avoid lawsuits we are obliged to inform you, this first paragraph is actually make believe. It didn’t happen, Meerkuts has written it to create a sense of pained empathy in those of you reading this, apart from us editors who we all know have no soul. Meerkuts is alive and well and in no way chained to a grotty, grey booth. Today he’d like to touch upon the dastardly subject of Ghost Writing.
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In today’s society ghost writing has become something of a common occurrence with some of the best selling fiction and non-fiction books of recent times all having been written by someone other than that stated on the cover. I used Jordan as an example but it’s probable that over 40% of published authors do the same thing and I for one feel it’s tantamount to plagiarism or to put it more eloquently, it’s bullshit! As a writer I am one of many people who spends hours alone, shunning friendships, letting love slip through my fingers whilst funding mega corporations due to all the paper & ink I have to buy. We are destined to miss out on certain aspects of life due to our inherent need to use the written word in some form, we are bound together in a wondrous whirlpool of creative outpouring of small black characters on a white page, we are all going to have really fucking bad arthritis in our 60’s! The least the publishing world can do for us is allow our names to be credited to the scripted triumphs we have conceived, right? It’s like that advert on DVD’s. ‘You wouldn’t steal a shoe, You wouldn’t steal windscreen washer fluid, Stealing Words is a Crime!’ So join James Patterson (actually it’s still Meerkuts but James Patterson uses Ghost Writers so his name will go on it at the end) as he uncovers the seedy world of ‘Lexicon Crime’.

The creative industries are fuelled by a need to present material to an audience. Sure we have a few folk singers who never aspire to fame and some artists like Royal Robertson or Peter Moog who seem to just create art rather than present it but for the most part artists want to reach people.

It’s easy to forget the true meaning of creation especially in the 21st Century where it can sometimes feel like every chord progression has been used or every story has already been told. Creativity is still alive and very well, you only have to listen to The Mars Volta, Bjork or Caribou to know that songs which seem to sound like nothing else are still abundant today. You only have to see artists like BLU or Stanley Donwood to understand that putting brush to a canvas or wall is still very fresh or read Warren Ellis or Jeff Noon to know that the written word still has some tricks up it’s sleeve. The wonderful thing is that all those artists I’ve named above are known because their name is signed at the bottom of the book, canvas or album inlay. They are the originator of their work and history will know that. The Voyager probe sent in to space will always bear tribute to the fact that Blind Willy Nelson wrote the beautiful ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ as is his right.

Artists should have the right in today’s society to be known for the art they produce. Would it be fair that this article be assigned to Jeremy Clarkson just because he can pay me to write words for him? If Charles Dickens had been paid to write ‘A Christmas Carol’ for another writer, say Joseph Conrad, our entire history and the legacy of that story would be altered. Ok, ‘Conradian’ doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way ‘Dickensian’ does but the repercussions are much more significant. The originator of works should be recognised. In the news at the moment the film ‘Anonymous’ is attracting a lot of attention due to it’s claims that Shakespeare did not pen any of his works. If this was true then it would be a perfect example of the power of taking away true ownership from some of the finest works of art in existence. I have often thought that the sheer volume of creativity from one man is either an incredible feat of genius or perhaps was the work of many under a pseudonym. As I’ve grown older I do actually believe Shakespeare was one man and like Galileo in physics he was just an exceptional man whose legacy is rightly one of mankind’s greatest achievements. In three hundred years time could we really be in a situation where ghost written books gained this kind of cultural significance and ‘The Complete Works of Katie Price’ are studied by children on hover-boards in floating schools? She hasn’t written a single word of them and yet those future generations would be coveting the tales of ‘Sapphire’ in their jet-powered rucksacks under a misguided belief that she was a world-class wordsmith! Obviously Katie Price isn’t a revered author and hopefully never will be but I’m using her to make a point. She is not alone, the issue goes much deeper than this and we as readers would be surprised at the amount of books which are written by someone other than what is stated on the cover. Is this plagiarism or is it just assuming the works of another to be yours? In my opinion they are the same thing but the literary world still allows it to happen.

Plagiarism IS a part of art. We all feel we want to be wholly original but our inspiration and adoration will always shine through in whatever we do no matter how subtle. This isn’t a problem, all art moves forward due to knowledge and respect of what has come before. Hip-Hop is only possible because of knowledge and sampling of past musical genres and then elevating that and pushing it forward. We can cover a song and produce it in an entirely different way as long as we respect the meaning of the original. When we don’t then we detract from the creator’s meaning and sully the essence of the song, I’m looking at you Alexander Burke and All Saints!

It’s a thin line between respectfully drawing from works of art and outrightly degrading them and this ties into the ghost writing because there’s a thin line between being commissioned to create a piece of art or write a song for someone else and using another’s words as your own.

In music it’s not uncommon for someone to write a song that is accredited to another person or group. These people are usually mentioned in some way by the artist or even just have their name next to the song, see Otis Redding during the Motown era. I don’t feel this has the same level of negativity that ghost writing someone else’s words do. It’s possible to right a piece of music for a certain instrument, like Mozart’s clarinet concertos, so in the same way it’s possible to write a music for a certain singer or group after all singers are instruments themselves. Music has more malleability. In my opinion there is a significance in the written word or the painted canvas that comes directly from a certain person. It’s very difficult to write without allowing your voice to come out in the words, it’s almost impossible to paint without seeing the difference in individual’s brushstrokes. No artist in history will ever be able to paint the Mona Lisa in the same way as it was originally.

So in conclusion, it’s very difficult to ascertain what the significance of ghost writing will be in the future. Is it an inherent part of the written word or the painted piece that will continue to rob unsung geniuses of their place in history or is it a great way for those of us who enjoy to write and paint to get paid and exercise our fingers? I’m not sure whether plagiarism is the right way of describing ghost writing as it is usually done for a monetary exchange and not necessarily stealing material and accrediting it to yourself. However is it not just a way of plagiarising somebody’s name? Many great artists and writers have created work under a pseudonym and this is a great way to enjoy anonymity or bypass ignorant views of your audience. My issue is should someone who has no talent in a field be able to be revered in the annals of history through someone else’s hand? Also why does it happen? Are we really so shallow as audiences that we won’t read an interesting work of fiction by an unnamed author but we’ll pay out in droves because they put a celebrity’s name on the front? Does the publishing world like to keep it a secret because it suits them to make more money out of good books they’ve received by tagging on some well known persons name to it? Is it fair that an author who could receive recognition for their talents has to make do with a quiet paycheque and a free bookmark? Should we have to suffer future generations believing that Hilary Clinton was actually able to write a book? It’s up to you but in my eyes we should know who created what we behold, and if we don’t then just like battery farmed eggs, we shouldn’t buy them!

(Originally published on Creative Boom website)

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