17 July 2014

Real Fans Respect the Process

This blog does not rant. Airing out grievances here was never my intention; I want to inspire thought and action, not bore people with angry tirades. It's from this place, this desire to project a specific and calculated opinion in each post that does not rant, that I came to my topic today.

The newly released Michael Jackson album is a crime against Michael Jackson.

Creation is an act of discovery.

I might choose later to take the words "an act of" out of that last sentence to create impact, then even later decide to leave those words in for all the weight that their meaning could hold, and tomorrow question whether that weight affects the sentence negatively.

To publish the unfinished, unapproved works of an artist, any kind of artist, is to rob that creator of true, uncensored expression. An artist's own revisions are part of the creative process, and until a creator deems his or her work complete, the work is, in effect, censored of its creator's final thoughts. Each modification to a creative work imprints the artist's personality upon the piece until it ends up reflecting just what the artist wanted reflected. To release unfinished works posthumously risks exposing weaknesses, flaws, mistakes, or other particulars that might not have been released by the creator. It opens up the work to misinterpretations or criticisms from which a dead creator has no self-defense.

In an era of reduced privacy and instant sharing of emotions, it may seem like we should feel more comfortable with a stream-of-consciousness style of creativity. Myself, I love the editing process, in both my writing and my photography, and consider the editing to be as important as the initial composition. It's why I don't journal anymore—I don't want anyone to think my journals are the sum of my thoughts, especially if I should happen to die at an inopportune moment of self-reflection! Virginia Woolf, the poet and diarist, noted that people tend to journal in times of great emotion, limiting the value of the thoughts expressed in a diary as an accurate reflection of life. So, too, are the limits of works in progress, as they are the incomplete reflections of an artist's musings.

My creative process, by the light of a lava lamp. My scribbles will be edited
during typing and then again in the morning before posting.
We, as consumers (often our only real power in the U.S.) must not allow others to profit from the publishing of Michael Jackson's unfinished recordings that were completed by others without Michael's input and therefore are not truly Michael's songs. The same applies to releases of Tupac Shakur's extensive previously unreleased catalog, or the publishing of manuscripts left behind by J.R.R. Tolkien by his son Christopher.

Do I believe some diaries and journals should be published posthumously? If it was clearly the intent of the author to share with the world a particular perspective from a particular point in history, then yes. If it was clearly a private expulsion of emotional pleiades meant only for personal enlightenment, then maybe not. If we aren't sure, then maybe some things are best left private. To do otherwise would be exploitation.

Do I think George Lucas should have altered the original Star Wars films to fit his original vision, the one he claims he was denied by the limitations of technology in the 70's and 80's? As I say about oh-so-many things, just because he can doesn't mean he should. Once released to the public, a piece of art becomes part of the public consciousness. Art is a gift. It is the personal struggle of the artist to create within imposed limitations, which forces creativity. The public release makes art a new thing, ready for interaction with observers and listeners and readers. It becomes a collaborative agreement with an audience, an agreement that George Lucas violated. Star Wars fans were pissed because they did respect the original process and the original results.
A masterpiece is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it's there complete in the mind, if only at the back. —Virginia Woolf
What about the works of masters, especially from ancient history? While I admit to my own hunger for more works from great artists who died too young or who simply spark an insatiable craving in some of us, it's still just not right. To discover a missing or previously unknown finished work is exciting, but I say again, anything else is exploitation.

Part of the beauty of art is its limits: its impermanence and limited quantity. Cake decorators understand this. If we love an artist—if we are a true fan—we must respect the creative process and let that artist's unfinished works dissolve quietly into the ether, hints of what could have been but were never meant to be.

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