My sister (shout out!) introduced me to Lady Gaga back in like, 2009 or 2010, probably. Yeah, I think it was summer 2010. I knew about her like everyone did as soon as Just Dance, her first major single, hit the American radio airwaves. But Anna, my sister, knew about her way before that happened. Anna was one of her first fans back when Lady Gaga did that Canadian tour in smallish venues in 2008 and no one south of the border knew who she was. Anna got a cheap ticket to a small concert hall in our hometown. She was on the band wagon before all y'all.
And I hopped on not long after. I'd heard all of The Fame singles that were released and I thought they were fun and danceable. But it wasn't until Anna played the entire album for me that I loved Lady Gaga. And then Anna played The Fame Monster for me, which was also already out and I was done. Bad Romance, oh man. And The Fame itself -- the song, I mean. It was just everything. Everything we were feeling, everything we were missing. In a wasteland of Taylor Swifts and Miley Cyruses, it was not only better than that but a comment on it, a comment on the pop machine. And we got it. We identified with it, we danced to it, we blasted it over and over again from the car stereo.
But that's pretty much where it ended. You know, it occurs to me that this is the way it was all along with Lady Gaga. I mean, ever since she busted onto the scene in 2008, she had that whole 'Haus of Gaga' echo of Warhol's Factory. But I suppose I always thought that the Queen inspired aspects would win out over the pretentions to art. Alas:
Now I'm sure that modern performance art has an exalted place in the volumes of the art critic, in the hearts of art historians, & company; but that's probably where it should stay. And I'm not one of these folks who looks at modern visual art and says, "a four year old could have made that." I really want to understand art, modern and post-modern. I want to know what it says about our world, what it can tell us about our world. I want to know about its significance to the culture, and more importantly I want to formulate opinions about its significance to me. But I have my limits. And they basically begins where you can find self-indulgent works of art.
After seeing the above, I did a little research on Abramovic. And it didn't take long until I was like, "oh, right, That Lady." And I have to say, some of her performance I get. The sustained mutual gaze, definitely understand it. I can see why it would move some people to tears, I understand how looking at the nakedness of a stranger's face is intense and important. But this?
As it relates to Lady Gaga and her newest album, Artpop (which is obviously a thinly veiled homage to the Pop Art movement that Warhol pioneered), this is not new, not edgy, not bringing art to the pop-music-listening masses. This is just sad. Pop Art had its height in the late sixties. With Warhol and Sedgwick and the Velvet Underground and Campbell's Cans and performance art videos. Now let's see if we can count: The late sixties occurred 2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, four and a half decades ago. That's nearly half a century ago. That's about twenty years older than that dusty old mac classic that is now a collectable.
Dwelling in the past that you weren't a part of through its art is fine as a hobby. It's okay to value Warhol's art highly if you're a collector. But if you ask me, this sort of performance art is part and parcel of postmodern art that was born of the 1960s. And as far as I'm concerned, the postmodern era in visual art and otherwise is over. It was of our parents (the baby boomers). It has run it's course. It needs to be dragged out into a field and put out of its misery.
Why? Why can't we just have art for art's sake? Why can't we progress art in the direction of performance art of this sort? What if the post modern era in art is not over? And who the hell am I to make such a pronouncement?
Because I agree with bell hooks when she states that movies creates culture rather than just mirroring it. And while I think that this is super true of movies, with their powerful imagery and massive reach, I think the argument could be made that this is true of all art. I've written about this before on my blog in terms of sci fi and fantasy novels and television, and it is no less applicable here. In fact, I believe that because Lady Gaga has positioned and identified herself as an activist, she has opened herself up to this line of criticism. When you take on to change the world in ways positive, it is upsetting to see this kind of self-indulgence.
Because what does this video give to the culture? What sort of culture is created by postmodern performance art? I know that some people will argue that art has intrinsic, not extrinsic value. Art for art's sake, right? But this oft-repeated phase smacks of shirking one's artistic responsibility. Art for art's sake is poison because not only can it lead to self-indulgent directions such as the above example, but it can go down dangerous roads that then creates a violent and ethically irresponsible culture.
Which brings us to THE HORROR of it all: Lady Gaga's leaked song "Aura/Burqa". I won't say much about this. So many people have summed it all up much more eloquently than I ever could have. But one thing is certain from the lyrics of the song and the musical accompaniment: that here the cultural effects can only be negative. That Lady Gaga, whom I so long hoped was part of the solution, is now a part of a problem. This is Madonna's interview in Spin magazine in 1996. This is, for me, Lady Gaga's inflection point. This is the moment at which I go from still hoping that she could be a culturally responsible, positive artist (I held out so long -- I really really really wanted to love Born This Way that mess of an album) to her obviously succumbing to the hype, the money, the greed. It's no longer a comment on the machine. She is a pawn in that machine.
It's a shame. I really wanted all this to turn out differently. I wanted her to be a force for positive change in popular culture. I really did. I wish she just could have slowed down, thought it over, made some intelligent dance music or at least something non-violent and relatable. I suppose the only thing to do now is to turn to other danceable lady artists who, if they do not adopt the goal of changing society for the good, at least their lyrics are written with a deft hand:
Okay, that wasn't so danceable. But Tegan & Sara have not let me down in the past decade I've been their fan! (Plus Canada represent! :P)