Do Something Exciting

David Bowie Blackstar 2016

“Never play to the gallery… but you never learn that until much later on… never work for other people…. Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you’ve felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society… I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produced their worst work when they do that. And the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being and go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” David Bowie, 1997.

The most complete artist that I’ve carried through my life has been David Bowie. In the 90s David was entering middle age and instead of laying back and holding the line he came alive. He showed us all what it meant to challenge oneself, to challenge stereotypes about artists, art and culture. He changed his music. He painted. He got involved with the Art World in a big way – not only as a collector and artist, but as a publisher of Modern Painters magazine which became instrumental in presenting new artists and ideas. He was a force of nature. And David’s last act before he left us was a stunning finale – Blackstar pushed the boundaries and left us with a new challenge to be better artists – yet again.

Now it’s subgroups and genres. It’s hip-hop. It’s girl power. It’s a communal kind of thing. It’s about a community. It’s becoming more and more about the audience, because the point of having somebody who lead the forces has disappeared because the vocabulary of rock is too well known. [That vocabulary] is a currency that is not…. It’s not devoid of meaning anymore, but it’s certainly only a conveyor of information. It’s not a conveyor of rebellion, and the internet has taken on that, as I said. So, I find that a terribly exciting area…”

“…So from my standpoint being an artist, I like to see what the new construction is between artist and audience. There is a breakdown personified by the rave culture of the last few years where the audience is at least as important as who’s playing at the rave. It’s almost as if the artist is there to accompany what the audience are doing and that feeling is very much permeating music and permeating the internet.  [Until the mid 70s] we were still living under the guise of a single and absolute created society – where there were known truths and known lies and there was no duplicity or pluralism about the things that we believed in. That started to break down rapidly in the 70s [with] the idea of a duality in the way we live. There are always two, three, four, five sides to every question – the singularity disappeared. And that I believe has produced such a medium as the internet which absolutely establishes and shows us that we are living in total fragmentation…

“…I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society both good and bad is unimaginable. I think we are actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying… I’m talking about the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so “in simpatico” it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about. It’s happening in every form. It’s happening in visual art. The breakthroughs in the early part of the century with people like Duchamp were so prescient in what they were doing and putting down. The idea that a piece of work is not finished until the audience come to it and add their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is about.David Bowie in conversation with Jeremy Paxton, 1999.

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