Well, this is new: I figured that I might as well talk about something fairly close to my heart, which is the arts as a whole. Not just music, though I certainly know my stuff on that one, but the whole spectrum of what falls under the collective banner of the arts. Because, let’s be honest, as much as the arts are all around us, it can be amazing how little we truly appreciate them and how easily we take them for granted as a result.
So let’s take a bit of time to appreciate them. While this article will be purely my own experience with the arts (which will include discussions of music and theatre), what I hope this article will do is encourage everyone reading this to take some time and consider just how invaluable the arts truly are. You could also make a case that this article is a good chance to see just what lies behind the mind of the grumpy idiot who won’t ever praise anything too highly and what motivates him, so consider this a rare glimpse into the mind of Nemo Atkins if you wish!
The place to start with the arts is the obvious question: “what is art?”
That, honestly, is a question which is impossible to narrow down to one single definition, for art is a very wide thing that, depending on how you view it, could be answered with something as simple as “creative work provided by talented people” to something as wide reaching as “everything”. While I personally do not entirely buy that the entire world around us is art in and of itself, there is certainly a lot to appreciate about the natural world: heck, I live in a part of the UK that is noted for absolutely beautiful scenery and there is certainly something awe inspiring about standing on the top of a hill and looking around at the vast open countryside that lays in front of you. For some, such views might as well be works of art in their own right and I would certainly not deny that seeing the vast countryside from the top of a hill can be a truly incredible experience that makes living in the countryside truly worth it.
For me personally, though, I feel that the arts are specifically best summed up as “the creative arts”, though this is certainly not a definition that is completely free from criticism in and of itself. For me, the creative arts can be summed up as stuff like drawing, painting, acting, creative writing (although one could make a case that all writing, when not purely informative, can count as creative writing on some level) and music. While it is a shame that so many seem to neglect to appreciate the importance of the art (especially in the UK, where the current government seems to consider the arts in general to be of little importance and has actively made multiple efforts to reduce artistic opportunities in the North-East of England), it is worth noting that the arts have been used for far more powerful reasons than on first glance. One example I am always reminded of is in relation to an acting practitioner (whose name, unfortunately, I cannot remember) who travelled to Malta to work with women to create a work showing exactly why rape within marriage was so damaging, a work which is felt to be at least partially responsible for a change in the law to make such an act illegal after many previous attempts to do so had failed. Even purely entertainment focused media can still challenge their audience if they so wish: Death of a Salesman, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Crucible raise some very powerful issues that challenge their audience, yet it’s hard to claim that the works exist only to raise said issues because there is far more going on than just that. On top of that, there is a trend of many shows doing special episodes handling issues like, say, addiction, divorce and homophobia while still being a show primarily aimed to entertain.
All of this, of course, is neglecting the hard work that goes into bringing said art to life. I’m sure most people would like to say that the arts are easy work, but, as someone who has walked on both the artistic side of the arts and the critical side, I can assure you that there is a lot that goes into the arts and that a lot of it is stuff that you never actually see on screen. In my own experiences as an actor, I can tell you with confidence that what you see on a stage is the end of a lot of hard work on the parts of a lot of people, and not just in the case of the actors on stage and the stagehands who are in charge of scene changes and whatnot! Even in the worst production you see on the stage, actors will have to learn their lines, learn their blocking (for non-acting folk, that’s basically the physical side of the role: when to sit at the table, when to angrily slam the paper onto the table, that sort of stuff) and do whatever they feel is appropriate to allow them to portray their character properly (like putting on an accent, adjusting their walk or even changing their body language to showcase a character’s issues in ways which are easy to miss if you are unfamiliar with typical behaviour for said issues) while stagehands have to know when scenes are ending and what has to be moved so that the actors have the appropriate props and locations necessary to do their scene. However, that isn’t talking about the work of the director in creating said blocking, directing the actor’s delivery of lines and blocking if what the actor has done isn’t appropriate for the character and highlighting what needs to be researched for the role, the work of those casting the show in picking the appropriate actor for the role and arranging auditions, the work of any costume or set designers in creating the sets and costumes that the audience takes for granted, the work of any understudies who have to be ready to fill in for the main cast should a member fall ill or fail to show up unexpectedly and a bunch of other logistical stuff to even get the cast and production ready to happen. This may perhaps explain some of the more…unusual reactions to criticism by some people in the entertainment industry, such as Josh Trank’s reaction to the horribly received Fantastic Four reboot and Paul Feig’s highly unprofessional handling of the reception to the Ghostbusters reboot (noticing a pattern here?), when you think about it hard enough (although one should not discount genuine egotism as an option either!).
Curiously enough, the same can be said for recording an album: not only must an appropriate recording location be found (which usually means a recording studio, but not always: with how far technology has come in the last few years, it’s very possible to record an album in your own home), but an appropriate recording engineer needs to be found to allow the instruments to sound their best, an appropriate producer needs to be found to encourage the band to put together their best performances on the record, an appropriate mastering engineer needs to be found to make the record sound its best, an appropriate mixing engineer needs to be found to create the appropriate mix for the record, someone needs to be found to make the artwork for the album, liner notes need to be prepared, songs need to be selected for the record…and, of course, the band themselves have to be ready to record their material and be present to actually record it as well! This isn’t even considering the hard work that goes into promoting a record by record labels and PR companies (and, yes, even music critics who review the album: a well written, positive pre-release review can be invaluable in helping to promote a record!) in making sure that the record reaches the attention of those who might be interested in it. I won’t go on a rant on this topic, but, with that all in mind, can you see why I and so many other people in the music industry take poorly to people pirating material when so much hard work goes into making a record on every front and it can easily enter five, if not six, digit figures of cost just to create a record?
On a related note, I want to briefly talk about why I am (or normally would be, at least) a music critic. After all, in a day and age where reviews can seem kind of pointless to some people, you’d be surprised at how many people seem to think that being a music critic means you have to trash everything that you don’t like and praise everything that you do. Truthfully, though, I became a music critic because I love music. Rock, punk, country, folk, metal, pop (although to a lesser extent in terms of modern stuff, I’ll admit), blues, jazz, vocaloid…I love that stuff and I want to keep finding new stuff to talk about, no matter what the quality of it. For me, a new album promo isn’t met with a reception of “Oh great, another band for me to have to cover”, but “Oh, cool, who’re these guys?”: even when I don’t like the artist, I always find learning more about them to be genuinely enjoyable and engaging (I know, I’m weird) and I like to see what they have to offer. I will admit that I do deliberately curb my enthusiasm whenever I actually listen to a record to review it, but only so I can be critical about it. Finding a truly great record by a band who deserves more attention, to me, is what makes it all worth it and is part of the reason why Sunburst’s Fragments of Reality is still sitting as one of my favourite records of the year now, nearly three months after it was released and four months after I first heard it: it was, and still is, one of the records that I always hear and I love it. It’s also part of the reason why bands like Amaranthe and Issues, despite their controversial nature among metal fans, are among the few newer bands who I will always champion: their very unique sounds and excellent songwriting, to me, shows exciting new developments in the metal scene that you don’t hear much elsewhere and that uniqueness is so exciting to hear (you’d be surprised how easy it is to grow tired of hearing the same basic thing again and again when you have to hear it multiple times a week and have to dedicate time and effort to talking about it in detail) that I can’t help loving them for that reason…although the earlier mentioned excellent songwriting certainly helps!
This passion is also part of the reason why I’m genuinely grateful to those who provide promos to the site, even if I don’t cover the artists they submit to the site: the fact they’re willing to give the site a fair chance is truly humbling and, even when I find myself plagued with doubt over my own skills as a critic (which happens a lot more frequently than you might think: I have self-confidence issues that have made me consider quitting reviewing even as recently as within the last few weeks!), I do take some degree of comfort in knowing that they are willing to stick with the site. Whether it’s because they genuinely find me a great critic or not is something I’ve never wanted to ask, but their hard work and willingness to stick with the site is something I truly appreciate.
I couldn’t do this article without mentioning one last little thing that, I think, shows the power of the arts. I don’t know how many people reading this site are interested in therapy and stuff like that (I am studying counselling in my free time, so I am), but one style of therapy that I think is relevant to mention is art therapy. I won’t go into detail about it, as I imagine a lot of people are already familiar with it, but it has a lot of extended sides to it: one could make a case that applied theatre could easily be combined with art therapy to create a powerful play showcasing the life of a person coping with severe depression, for example! Music therapy is also connected to art therapy and it’s a genuinely fascinating subject, as it is used in the treatment of anxiety, depression and even stroke victims. I would certainly encourage interested readers to take the time to research art therapy and music therapy in more detail in their own time, because it does make you realise that the arts in general have a lot more power than might be given credit for!
I am well aware that most of this has come across as a somewhat disorganised ramble (I didn’t really sit and plan this article out, just wrote it as I went along), but I think that the point of what I wanted to say has come across: the arts, despite their general treatment as a mere tool for entertainment by most people, are far more powerful than might be given credit for. I don’t wish to sound pretentious by that statement at all, but the facts are there: art can challenge us as individuals to consider new outlooks upon stuff, art can genuinely improve lives and, even if treated purely as an entertainment medium, art is more than capable of being a way of life for some people. The undeniable truth is that the arts are of great importance to us as people: they define our cultures, they reflect upon us as a society, they enrich our lives and, in future times, they may be used to see what our lives are like to those who were not around to see those times. Let us hope that we never forget that.