Wow, I am watching this interview of Lady Gaga and it is absolutely fascinating. She is far more eloquent and thoughtful than I expected her to be. I never took the time to even care about her before and mostly just scoffed at her outrageous videos. But sitting down with a cup of coffee and watching this long interview is really eye opening. I am coming to really appreciate her, her art, her work, her passion and freedom, her opinions, what she stands for, and the way in which she conveys her philosophy on living and creating.
My boyfriend asked me if I consider her a hipster. And I would say no. Here is why (as I wrote to him):
"Mmmm, no i dont think so. I think that the indie culture of 5 years ago, that used to be the subculture, is now the mainstream. it is ironic that is it is still labeled as "indie/hipster" because it is common and popular yet the label tries to maintain it as "underground." Hipster culture is no longer underground. Most pop stars are donning the stereotypical hipster garb and trying to fit into hipster culture because hipsters are now the norm and what is marketable. And what gaga was able to do is use pop in its purest, most extreme and outrageous form, as an artistic tool to start something new. I can definitely see how she is influenced by Andy Warhol who was the master of pop. And I can definitely see how she evokes a new cultural change. Every new trend can melt into other past trends, like I can see how her influence effects some hipsters in statement making ways. But I think she manages to separate herself from the norm of hipster culture and is able to truly do something new and purely pop.
I think I really respect her for creating a new Pop in New York where pop is not at all the mainstream anymore. It is really fascinating to analyze the cultural barriers that she is trying to push. And it is really interesting hearing her philosophical reasoning for all that she does. It's curious that, in a hipster dominated mainstream society (where hipsterdom is actually popular and easy), she is able to take pop (which was uncool) and make it something new and intruiging and shocking again."
She took pop, with a lower case p, and turned it back into Pop with a capital P. Where hipster culture, which a few years ago used to be the subculture, used to be the venue within which you could experience the formation of new art and new experiences, Gaga reclaimed Pop as the venue for creating "the New." I remember reading an article in Ad Busters called "Hipsters; the Dead end of Western Civilization" and totally agreeing with their criticism of Hipster culture and the hopeless wondering about where does culture shift to from here? I think what is especially fascinating about Lady Gaga is that she managed to harness true Pop, in the fashion that Andy Warhol first did, to use it as the new way to shape a culture. I wouldn't argue that she is as revolutionary as Andy Warhol because she does vocalize how deeply he has influenced her. But I will say that she is smart enough to be able to bring a carefully thought through philosophical reasoning into her work, her art, and her life.
While watching the interview, I started to see some parallels between Gaga and Marina Abramovic's work. I saw Marina Abramovic at the MOMA in New York a few weeks ago and was absolutely fascinated with her work. I have not been one to particularly enjoy most performance art, I guess mostly because I have never been able to experience any performance art by big name artists in person. Like Gaga's art, I am quick to stick up my nose and not see the "art" in the performance. But when I saw Abramovic fully engaged in her performance art, and when I saw the incredible silent interaction that she had with the individuals who chose to sit across from her, I was deeply moved. I took a few photos and videos from the exhibition that I will try to post maybe tomorrow so you can try and get a glimpse of the experience. (It is hard to fully engage in it when you are not actually there since it is performance art.) But anyway, once I was at the MOMA, and as an observer, got to experience a piece of her performance art, I suddenly understood what performance art is all about. It truly is living art. It is frightening because the performer completely lets go of all the normal limits that a person places on themselves and frees their mind, their body, their essence to the moment of experience. They are limitless in the presence of their performance because they are escalating their state of living to a level of art. It is beyond the status of normal living. It is a freedom from limits.
What brings me back to Lady Gaga is that, in this interview, Marina Abramovic asks Gaga a question aong the lines of "who sets limits?" And she basically answers that we set limits on ourselves. She goes on to explain her philosophical reasoning for her answer, which you can watch for yourself. But just contemplating that question and answer on my own brought me to some interesting thoughts about Gaga, Abramovic, art, and how humans can elevate themselves to an artistic level of living and experience. It is incredible the power that a person can harness by letting go of the limits they place upon themselves. Persons who truly allow themselves to live vulnerably and in a poetic nature, free from the criticism of others and themselves, takes living to an artistic and transcendental level.
What is art? I have mulled over that question a million times. I have written papers over and over on it. And I wonder when will I ever be able to truly express my thoughts on what art is in a clear and precise manner. It feels impossible. But I do believe that a quality of art is that it transcends the expected, the norm, the usual. In its presence, in its essence, it evokes in the viewer an almost spiritual, unspeakable connection. What makes it art, what makes it more than craft, is that is reaches a level that becomes almost un-human, a level at which it is hard to describe in words, even if you are the most eloquent person in the world. Even if the art is visually based, it reaches beyond what is seen to harness a power that resonates inside of those around it. I think that Abramovic, as a living breathing person who transforms her being into art, is really a perfect example of this. She sits in a chair for hours and hours, for days and days, and anyone can come and sit across from her. She never changes her position or her expression. It is so simple, but she takes it to such a powerful extreme that is becomes extraordinary. She releases the normal needs of any human being, the twitches and shifts. And she passes beyond her own human boundaries to a level that is almost spiritual in its nature. The reactions she evokes in the people who choose to sit across from her, and the people just observing the performance, are amazing. It really just baffles me and is so inspiring. The only person who prevents you from reaching a level of living art is you. You set your limits based on your own fears or opinions of what is right or proper. You choose to be an example, to live an example of "what is human."
I will argue that Lady Gaga is a performance artist, and a successful and thoughtful artist at that. A performance artist is someone who breaks the boundaries of what they tell themselves they can and can't do as a regular person, and elevates themselves into the exploratory frontier of art making. Gaga gives up the safety of normality to become a piece of art in herself. She becomes the art. That is pretty powerful and frightening. It was really interesting hearing her describe her contemplations on one of Abramovic's performance pieces. It was surprisingly thought provoking. I encourage you to watch at least part of the interview too. And I hope that you take some time this week to think about how you would define art, what you define as "experience," what you define as "being human" and how the questions are applicable to your own being, your own art making, and your experiential living.
I think I just accidentally wrote an impromptu art criticism essay. (And there is more to come...this interview, and my internal dialogue while at church yesterday, seem to have catapulted me into a very contemplative mood.)