Art vs. Commerce

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This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat For KCRW.

For decades, the debate of art versus commerce has raged on. It is not however, an argument often heard in the music business. No industry is more vulnerable to the crass accusation of profit over purity. In fact, it s getting harder and harder to dispute it. As major labels watch their profit margins decline, the majority invest in what is already proven to sell, not what is inventive and unknown.

But true artistic spirit does exist in the music business, and in fact, purity of heart and vision is not nearly as obscured as some have been led to believe. Never is that truth more in evidence than in the music heard on this station.

I'm particularly interested in a certain kind of musician. That is the one who has ventured outside the lines of music, to find expression in other artistic mediums.

These musician slash artists have produced some of the most innovative works, musically and otherwise.

Their independent spirit has helped guide other musicians to find courage for new work beyond music. I've had the pleasure of working with some of these people, and it is clear to me that they see things very differently.

There are those who have work in painting as well as music. Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, John Mellencamp, and John Lennon all translate their sense of self into their paintings and drawings. Other musician painters include Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Marilyn Manson, George Clinton, Ron Wood, Devendra Banhart, and Dee Dee Ramone, among others. The style of these artists is diverse, but their artwork is as clear and recognizable as their musical talents.

Then there are musicians who have embraced technology with passion. Beck, Todd Rundgren, and Michael Stipe all work in different forms of multimedia.

There are the musicians who have also performed as actors. Dwight Yoakum, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Greg Dulli and Deborah Harry have built interesting parallel careers on the screen and on record.

But there's one kind of artist who refuses to be confined to any structure. That artist is forever forsaking the notion of what is, for the possibility of what could be. Bjork is certainly one of them. From musician, to visual artist, actress to provocateur, Bjork has stretched the definition of the word artist to give life and meaning to exploration and expression in many mediums. David Bowie is also one to be counted in this regard. He continues to push the boundaries of what we know beyond music with painting, sculpture, acting and multimedia. Also, in this unusual club is Peter Gabriel and David Byrne, both who only seem confined by their imaginations. And I can only imagine if Frank Zappa was alive today, what digital gifts he would give us all.

I'm really talking about risk taking. In a world of celebrity and 15 seconds of fame, these individuals are forging ahead with their own ideas, in spite of the consequences.

No matter where you sit on the debate of art versus commerce, you can't deny the talent some have, and the courage to explore it. True artists of any medium transcend place & time to deliver something real and beautiful, taking us beyond our immediate lives to a place we ve never felt or seen quite like it.

And that is exactly what I'm looking for.

This is Celia Hirschman for On The Beat for KCRW.