Singers are known as artists. Many would suggest the term “artist” is used very loosely when it comes to some singers. Remember PSY? Or the guy who did ‘What Did the Fox Say?’. Or, even further back, remember Aqua? Some would say rap isn’t art. Some (not me). But Justin Bieber? With all the positivity towards his new album, the blog from the bog asks, is Justin Bieber art?
Everybody’s fave source of knowledge, Wikipedia, describes art as ‘a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities, usually involving imaginative or technical skill.'(1). Pop Artist, Andy Warhol said, ‘an artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have’.
Philosopher, Martin Heidegger (left) wrote that, ‘the artist is the origin of the work. The work is origin of the artist. Neither is without the other. Nevertheless, neither is the sole support of the other.’ (2)
What do you mean?
Take Bieber’s song, ‘Sorry'(3). “You know I try but I don’t do too well with apologies/I hope I don’t run out of time, could someone call a referee?/Cause I just need one more shot at forgiveness.”
Heidegger states that understanding art comes from understanding the TEXT and CONTEXT as a whole. The lyrics to Sorry cannot be fully comprehended without the knowledge that at one point Bieber made many, many stupid mistakes. But at the same time Sorry can still be understood individually without the full context (say by people 100 years from now). To truly understand art you must understand the thing as art in addition to the symbolism of the art, but you can understand it without each other…
Heidegger suggests that art is a dance between creating truths in culture and expressing truths in culture. In an interview, co-collaborator, Skrillex said of JB, “he’s still a pop star making pop music, but at the same time, all the stuff I worked on with him had a sense of honesty about it” (4). In an article, MTV suggested the latter two songs on Bieber’s album are ‘dealing with his relationship with ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez’ – using cultural truths about their relationship and creating new truths about relationships, you might say.
Basically he’s used the medium of song to create an art form – but also to create a story of redemption, forgiveness and confessions.
The reviews Purpose has gained have been quite impressive. Hollywoodlife.com wrote, ‘earlier this year, I had very little doubt that his fourth studio album…would be anything less than remarkable'(5) while Billboard wrote, ‘from a PR perspective, Purpose is the album Justin Bieber had to make. The 21-year-old Canadian pop star spent the last couple of years running amok…for his fourth album to work, the Biebs needs to seem humble, repentant, and grown up'(6).
So, using Heidegger’s definition, could Purpose be considered as art? I suppose it could.
But how true are Bieber’s lyrics? Do they come from his heart? If you look at the list of writers working with him, it could be suggested that this album has been as processed, packaged and labelled just like a can of Campbell’s soup. On a surface level, he is apologising. However, knowing the context, you could look at this ‘from a PR perspective’, to quote Billboard.com, as damage limitation, preventing Bieber from becoming another child-star falling into adult oblivion.
I won’t moan and complain about Bieber’s renaissance, as seen through the eyes of the media like a usual internet troll (even though I am no Bieber fan). Just like Andy Warhol’s work suggests – art can be mass produced, capitalist material. Just look at Eight Elvises(7) by Andy Warhol, depicting Elvis as a cowboy – 2 iconographies mashed together and multiplying – just like any mass produced kitsch.
Bieber falls into the category of many other pop phenomenons; from One Direction to Britney Spears, Maroon 5 to Elvis Presley: people, known as artists, producing song after song, with seemingly little time for true artist crafting. However, we still call them artists. Plus, art over the centuries has been used as propaganda to support a political or religious idea, from Christian paintings to Nazi films. Is Bieber’s humble album of apologies and confessions a way for us to forgive him and buy back into the product of Justin Bieber?
Finally, isn’t it down to the individual to decide what art is? To some, Bieber’s work is a thing, while others would call you a philistine for not understanding the subtleties of his album. You have your view, Heidegger has his view and Warhol has his. Does Art have to need every meaning in the world and just be a pretty tune, whistled away? French poet, Theophile Gautier, suggests art is simply art, calling it ‘l’art pour l’art’ (8) or art for art’s sake. Some “thing” to enjoy.
(2) The Origin of the Work of Art – Martin Heidegger. First published 1935
(3) Sorry – Justin Bieber 2015 from Purpose 2015
(7) Eight Elvises by Andy Warhol 1963 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Elvises
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