Artist Porn

Over the course of the last seven days, I’ve watched a TV show and a movie that occupy the two extremes of representing the creative artist as a narrative achetype – the Amazon Original series Mozart in the Jungle and the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

Mozart in the Jungle is brilliant. It details the lives of the conductor and musicians who make up the New York Orchestra, best summed up as “Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music.”

It’s totally not the show you’re expecting when you hear the words classical music, with one exception – Gael Garcia Bernal’s eccentric conductor, Rodrigo, who exemplifies the kind of hyperactive, devoted-to-the-art-of-it madman who finds music in the sounds of a cab crossing a bridge and tortures himself with the demands of his own genius. People bend over backwards to deal with his eccentricities because of that genius.

Naturally, within the of the show he’s gifted, brilliant, and fantastically successful in his chosen career.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen Brothers at their best: beautifully shot, beautifully cast, touched by moments of strangeness (although less than most of their work). It deals with the titular character, Llewyn Davis, a down on his luck folk-singer in sixties New York, trying to make a living as a solo performer after the death of his partner.

Llewyn is the antithesis of Rodrigo: a competent musician, but not great. Unable to brush up against the greatness required to be a true artist, despite the fact that he has pursued this goal to the point of his own self-destruction. There is a point where his sister suggests that if the music isn’t happening, perhaps he can go back to his old job.

Llewyn snaps at her: he doesn’t want to go back, pretending to live a life that isn’t authenticated by his art.

What the two shows have in common is this: they return to the default narrative that art must consume the artist, sacrificing themselves on the alter of the muse. They are, essentially, a form of pornography – the pleasure lies in seeing the glamorization of the myth for the purposes of comedy (for Mozart) or tragedy (For Llewyn Davis).

Both do it extremely well – I’m particularly irritated by this kind of story and in particular the archetype of the mad, inspired artist, and yet I found myself consuming episodes of Mozart in the Jungle like they were god-damn Tic Tacs. I’d recommend watching either, if this kind of thing is your jam.

But I do find myself sitting down and reminding myself that it’s just a story. You do not have to be consumed by art, even if the idea is particularly attractive when you’re young and stupid.

Leave a Reply