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What is the worst quality of any artist?  By this I mean related to the art itself not interpersonal relationships or bad habits.


It is not lack of intelligence, artists do not need to be intellectuals.


It’s not even being bad.  People who are bad usually know it and try to compensate in other ways.


The worst problem is mediocrity, the gray area between good and bad.  This usually shows first as a lack of taste and discrimination.


The dictionary definition of taste in art is “the sense of what is fitting, harmonious, or beautiful; the perception and enjoyment of what constitutes excellence in the fine arts, literature, fashion”.


People who have no taste do not know what good is, they only know what excites them.  People who have taste sense what is good.  This is a perceptual sensation more than it is knowledge.


Having taste is the ability to have an emotional response to art to distinguish between good and bad as well as the gradations between the two.  This is being able to innately discern degrees and nuance.  This is largely inherited through cultural conditioning although often wealthy and well educated people still have horrible taste.


Mediocrity can also stem from not wanting to learn and to not be able to accept criticism. This generally comes from the belief they know everything already resulting in:

  • Not realizing that in music a poem is not the same as a lyric and when set to music it is not a song, although it can become performance art by adding a visual presentation in a video.
  • Overplaying being confused with skillfulness or dexterity.
  • Being overtly artsy and pretentious in word choice being perceived as equaling culture and refinement.
  • Imitation being substituted for creation.
  • Lack of direction appearing as being artistically adventurous.

Often the former problems arise from being completely self taught, these are not qualities learned in a school.  Not that being self taught is in itself bad, but I have met more than one self styled musician who has never bothered to learn the basic principles of music.  For the most part they were guitarists.  Simple basic principles which are never learned can have catastrophic impacts.


I knew a guitarist who could not advance because he had never learned to count time, the beats in a measure, although he could play a very simple, basic rhythm pattern.  This meant he could not stop playing and count the beats in a rest before he resumed playing.  There are probably many more who struggle with this same, very elementary, problem.  These are guitar beaters not guitarists.


Many may have never played a song which was not in 4/4 time so that is all they can do because that is all they know.  They may not know what a time signature is or what it means.  This is self limitation which comes from not caring enough about what they are attempting to do to learn the basics.  Usually they believe they already know everything just from beating on a guitar which they learned from copying an actual musician on a recording or a watching a video.  They simply copied something rather than learning why it worked and then wandered off alone into their own version of what music is.


One of the most fascinating things I have found about people who cannot accept criticism is it most often comes from a feeling of inferiority not one of superiority.  They have a subconscious need to defend themselves in whatever they do because of their own perception of themselves as being weak not strong as they would have you believe.  They project their own failures, faults, and weaknesses onto others.


You see this all the time in politics and politicians.  You may see it when someone posts for Critique.  You try to be helpful but then are met with argumentation and hostility about how theirs was the obvious correct choice.  They have a deep seated need to prove themselves.  They project their own shortcomings onto someone else who is only attempting to help them in order to strengthen their own work.


Mediocrity originates from someone who either cannot tell or cannot accept the fact that what they are doing is less than good from another person’s perspective.  This is why it is worse than being bad. These are people who are gray in ability who actually believe they are gleaming white.


People who are bad work to become better.  People who are mediocre believe they are beautiful already.  People who are really good fret about whether something is good enough and want friends to tell them if something is wrong.


Some of the most skilled people here post on New Music Friday in order to hear if something is not working or can be improved.


This is one of the great paradoxes of life.  People who can play but have no talent often believe they are artistically great.  The people who are really good always question themselves.  The really talented people always look for ways to become better.


Carol Kaye, who is now 87, is often listed as the most recorded musician of all time.  She played bass guitar with the musicians known as The Wrecking Crew of the Los Angeles studios heyday.  There is a documentary where she talks about the first time they heard The Beat Goes On.  They thought, “Jesus, what a piece of garbage.  We will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make this work.” (Actual quote from Carol Kaye)


Her bass line with one accented note brought that song to life.  Sonny & Cher were smart enough and humble enough to let them add to a song which in turn made their careers.  Better musicians took a song that they thought was horrible and by everyone working together produced one of the sixties’s biggest hits.


Listen to a version of the original recording then listen to a performance of it from The Sonny & Cher Show.  The original is great, the TV show version is only mediocre.  This is because the TV show bassist does not add the bump in the bass line.  One accented note in the bass line makes the difference.  Carol Kaye has discriminating taste.

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson

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