Tupac, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg – Creativity Redux

What does it mean to be creative in the digital age?

I’ve often railed against artists whose first approach to creativity is to research and appropriate the work of others. In my mind, that is very different from an artist responding to a work, engaging in  a dialogue with it then adding something new. So I agree with Judith Thompson to a degree when she argues that:

I believe that an adaptation of a classic or canonized work gives a writer the opportunity to guide the audience in their interaction with the play, to shake the piece until it is a living text again and to magnify areas of the play that have contemporary social relevance (i.e. Taming of the Shrew,OthelloThe Merchant of Venice).

I am not as invested in making canonical work live again as I am in creating new works that have the power to our time.

I also believe that novelty and invention are overrated in contemporary American culture. Jonathan Bates’ The Genius of Shakespeare indirectly makes a compelling case that Shakespeare’s plays are great in part because they build on the work of others.

The idea of a Tupac hologram touring with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg really bothers me. The hologram technology recently unveiled at Coachella is spectacular. But lots of new technology is w-o-w. It takes time for artists to learn how to use it in an artful way (e.g., wide screen and Laurence of Arabia)

I am more concerned about what this proposed tour says about the state of hip hop and art, in general. I don’t have a problem with mash ups or adaptations. However, there is something unseemly about making the long-dead 25 year old continue to work after death. It feels like a kind of necrophilia. Tupac’s moment has passed. We need today’s artists to speak to our now, even while we continue to appreciate Shakur’s body of work.

My real worry? The long term disinvestment in arts education and the arts (public schools, NEH) has created a void in both artists and  audiences. Audiences know less, therefore ask for less and consequently get less from their artists. When they get less, they turn away from art and seek its pleasures elsewhere. This is a problem because our society really needs artists.  If more people trust Jon Stewart for news than their local anchors and have valid reasons for doing so, the role of entertainment, an extension of art, has shifted. There have always been some artists who spoke to their times.But polemical artists always speak to a very small crowd. Commercial artists have the possibility of reaching many more people, much more powerfully.

It is true that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are older artists who might be concerned about staying relevant. But can any artist remain relevant by simply returning to the past? I await the tour with interest and trepidation.

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About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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