08 February 2011

The Art of Computer Programming

Polly Jean Harvey is one of my favourite artists. Her work is extraordinary, moving. Not that I'd claim to fully understand any of her songs.

She was on the radio tonight talking to John Wilson about her latest album. John asked if she would explain the meaning behind a new song and she politely refused. She said,

"I really believe that my job is done when I've delivered the music and it's pointless for me to try and give a critical analysis of my intensions behind anything because regardless of that the work has to stand on its own, it either works or it dosen't, and the beauty of providing artwork is that it is then handed over to be interpreted and - you know this we've talked about this before. So it's very difficult for me to try and describe the meaning of words or titles. I'm quite happy for people to interpret it as they want to."

I don't think this point of view is uncommon amongst artists. But it made me think: I wish I was an artist. Once I'd written a program my work would be done.

Update: I know nothing of the music business but it occurs to me that I'm suggesting in this silly post that having written a song, Polly does not work hard recording, touring and promoting it in radio interviews. I didn't mean to imply this. I was just thinking that no one is likely to ask her to improve the user experience of the song, or improve its performance by reducing its duration, or incorporate it into someone else's song, or justify the choice of instruments or phrases, or have to sing the song with some words changed by someone else, so that the meaning is twisted, and so on. Should she be so asked, she might half raise her hand in a gesture of apologetic refusal, saying "Artist."

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