Phil Elverum has finally thrown his hat into the on-going “Are Pants Art?” debate, and it’s a resounding “No.” Elverum (who put out an excellent re-working of his song “Lone Bell” last week) posted on his Tumblr yesterday an exchange with a customer complaining that he did not enjoy the album he bought at Elverum’s show (though the customer did say he enjoyed the show itself). The customer asked if there was some way he could exchange the album for one that sounded more like the live show, frustrated that he spent 20 dollars on something he didn’t enjoy. Elverum’s response is funny in its bluntness, but he also makes a pretty good point:
Basically, I feel like you need to adjust your perception of our exchange. You need to treat me like an artist, not a store that sells pants. What I am doing is making art and selling it. A fundamental aspect of art (music, visual, whatever) is that it is wild and unpredictable and meant to transport you somewhere beyond your present spot. I presume you would not ask for your money back at the movie theater if the movie didn’t match your expectations. You would not send your food back at the restaurant if you weren’t into the flavor (I guess some people actually do this but if you do, please stop.) Putting your money towards art, music, film, etc., even food, is a gesture of interest that you are making towards being shown something new. You are not purchasing a reliable product like pants. You are voting “yes” for mystery.
It reminds me of something I believe Paul Reiser said in an interview about the film Diner, to paraphrase: “You’ll like it, it’s great. Or you know, maybe you won’t, but fuck it — it’s 90 minutes of your life, you’re not giving up much.” Maybe this person won’t like the album in the future, but they didn’t make that big of an investment. Besides, Elverum’s response is good enough to be worth $20 dollars. Read the full exchange here.
Pre-Human Ideas is out 11/12 on P. W. Elverum & Sun