Brian Eno on what he learned from David Bowie in making art

The ‘write what you know’ trope works because it’s easier to write the truth. But what’s authentic isn’t always what’s best for the art.

David Bowie modified his voice when he sang “I’m Afraid of Americans.” He wanted to make sure the tone matched up with the voice of the character (himself) portraying it. He interpreted music through motion. Brian Eno said that Bowie did what was best for the song, not clinging to the usual memoir approach of a singer.

“A lot of people think that singers should always be sincere, that it has to be their own soul coming out. That’s b — — — -. What you’re really doing is working like a playwright. You’re making little plays and the singer is the lead character.”

Eno encourages fictional storytelling. Making art is an act. It’s supposed to be fantasy. But some artists think that the truth is what sets them free and leave it to their fans are there to sort it out.

“It’s that ridiculous teenage idea that when Mick Jagger sings, he’s telling you something about his own life. It’s so arrogant to think that people would want to know about it. This is my problem with Tracey Emin. Who f****** cares.”

Art breaks the rules. It takes inspiration from the real world to create something new. It dances with fear. Artists continue dreaming into adulthood, without taking everything so seriously.

“Children learn through play, adults learn through art.”

Eno’s modus operandi it to make stuff that’s “a continuation of what we do as children.” He recently released a new album on Warp Records called The Ship. He also created a ‘visual music’ light piece called The Zenith. Eno creates things he wished existed.

Both Eno and Bowie teach us to have fun with our curiosity by showing the world what we can see in our heads.

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11 thoughts on “Brian Eno on what he learned from David Bowie in making art

  1. What a wonderful thought-provoking article. I’m a huge David Bowe fan. He always operated outside the box, stretched boundaries and introduced new ideas. I love Brian Eno’s quote: children learn through play, adults learn through art. As adults we could learn so much more about ourselves and the world around us if we can remember how to look at things through the eyes of our childhood selves.

  2. Truth. Art. What’s real. What does real even mean? Authentic Brian. Or David. Or wellsbaum. Fiction can be authentic while being made up. Fascinating stuff.

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