The next Artist Interview Project installment features Brian Bojo, the creator of PhiftyTwo Weeks. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.
Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.
For my Philosophy of the Arts course, I interviewed an artist whose artwork is inspired by the band Phish. The artist I interviewed is Brian Bojo. Bojo has always loved art and has a long-standing career as an art teacher. While he has been a fan of Phish for quite some time, his focus on Phish-themed art is a more recent development, which began after he rediscovered Phish. Bojo decided to take on a large-scale project to satisfy his creative urges and contribute to the Phish community. For his project, called “PhiftyTwo Weeks,” Bojo created a different piece of art every week of 2014. PhiftyTwo Weeks was inspired by the eclectic, ever creative and changing musical style of the band. My interview with Bojo covers his thoughts about art, beauty, and musical inspiration.
Specifically, we discussed how beauty is represented with art, how community and social life shape musical experience, and how fans can contribute to an artist’s work and build a larger community. Although not a Philosophy major or a philosopher by trade, Bojo seems to share similar ideas about these subjects as some great philosophers. Maybe artists are by nature adept philosophers!
Art, music, and beauty are concepts that are often so intertwined that they are inseparable from one another. The band Phish, seems to take these concepts literally, figuratively and metaphorically in every way one could possibly imagine. Consequently, fans of Phish who use art and music to express their enjoyment of Phish through their own creative processes come up with a myriad of ways to demonstrate how they see the world reflected through the “eyes” of Phish as a band, as an art form and as a movement.
While interviewing Bojo, I found that within his own work and others, he finds a philosophical view of beauty, one that many of us can appreciate. While the definition of beauty can often times be hard to pin-down, there are some concepts of beauty that may be universally human. For example, most people find certain landscapes, such as pleistocene savannas, to be beautiful. Beauty, from a Darwinian perspective, is based on sexual selection for mates and natural environments which are best suited for human adaptation. In his TED talk on the subject Professor Dennis Dutton states that, “I personally have no doubt whatsoever that the experience of beauty, with its emotional intensity and pleasure, belongs to our evolved human psychology. The experience of beauty is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. Beauty is an adaptive effect, which we extend and intensify in the creation and enjoyment of works of art and entertainment.”
Humans also find beauty within other objects such as art and ritual pieces that seem less connected to selection of evolution. Dutton brings up art such as the cave drawings in the Chauvet caves as well as Acheulian hand axes. These axes we know were not used for functional purposes, as most of them found show no evidence of wear and tear. Instead they were made as an object of pride and beauty. This type of beauty, artistic beauty, is the beauty of a job well done. And a job well done would have signaled other traits by the creator as explains Dutton on the TED stage, “Competently made hand axes indicated desirable personal qualities — intelligence, fine motor control, planning ability, conscientiousness and sometimes access to rare materials.”
When I probed Bojo about this subject, his answer was very similar to Dutton’s perspective. When asked, “What makes art beautiful?” he answered, “Beauty. I think beautiful art is something that is earned by the artist. It is part of the process of creation and evolution as an artist/creator. Beauty is in the mastery of a concept or style, a style that the artist has developed through a series of trials and errors. In the end the artist discovers and comes into their own. I feel that I am on my way to beauty. I haven’t achieved it yet, but I am finding techniques that I identify with and really enjoy.”Beauty, as Bojo and Dutton understand it, can be found in the PhiftyTwo Weeks project. For example, this within the piece below, I see skill and mastery of this concept/style.
I also found other philosophical themes within Bojo’s work and how he connects his art to music, especially that of Phish. The Dionysian concept of music refers to music that is especially moving to the point of bringing the purest form of joy. Even though I only communicated with Bojo through email, I am able to feel his love of Phish and their music. He finds their creativity to be “inspiring,” so much so that he was able to use their music as a muse for art for 52 weeks straight, not missing one installment. He states that “Phish is the most creative band alive today,” and that he finds “inspiration and joy” from Phish. Though Bojo never explicitly mentions the Dionysian concept, I find that his words about Phish lead me to believe he feels this way about their music. As Christoph Cox explains, the Dionysian concept of course referring to music that “convinces us of the eternal joy of living.” (p. 510).
Another recurrent thread within our interview was the social nature of music and the community it can inspire. Phish, as we know, has a cult-like following. Sharing and collaboration are important within the Phish and larger art and music communities. In the text, Why Music Moves Us, author Jeanette Bicknell asserts that music is “intrinsically and fundamentally social” p. viii). Historically, music has been used for celebrations, initiations, religious ceremonies, natural rituals, births, deaths and war. Although music and art are still music and art without an audience, they both depend on the social aspect. Bojo gets this idea. He has used his art to share his love of Phish and his story of the music with others. He, like other artists and musicians in the phan community, has a specific role to play, unique to his art. He states that he is able to “contribute to the conversation that our art as a collective group speaks to the phans of the band.”
This interview really helped me to understand the community of artists and fans that follow Phish. Brian Bojo is a person who loves art and music, both of which take central roles in his life. Phish’s creativity in music is inspiring enough that Bojo was able to use different songs and moments from Phish music to create 52 unique pieces of art, sometimes utilizing techniques he had never used before. In some ways it seems that this project really ‘saved’ Bojo’s artwork stating “[I] fell out of art too. I taught art daily, heck – I made a living in art, but I made nothing that satisfied my creative side.” This project created an artistic outlet for him, which is something that may not have been possible with another band with less creative roots, eclectic and unique sound, or dedicated Phan base and community.
How does your varied art respond to Phish’s music? Does your art reflect what you hear in Phish’s music?
I chose to create art based on Phish for a number of reasons, but one of them is the crazy visuals that each song gives me. From the Gamehendge saga, to the ingredients in Reba’s concoction, to Diego stealing a Fuego, to Mike’s stolen recording device in Poor Heart… the visuals and ideas are endless! I feel that Phish is the most creative band alive today, and making art inspired by their creativity is only natural. Someone told me last year that they were so excited to see someone (me) contributing to the Phish experience by adding to it, instead of just passively listening and taking from it. However, I take from them as well – take inspiration and joy.
What do you think it means for art to be beautiful? Do you consider your artwork to be beautiful?
Beauty. I think beautiful art is something that is earned by the artist. It is part of the process of creation and evolution as an artist/creator. Beauty is in the mastery of a concept or style, a style that the artist has developed through a series of trials and errors. In the end the artist discovers and comes into their own. I feel that I am on my way to beauty. I haven’t achieved it yet, but I am finding techniques that I identify with and really enjoy. I spent the entire PhiftyTwo Weeks searching for new ways to express myself – part of the purpose of that was to find what I loved. In the ninth month I discovered and learned how to screenprint. I bought my own gear and set up a shop in my back yard. I had friends who helped me (Branden Otto and Tripp Shealy) learn the basics and I was off running. The process is so much fun. I ended up going back to college in Jan of 2015 and took a screenprinting class that also pushed me to learn new things and try new techniques. I have two new techniques that I’m currently using that really speak to me as an artist – hand painting the transparencies, and converting clay designs into screenprinted images. I am using them in my summer prints for 2015. My art isn’t what I’d call beauty yet, but I feel that I’m on to something and can’t wait to keep searching.
What is your role in the Phish community as an artist?
I feel that I have a few roles. With my commitments I am not able to hit every Phish show, but I will still hit the ones I can and each time I will contribute to the conversation that our art as a collective group speaks to the phans of the band. The internet also allows us (artists) to share our art even if we are unable to tour. A Poster, T-shirt, Pin… is an artifact for the person who purchases it. The object reminds the person of that night or that tour. The art ends up telling an entirely different story than the artist intended. How great is that!? I also feel that one of my roles it to be a “good guy.” I want to add positively to the good nature of the community. I’m in a unique position, in that I create my art just for the fun of it… I am not relying on it to pay my bills, or really even get me to the next show. I can offer my art at fair prices and love to throw in extra pieces to surprise the buyer.
How does the nature of sharing and community influence the way you do and display your art? If no one ever viewed your art, would it still be art?
I think that the community of artists is incredibly talented. Each of us has a pretty unique style. I love going to shows and visiting with the other artists. I love getting to know them and sharing my ideas with them before I go to print. This past year I’ve really been challenged and inspired by artists Marc Guertin and Branden Otto. I love the work that both of these guys create and feel that we have a healthy comradery. I am not envious or jealous of their work, I see it and say “Dang, I’ve got to step my game up!”. If no one ever saw my art, would it be art? Yeah. Art is something that you create. I create art all the time that never sees the light of day. Some of it I’d never show anyone, but I make it and learn from it. It is still art and part of the process of growth that leads to the art that people do see.
Do you listen to music when you create? Do you find that your art changes with the style of music or artist you choose? If so, why?
I do listen to music when I create. Most of my ideas for art come when I’m in the car. I generally drive about an hour each day. I listen to music both to and from work. If I hear something that inspires me, I grab a pen and make a note, or a picture (when I’m at a stop light). Sometimes in a notebook, other times on the back of a receipt. When I get home, I then take that idea and flesh it out a bit. I generally listen to music throughout the whole process – concept, to drawing, to printing. I choose different music to fit my mood – I’m not sure it changes the outcome of the art, but definitely helps with the atmosphere while I create. I guess it’s just part of the process.
I see that you used different mediums for many of your pieces of art? How did you choose each medium and in what way did each type of project bring out the essence of Phish’s music?
As mentioned earlier, part of the PhiftyTwo Weeks project was discovering or rediscovering who I am as an artist. I really needed to try different mediums. I made soup can labels, action figures, skateboard decks, pins, baseball cards, posters, t-shirts, jelly jars, carved into a whale tooth (scrimshaw), a deck of playing cards, spraypainted stencils, wood jigsaw construction, shadow boxes, oil painting, scratch boards, photography, disc golf discs, and more. I chose each method as an attempt to branch out and try new things. I am really happy with how the entire project turned out. The amount of materials and styles I used is reminiscent of Phish and their styles. They play music that ranges from classic rock, to country, to imrov jazz, to funk, to reggae… and each time they hit the stage they take risks and try new things.