Art is Not Sacred

While listening to my classical music Pandora station, I caught myself nodding along to at tune that was familiar … but I couldn’t place it at first.

It was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

It took me a few minutes to figure out because the classical cover was so far removed from the song’s original grunge styling. Once I gave it my full attention and identified this lovely string piece as a Kurt Cobain song, my first reaction was to feel guilty for enjoying it.

A Nirvana song, converted to classical? Cringe. Kurt must be rolling over in his grave.

I impulsively moved my finger to hit the Pandora “thumbs-down” button, even though I’d been enjoying it. As if I had a responsibility to protect his art for him. As if something had been robbed from this song in the new adaptation.

But then I thought … what’s the big deal?

As a creator, sure, you can hold your creations tight, never share them, and protect them so they never get misinterpreted, reinterpreted, or adapted.

Or, you can participate. 

Yeah, sure, it’s a risk. But art is not sacred. Art is a dialogue. 

Take for example, Superman. He started as a simple hero in a kids comic series. Over time, his story has expanded into a myth larger than itself. The characters into cultural icons that are recognized all over the world.

But the real beauty is that in being so big, he reflects back at us. There are certain Superman truths that never change, but Superman has been reborn and reinterpreted over and over, taking on something fresh, each time, be it a new artist’s vision, or an entire generation’s beliefs. What’s the difference between he wholesome, earnest original Superman of the ’50s and the Superman of this summer’s darker new take movie? We’re too jaded to believe in the classic superhero tale anymore.

Want other examples? Look at how Andy Warhol adapted a popular image of Marilyn Monroe and make it something completely new. Or the way Moulin Rouge adapted pop songs to a new context (including the aforementioned “Smells LIke Teen Spirit”). Or Lady Gaga, whose songs and videos are stuffed with tributes to the pop legends who came before her.

Putting your art out there is always risk. I imagine Stephanie Meyer, who is Mormon, is probably not crazy about the 50 Shades of Grey series, which was sparked by Twilight fan fiction. But the beautiful thing is, there’s room for both in this world. Each has meaning on its own, sure … but there’s even more in the tension between the two.

It may make your ego squirm to think of someone else using and changing your creation for something new … well, I understand and relate to your feelings, but get over it. Because without the dialogue, your art is nothing.


Tell me … what’s your favorite artistic adaptation?


3 thoughts on “Art is Not Sacred

  1. “Or, you can participate.”

    Lovely! Think what the world would be missing if no one was allowed to use art, music, architecture, fashion design or even nature as inspiration for something new and exciting. If we didn’t take the best of what exists and find new ways to use it and enjoy it. What would be the point of the dialogue if there were never to be creative twists, daring us to see something familiar through a new lens?

    Without the audience, there is no dialogue, no participation in the song, painting, or design concept. No reason for that audience to take their own step into the role of artist, songwriter, designer.

    Thanks for reminding us, Emily, that the history of this world was built through the dialogue between artist, student, and audience. Long may the conversation of inspiration and innovation continue!

  2. Pingback: Which Classic Would You Reinvent?

  3. Pingback: Art and Dialogue: Further Reading | Creative Juicer

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