Auto-Disruption: The Art of Loving Better

Pete Townshend's Guitar

Pete Townshend’s Guitar (Photo credit: soul_motor)

I was watching an interview of Pete Townshend by Andrew Marr on BBC TV the other evening. Pete was talking about guitar-smashing. As most know, Pete was the first guitar-smashing rock artist. I read on Wikipedia that he “… saw his guitar smashing as a kind of auto-destructive art…” He aligned it with the art of Gustav Metzger.  It was Metzger in fact who coined the term: auto-destructive.

There’s a parallel in music:  danger music. A major name in Danger Music is Dick Higgins.  There’s a performance of one of Higgins’ pieces on You Tube. This is one video I wouldn’t embed in a blog. Here’s the link, but be warned in advance!  It didn’t do me any physical damage to listen to this performance (some danger music is designed to do just that to its listeners) but I was deeply disrupted.

Blue metallic paper – burnt

Disruption. I’m almost certain that in the Andrew Marr interview, Townshend said that his guitar-smashing was auto-disruptive and not auto-destructive. He said it was about trying to get more sounds out of his guitar. I can understand that. When I was in my first year of my fine art degree at university, our first project needed to end up with a large black and white drawing. Mine was so big I had to stand on a table to work on the top bit. I fell off, and ended up with a bonus artwork – an arrangement of black and blue – on my thigh!

Gold metallic paper – burnt and torn

During the course of this black and white drawing, I got more and more irritated at not being able to get a black-enough black. I tried and wrecked all sorts of implements in the process. Until it was pointed out to me that black was black (is it?) and that what I really needed to do was to consider the juxtapositions of the black areas with the whites and off-whites.  The tonal arrangement! And so maybe Townshend should have considered using another instrument, to get his tonal arrangements to work, instead of smashing up the guitar?

What’s the difference between auto-destruction and auto-disruption? You could argue that disruption necessarily destroys, even if it’s just the destruction of a fleeting equilibrium, like when a drop of rain falls into a pond. Setting that argument aside, it occurred to me that all artists auto-disrupt. It’s a kind of discontent with a status quo, a steady state. Artists what-if ? They tend to want to disrupt bad situations and hence are also idealists. Auto-destruction, the movement, is also about protest.

I’ve realised that in making art, I auto-disrupt. First, it’s an external kind of disruption. My Books of the Dead series contain material which, for instance,  I’ve burnt. There’s a symbolic connection with cremation, but also something else. Some other things. The destruction of prettiness in favour of something more approaching truth. Not equating truth with ugliness, but something damaged – disrupted by catastrophe of one kind or another – seems to be more profoundly true to life than the superficiality that untarnished prettiness seems to convey. There’s pathos in there, too.  After all, humankind exists within the catastrophe of its mortality, doesn’t it?  So disruption is an attempt at compassion.

This kind of disruption stems from a desire to auto-disrupt in an attempt to feel more deeply, an attempt to connect more deeply with humankind and to love more. I suspect that behind Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing, is the same desire. And that the art of auto-destruction is, at source, a desire to love better.


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
This entry was posted in Art, Inspiration, spirituality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Auto-Disruption: The Art of Loving Better

  1. dp says:

    Thank you for this perspective on smashing guitars, All all the artists I have watched do this, Pete Townsend is the only one whose smashing I can tolerate. Not to mention he destroyed some very very nice instruments along the way. There is a wonderful guitar hanging in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas that I pass by pretty often. I just always go back what my first guitar meant to me. Smashing a guitar for any reason is such a waste. Thank you for your insight. I will follow your writing in the future. Thanks again and Cheers! -DP


    • annisik51 says:

      Hello dp
      I agree with you entirely that it’s a waste of a musical instrument. Somebody MADE it after all. Ironically, Pete Townshend wouldn’t have been able to play a guitar if everybody smashed them up! There are reasons behind everything. I usually find ‘love’ is in there somewhere nearly always! I sing. My musical instrument is my body and I can’t see me smashing up my vocal cords to try and get more sounds from it! Never heard of any other singer doing that! Good luck. Ann


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