“I Can’t Give Everything Away”: David Bowie and Post-Romantic Artistic Identity

The developments of the Romantic period set the stage for modern framings of art and the artist, establishing powerful institutionalized discourses that both created the privileged spaces in which art is presumed to operate and reified the special modes of authority that Romantic poetry and poets had claimed. However, these discourses have never been set in stone. Instead, subsequent practitioners have negotiated and renegotiated them in making their selves and works. While the rock stars of the sixties did so principally through amplification, David Bowie established a more skeptical relationship with Romantic notions of art and artistry. His mastery of mediated interaction allowed him to throw himself with gusto at the task of expanding the field of the represented and representable, but his works also consistently articulate meaningful doubts about the possibility of transcendent communication through art. Rather than claiming to reveal truths in the manner of high Romantic conceptions, his works place the power to make meanings in the hands and minds of his audiences, employing the potency of Romantic vision while knowingly undercutting its potential for totalizing imposition.