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jfutral

Relationship in art

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So, what's the point? The point is, I don't have to apologize for enjoying the music of Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, because I'm not expressing appreciation for their self-destructive lifestyles, but for their fully realized gifts. And, a word for nervous Christians: God loves them even more than I love their music."

I think this is the sentiment I was approaching in a recent bit I wrote about watching our first baby being born. What it boiled down to is that as a crowning moment of Creation, rife with theological and aesthetic undertones, it was as dirty and gross as it was perfect and wonderful. It really altered my sense of propriety in art. As you say, we don't have to apologize for enjoying, or even being moved or edified, by things produced by awful people. A great Tarkovsky quote applies here:

"Art affirms all that is best in man

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But I still balk at the idea of making critical judgments about art based on one's moral take on the life of the artist. Whenever possible, I believe these two things should be held far apart. Why? Because good people can create bad art, and bad people can create good art.

Got it. Finally. I don't think anyone, well certainly not I, was suggesting because a person is bad or immoral then their art is immoral or bad as well. But I do admit that being turned off by Gauguin's personality has given me less reason than before to admire his work. And I wasn't all that enamoured before I learned about him, anyway. It is difficult for me to tell if this is not unrelated.

By the same token, I think it would be difficult for an honest artist to remove the art as a reflection of some part of who they are. Or as I mentioned earlier, while an artist is not their art, it should certainly come from who they are.

Nardis can't write objectively about Miles Davis because she strongly dislikes his exploitation of women and his mack daddy pimp image.

But Miles was certainly taken to task by some critics for changing his art to fit his image in those later days, and many feel his art suffered because of it. So Nardis is not so far off as one might think.

And I would beg to differ that instrumental music cannot communicate a worldview. Well, maybe not comprehensively, but certainly give one a glimpse. An extreme or hyperbolic(?) example might be John Cage.

The entire CCM industry...

Now there is a bucket of worms I personally prefer to avoid right now. I still have lots of issues I am trying to work through regarding "Christian" music, the industry, and the musicians.

Joe

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Andy, my distaste for Miles is about Miles as a person. I can't be objective about him. And a lot of that distaste is about the media image he carefully crafted for hmself.

I could also say that about Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson. (And lots of others.)

If you want to take it to another extreme (the plague of heroin addiction among jazz musicians during the 50s and 60s, post-Parker), who among them wanted to publicize this? Nobody. Bill Evans didn't use "juicy" segments of his personal life to get press. Miles did - especially later in life.

Doesn't the hype that some people create for themeselves enter into your evaluation of their work? I'm asking this seriously, because it's so difficult to avoid exposure to that, whether it comes in the form of press releases or interviews or magazine profiles or what have you. I usually glance at press releases and then throw them in the trash, but nobody who writes about music can avoid the marketing aspect of it altogether. It's part of every album cover and booklet design, every artist photo, etc. etc. It's not something that can be completely ignored, and I believe it affects all of us.

This is very different than, say, looking at assemblages by the late Joseph Cornell. He wasn't out on the street dealing with marketing people. Clearly there's a personal, interior narrative in a lot of his work - and a lot of humor - but most visual artists are *not* sending out 8x10 glossies of themselves in the way that often happens in the music biz (or theater, for that matter).

When promoting oneself is seen as *part* of the process, it's bound to have an effect on anyone who comes into contact with it, even if they profess complete indifference toward it.

Well, I understand. But I don't understand. By that I mean, sure, I'm aware of marketing hype, and I'm aware of the image that an artist (or the PR machine associated with the artist) is trying to create. But I honestly try not to pay attention to it. I suppose it affects me on some level. But all I can say is that I do my best to evaluate (in my case) the music I hear on its own terms.

There are many, many artists out there who do things and believe things I believe are wrong, and they range from mildly distasteful to deeply offensive. But I believe that I can at least semi-objectively review music by artists I find deeply offensive as human beings. Now, sometimes I find the music itself deeply offensive as well, and I won't hesitate to say that either. But my reaction is based on the music. But I do think it's possible for artists I wouldn't like or approve of at all on a personal level to make absolutely wonderful art. And I think my responsibility is toward the art that I'm reviewing. They (and I suspect my massive readership ^_^ ) are not expecting or desiring my personal take on their lifestyle or image. They're asking for my informed opinion on what they've created.

I also recognize that I'm fortunate in that I write for a magazine that heavily downplays image and hype. That's what drives Rolling Stone and MTV, but it's not what drives Paste, and frankly I could not care less about whatever the PR machine is currently cranking out about Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton or the latest flavor of the week. Has it been a week without controversy? Time to get arrested for DUI or go into rehab, dear.

I want to write about music. So I toss the press releases too. I already know what they're going to say. But my semi-logical mind tells me that all forty of them that I'll receive this week can't be right about the best album of the year. So I just listen. And I make up my mind from there.

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There are many, many artists out there who do things and believe things I believe are wrong, and they range from mildly distasteful to deeply offensive. But I believe that I can at least semi-objectively review music by artists I find deeply offensive as human beings. Now, sometimes I find the music itself deeply offensive as well, and I won't hesitate to say that either. But my reaction is based on the music.

Andy, a question about this: to what extent can we say that the "art" of a song is fully contained in its sonic content? I generally agree with your idea that a reviewer can do his best to eschew marketing/hype and be "semi-objective. But the things on the periphery of a song...the live performance, the tone of voice, the packaging, for example...these are, for many songwriters, also works of art, or part of the larger work of art. And these peripheral things are intimately connected with the artist herself. So, yes, one can choose to consider the strictly-defined song on its own. But is it possible that a larger or greater work of art is being missed by doing so?

And, in defense of tears:

As for being moved to tears by music, visual art, etc. - well, it happens to me on a fairly regular basis, so it's hard to fix on one particular instance. And, in my case, i wonder how important that is in the overall scheme of things

The value that I place on a tearful resonse to a work of art comes from the way that crying releases me from criticism. And this is not to de-value criticism. It's just that, I spend so much (worthwhile) effort analysing and engaging a work of art, whether it's finding an interesting contour in a sculpture, or reveling in a fantastic color achieved in a painting, or juggling a load of character throughout the course of a film. When something moves me to tears, all that effort momentarily falls away. I'm left with a personal emotional response, which I believe is just as important, if not more important, than an appreciative, intellectual response.

Well, I didn't mean to get into personal responses to art, as this is supposed to be about the artist. It's just that the crier in me seems to resonate with truth expressed through art.

Let's also not forget hopeful tears. And as Frderick Buechner loves to write, there's often precious little difference between tears and laughter.

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Andy, a question about this: to what extent can we say that the "art" of a song is fully contained in its sonic content? I generally agree with your idea that a reviewer can do his best to eschew marketing/hype and be "semi-objective. But the things on the periphery of a song...the live performance, the tone of voice, the packaging, for example...these are, for many songwriters, also works of art, or part of the larger work of art. And these peripheral things are intimately connected with the artist herself. So, yes, one can choose to consider the strictly-defined song on its own. But is it possible that a larger or greater work of art is being missed by doing so?

Sure, that's all part of the overall experience.

I'm honestly fairly bored by most marketing/image/hype aspects of music, and I'm sadly indifferent to packaging. This isn't because I have great moral objections, but simply because I'm not a visually oriented person. I'm a words/sounds guy, and my wife has to point out when our dining room walls change from, say, off-white to maroon. I have a wife and two fashion-conscious young adult daughters, but I know I'm in trouble when I'm hit with the "Which outfit do you like better?" questions. These are mysteries of the universe right up there with the virgin birth and the nature of the trinity. But I realize that I'm probably not typical in that regard.

Live performance is a different animal than a recording, and I'm not sure that one has anything to do with the other, at least in terms of an album review. I think Bruce Springsteen, at least at his peak, was the best live performer I've ever seen, but I still didn't particularly like his last album. The former wasn't even on the radar when I was reviewing the latter.

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I think Bruce Springsteen, at least at his peak, was the best live performer I've ever seen, but I still didn't particularly like his last album. The former wasn't even on the radar when I was reviewing the latter.
(emphasis added)

Is that really true? I ask this, not in doubt of your ability to be objective, but because of the content of the most of the good music reviews that I read. The typical review on allmusic.com, for example, is categorized by and focused on an album, but the content is as much about the artist as it is about the art. In some ways, there is no distinction, as far as the review is concerned. It's not that a reviewer can't remove the art from the artist, it's more a question of Why remove the art from the artist?

I'll have to go and specifically read a few of your reviews to remind myself of where you're coming from. (Not that that's tough labor! :))

BTW, I like your good/bad artist -- good/bad art construction. It's simple but it demonstrates an important point.

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I think Bruce Springsteen, at least at his peak, was the best live performer I've ever seen, but I still didn't particularly like his last album. The former wasn't even on the radar when I was reviewing the latter.
(emphasis added)

Is that really true? I ask this, not in doubt of your ability to be objective, but because of the content of the most of the good music reviews that I read. The typical review on allmusic.com, for example, is categorized by and focused on an album, but the content is as much about the artist as it is about the art. In some ways, there is no distinction, as far as the review is concerned. It's not that a reviewer can't remove the art from the artist, it's more a question of Why remove the art from the artist?

I'll have to go and specifically read a few of your reviews to remind myself of where you're coming from. (Not that that's tough labor! :))

BTW, I like your good/bad artist -- good/bad art construction. It's simple but it demonstrates an important point.

Let me clarify something here, Jeff. Of course an album review is about the artist because the artist created the album. So yes, one is dealing with the artist's thoughts, with the artist's previous work, and I suppose theoretically with the artist's live performances, although I wouldn't think that would come into play unless one was reviewing a live album. So all of that can and does enter into a review. But the focus is on the music.

But yes, there is a distinction in terms of what is legitimate and what is not legitimate to cover. Let me try this another way:

Imagine it's 1974. Bob Dylan has just released an album called Blood on the Tracks. You know that he's recently been divorced. And half the songs on the album are raw, open wounds; laments about his lost marriage. Is it okay to write about Bob Dylan's life when you review that album? My answer is, of course, Yes. It would seem to me that it would be irresponsible not to, because the music itself is plainly autobiographical.

Let's make it a little tougher. In 2006, a guy named Jon Dee Graham released an album called Full on a tiny indie label. You know that he's recently been dropped by a major label. You also know that in the two years since his previous release on that major labor he's battled addiction issues, and has been without medical insurance at a time when his small son was diagnosed with a rare liver disease. None of the songs on the album directly address his personal circumstances. But they are full of images of conflict and torment, and they arrive at a place of what seems like hard-won peace and acceptance. Is it okay to talk about his life -- those specific circumstances -- when you review the album? I hope so, because I did, and because I firmly believe that those circumstances provide the context in which the album should be understood.

Now let's look at our whipping boy Miles Davis, who has come up numerous times in this thread. Miles made jazz records. They were exclusively instrumental. And he was a jerk. He abused women, and, as Nardis has noted, he intentionally projected a bad boy/pimp image that is certainly offputting to many people. Is it fair to talk about Miles' life when reviewing one of his albums? The abuse of women? Nope. No way. It has nothing to do with his music. His bad boy/pimp image? Sure. He put it out there on his album covers. And it's fair game.

I am saying that one's distaste for an artist's personal life should have no bearing on one's critical review of the artist's work, and that one's primary responsibility is to review art, not the artist. Unless the personal life is reflected in the work itself, and then it becomes a different matter. And sorry, but I will never be convinced that the way Miles played a flatted fifth had anything to do with his view of women.

And that's all I'm saying. Make sense?

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That's partly because [bach] came along before artists were made into Artists, via the Romantic movement in literature, painting, etc. A lot of our ideas about artists needing to express themselves - plus the whole notion of genius with a capital G - came into being as a result of that movement. The mad genius and self-destructive artist stereotypes come form this period, and are pretty pervasive. We usually hear about the the people who self-destruct, not those who are reasonably happy and play the accordion for fun 9cf. my earlier reference to sculptor Constanin Brancusi). normal, well-adjusted people don't make good press, as a rule.

At any rate, people like Mozart or Bach, who were craftsmen first, are somehow in a different ballpark than Liszt (who was as popular as the Beatles or Stones in his day) or Parker or Mick jagger or whoever else you chose to name.

Since my academic training is in the visual arts and art history, i've had to wrestle with the myths that surround what it is to be an artist - ditto for my writing on music. Somehow, the romanticization of peoples' lives (Miles or Bird, for example - since they're so central to the jazz "pantheon") has always struck me as hollow and phony. Not their work - and not their real lives - but the fan/media portrayal of them.

I think this is the crux of where you are coming from. I was reading something recently (I can't recall which book as I've been reading a lot lately, maybe Rothko's or maybe it was Gablik's _Has Modernism Failed_?) talking about where art moved from craft to whatever it is considered today. Art moved along side philosophy and artist along side philosophers. So now art is not just something you do and are skilled at. But I would hazard to guess this happend a bit before the Romantic period. Maybe shortly after Francis Bacon hit the scene? Well, that's where I would at least put the transition _beginning_.

From what little I've read (and obviously not to the extent artists are faced with today) as skilled as Bach was, he was still concerned with making a living with his art and had to deal with all the pressures that were more culturally relevant to his time, but present none-the-less. While maybe not a "_G_enius" period of art yet, it at least seemed in the making. But I could be wrong. There are people here who would know more of Bach and that period than I. Maybe they would chime in.

But this idea of the Genius artist and the resulting personality cults, pro or con individual artists, seems to have reached a crescendo today, seeming to have been building since post-impressionism. If Andy HAS been able to avoid all that, then certainly he has crossed over to post-modernism or maybe retrograded to pre-modernism! Congrats to him if so! People like me are still wallowing in modernism. But I am trying to break free! (read my post in the "Genius Grants" thread.)

I will grant Wynton in that his controversy seems more centered around his views of his art, not his life outside like Miles. But I would reiterate that there are those who say Miles' obsession with image _did_ result in a change in his art. Or maybe the other way around. Either way it seems impossible to seperate the two.

So I think whatever worldview he had to allow him to abuse women (I am unfamiliar with those stories, though) more than likely did overflow into his art, just as people would say of Picasso's or Degas' views of women and thier resulting art. It may just be a little more difficult to pin down since we don't have "visual aids" or word pictures. Or maybe his art reflected his battle with such behaviour, thus making his music more than likely his place of escape from his behaviour.

Or maybe modernism's obsession with the indivdual's point of view in his art is where we should have been all along. Rothko seems to think it was always there, even when an artist/art was supposed to serve society. Maybe we just need to focus less on individuals held as elitist specialists, and more broadly incorporat art to/for all humans. Or something like that. I don't think I said what I meant. But that isn't anything new. grrr.

Joe

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A lot of our ideas about artists needing to express themselves - plus the whole notion of genius with a capital G - came into being as a result of that movement. The mad genius and self-destructive artist stereotypes come form this period, and are pretty pervasive. We usually hear about the the people who self-destruct, not those who are reasonably happy and play the accordion for fun 9cf. my earlier reference to sculptor Constanin Brancusi). normal, well-adjusted people don't make good press, as a rule.

This whole tradition was ably treated in The Thirst Muse, can't recommend it highly enough. On the other hand, we don't find many "normal, well-adjusted people" in the ranks of important artists because both the task of the artist and the set of motivations that urge one to explore the limits of representation don't often dovetail well with "normal, well-adjusted" social patterns. The myth of the "mad genius" is ridiculous, but the phenomenology is true. (One does not have to practice self-destructive to be a good artist, but historically, most good artists tend that direction.)

Maybe we just need to focus less on individuals held as elitist specialists, and more broadly incorporat art to/for all humans. Or something like that. I don't think I said what I meant. But that isn't anything new. grrr.

I think I know what you are getting at, but this is how we end up with those bland conceptions of art as design or decoration or craft. How do we say what you are trying to say without ending up there?

And as far as the idea of the artist as a "mad genius," I think most trace this back to the Enlightenment demarcation between art and science. Science being for the rational, and art being for those who felt that abstract thinking had anything to do with anything. (It pops up a lot in critical response to Voltaire and Rousseau at least.) That would make it a keenly modernist conception, and one myth that post-modernity has done little to criticize or correct.

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That's partly because [bach] came along before artists were made into Artists, via the Romantic movement in literature, painting, etc. A lot of our ideas about artists needing to express themselves - plus the whole notion of genius with a capital G - came into being as a result of that movement. The mad genius and self-destructive artist stereotypes come form this period, and are pretty pervasive. We usually hear about the the people who self-destruct, not those who are reasonably happy and play the accordion for fun 9cf. my earlier reference to sculptor Constanin Brancusi). normal, well-adjusted people don't make good press, as a rule.

At any rate, people like Mozart or Bach, who were craftsmen first, are somehow in a different ballpark than Liszt (who was as popular as the Beatles or Stones in his day) or Parker or Mick jagger or whoever else you chose to name.

Since my academic training is in the visual arts and art history, i've had to wrestle with the myths that surround what it is to be an artist - ditto for my writing on music. Somehow, the romanticization of peoples' lives (Miles or Bird, for example - since they're so central to the jazz "pantheon") has always struck me as hollow and phony. Not their work - and not their real lives - but the fan/media portrayal of them.

I certainly understand what you're saying here, and I struggle with with the same issues. The mad genius/self-destructive artist stereotype is so ingrained in critical thinking that it's very difficult to combat. And, on a personal level, I've bought into that lie myself, and I'm still dealing with the repercussions of trying to live that way. But Neil Young was wrong. It's not better to burn out than to fade away, and there is a perfectly wonderful third alternative that says that you can be healthy, sober, and growing in artistic skill and expression for a long, long time.

But perhaps the romanticization reflects a deeper reality that the word "craftsman" doesn't even begin to hint at. Bach and Mozart wrote music; they didn't design kitchen tables. And I would suggest that the word "craftsman" is woefully inadequate to describe what Bach and Mozart accomplished. I intend no disrespect for those who are gifted with tools, but I think it is a fairly natural human tendency to idolize those who can usher us into the presence of God, who can short-circuit the entire cognitive/rational process and touch us in the places where our deepest longings and aspirations dwell. That sounds trippier than I intend, but you all know what I mean, and musicians and composers can certainly do that.

I'm an equal-opportunity detractor of idolotry, but I certainly understand how it could happen far more easily with a Bach or a Mozart (or a Miles or a Bird) than with the star of Home Improvement. We turn these people into idols, mad geniuses, larger than life icons, because they touch the hem of God.

I think this is the crux of where you are coming from. I was reading something recently (I can't recall which book as I've been reading a lot lately, maybe Rothko's or maybe it was Gablik's _Has Modernism Failed_?) talking about where art moved from craft to whatever it is considered today. Art moved along side philosophy and artist along side philosophers. So now art is not just something you do and are skilled at. But I would hazard to guess this happend a bit before the Romantic period. Maybe shortly after Francis Bacon hit the scene? Well, that's where I would at least put the transition _beginning_.

From what little I've read (and obviously not to the extent artists are faced with today) as skilled as Bach was, he was still concerned with making a living with his art and had to deal with all the pressures that were more culturally relevant to his time, but present none-the-less. While maybe not a "_G_enius" period of art yet, it at least seemed in the making. But I could be wrong. There are people here who would know more of Bach and that period than I. Maybe they would chime in.

But this idea of the Genius artist and the resulting personality cults, pro or con individual artists, seems to have reached a crescendo today, seeming to have been building since post-impressionism. If Andy HAS been able to avoid all that, then certainly he has crossed over to post-modernism or maybe retrograded to pre-modernism! Congrats to him if so! People like me are still wallowing in modernism. But I am trying to break free! (read my post in the "Genius Grants" thread.)

I will grant Wynton in that his controversy seems more centered around his views of his art, not his life outside like Miles. But I would reiterate that there are those who say Miles' obsession with image _did_ result in a change in his art. Or maybe the other way around. Either way it seems impossible to seperate the two.

So I think whatever worldview he had to allow him to abuse women (I am unfamiliar with those stories, though) more than likely did overflow into his art, just as people would say of Picasso's or Degas' views of women and thier resulting art. It may just be a little more difficult to pin down since we don't have "visual aids" or word pictures. Or maybe his art reflected his battle with such behaviour, thus making his music more than likely his place of escape from his behaviour.

Or maybe modernism's obsession with the indivdual's point of view in his art is where we should have been all along. Rothko seems to think it was always there, even when an artist/art was supposed to serve society. Maybe we just need to focus less on individuals held as elitist specialists, and more broadly incorporat art to/for all humans. Or something like that. I don't think I said what I meant. But that isn't anything new. grrr.

You know, Joe, I couldn't tell you if I'm a pre-modernist, a modernist, or a post-modernist. I'm me. And I have my own opinions, which are no doubt formed from the complex interaction of others' critical views and my own obstinate personality. But just because I'm aware of the various cults of personality doesn't mean that I have sign up for a particular cult and drink the Kool Ade.

I guess I would respond to your comments by saying that I have the right to make up my own mind, just as you have the right to make up your own mind. Certainly I'm aware of the history of criticism, the pantheon of the greats (at least in music), the hierarchical jockeying for position that accompanies the occasional shifts in the pantheon, the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle expectations that one's views will conform with the verdict of history or one's colleagues. Those are all very real factors.

But you have the right to make up your own mind, just as I do. That means that the cult of personality doesn't need to dictate my reaction to a particular artist. As far as I can tell, it doesn't. Rock music has its own pantheon (on a mountain that is bigger and more garishly lit than Mount Olympus), and I like some of the folks who have ascended to the summit, and I dislike others. I've written negative reviews of musicians/bands who are supposedly unassailable. I've written positive reviews of musicians/bands who are sneered at by the hipsters and tastemakers. For better or worse, these are my takes, and I hope they're somewhat informed, and I'm thankful that I'm able to write for publications that don't expect me to hew to the party line.

Sorry, but I still don't think Miles' view of women is reflected in any way, shape, or form in his music. His album covers, yes. But how would a worldview that supports the abuse of women be reflected in trumpet notes? How would that work?

I appreciate your comments, and have enjoyed this discussion immensely.

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I think I know what you are getting at, but this is how we end up with those bland conceptions of art as design or decoration or craft. How do we say what you are trying to say without ending up there?

These are just my hypotheses but I actually think the bland becomes even more prevelant when the general public becomes more separated from the experience of art making. If everyone had some experience in the arts they could at least have a better appreciation for great work.

Right now we seem to be in a dichotomy of sorts. On the one hand, according to one school of thought, we are producing more "artists" than ever before. One person said something to the extent of (Futral's Paraphrase) one school produces more artist than existed in the whole Renaissance, or some other period. I wish I could find that quote.

At the same time the idea that "art is for the rich" or other exclusionary groups is prevalent in the general public. Art is unapproachable to too many people. Our NEA Chair in his keynote speech at the IAM-NY conference last year said that artists can speak to other artists, but can't speak to anyone else. This continues to widen the divide.

The artist's frustration expressed as "they just don't get it" should be met with "Why should they?" And while there are any number of possible answers, the one that should concern us most is "they don't get it because they have no reason to".

I think the more people who can experience art, the less likely they are to accept the bland as art. And recognize and appreciate decoration, design, and craft for what it is.

That's my hope anyway.

Joe

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I guess I would respond to your comments by saying that I have the right to make up my own mind, just as you have the right to make up your own mind.

I hope I didn't come across as saying otherwise or sounding like I was being confrontational. That was not intent. I was actually applauding your ability to look beyond the mask and focus on the art.

Sorry, but I still don't think Miles' view of women is reflected in any way, shape, or form in his music. His album covers, yes. But how would a worldview that supports the abuse of women be reflected in trumpet notes? How would that work?

I want to reiterate what I and others here have said, a bad or immoral person does not equal bad or immoral art. I can only speak philosphically and hypothetially regarding Miles in particular. I haven't listened to enough of his work, especially his later work, to really say. I've mostly been engaged in the "Kind of Blue" era and before that with Dizzy.

How would that work? I don't think it is expressed in the "notes" but how he used them. Just like with Picasso, it isn't the paint, but what he does with the paint.

I think of a dancer friend of mine who, when asked to explain what his recent piece of choreography meant he replied "If I could use words I would have used words and not dance". And I would also reiterate what I said earlier or elsewhere, one work will not a comprehensive worldview express. But it would work the same way any other art work would convey the artist's thoughts and ideas at any given time.

I would think that abuse of a woman is not solely expressed as violence. There must be a great deal of seduction involved. I found this little quote from Pearl Cleage (since she was brought up earlier and was a residential "G" of my current home, Atlanta):

"He became a permanent part of the seduction ritual. Chill the wine. Light the candles. Put on a little early Miles. Give the gentleman caller an immediate understanding of what kind of woman he was dealing with. . . . This was the woman I was learning to be, and I will confess that I spent many memorable evenings sending messages of great personal passion through the intricate improvisations of Kind of Blue."

So he could have been expressing musically this need to seduce or the feeling of seduction.

Or it could also be what I said earlier. How he performed his ballads could have been an expression of apology or reflect his sorrow or struggle for doing what he must have known was wrong.

Or, maybe with a work like "So what" he expresses musically that he has no reason to apolgize. His carefree improvisation takes him where it will and he sees no need to do otherwise.

Even if his music is only seeking to evoke emotion in the same way Rothko felt pure colour could do, is that not a point of view? Could abuse (of others or self) not be seen as equally provocative or evocative? Maybe what drives him musically is also what drives his actions in life?

Or not. I'm just speculating about possibilities.

But to simply say that instrumental music cannot evoke or express a point of view I think is to do many a musician and composer a disservice. I think Phil Keaggy is one musician who has done great work expressing a point of view with instrumental music. As well as Laurence Jubar. I also think John Cage, more explicitly than most musicians, captures his world view in his music.

That's just some ideas and notions I have. Take 'em or leave 'em. I could be convinced otherwise.

Joe

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I hope I didn't come across as saying otherwise or sounding like I was being confrontational. That was not intent. I was actually applauding your ability to look beyond the mask and focus on the art.

You didn't. Re-reading my words, I see that I come across as snippy, which really wasn't my intention, either. My apologies.

I want to reiterate what I and others here have said, a bad or immoral person does not equal bad or immoral art. I can only speak philosphically and hypothetially regarding Miles in particular. I haven't listened to enough of his work, especially his later work, to really say. I've mostly been engaged in the "Kind of Blue" era and before that with Dizzy.

How would that work? I don't think it is expressed in the "notes" but how he used them. Just like with Picasso, it isn't the paint, but what he does with the paint.

I think of a dancer friend of mine who, when asked to explain what his recent piece of choreography meant he replied "If I could use words I would have used words and not dance". And I would also reiterate what I said earlier or elsewhere, one work will not a comprehensive worldview express. But it would work the same way any other art work would convey the artist's thoughts and ideas at any given time.

I would think that abuse of a woman is not solely expressed as violence. There must be a great deal of seduction involved. I found this little quote from Pearl Cleage (since she was brought up earlier and was a residential "G" of my current home, Atlanta):

"He became a permanent part of the seduction ritual. Chill the wine. Light the candles. Put on a little early Miles. Give the gentleman caller an immediate understanding of what kind of woman he was dealing with. . . . This was the woman I was learning to be, and I will confess that I spent many memorable evenings sending messages of great personal passion through the intricate improvisations of Kind of Blue."

So he could have been expressing musically this need to seduce or the feeling of seduction.

Or it could also be what I said earlier. How he performed his ballads could have been an expression of apology or reflect his sorrow or struggle for doing what he must have known was wrong.

Or, maybe with a work like "So what" he expresses musically that he has no reason to apolgize. His carefree improvisation takes him where it will and he sees no need to do otherwise.

Even if his music is only seeking to evoke emotion in the same way Rothko felt pure colour could do, is that not a point of view? Could abuse (of others or self) not be seen as equally provocative or evocative? Maybe what drives him musically is also what drives his actions in life?

Or not. I'm just speculating about possibilities.

But to simply say that instrumental music cannot evoke or express a point of view I think is to do many a musician and composer a disservice. I think Phil Keaggy is one musician who has done great work expressing a point of view with instrumental music. As well as Laurence Jubar. I also think John Cage, more explicitly than most musicians, captures his world view in his music.

That's just some ideas and notions I have. Take 'em or leave 'em. I could be convinced otherwise.

I will tell that you that I'm suspicious of the notion of instrumental music communicating any kind of message or worldview. That would indicate that there is something inherent in the music itself that universally (or nearly universally) speaks to its hearers in a consistent way. I'll certainly grant that we've been culturally conditioned to hear certain types of music and associate specific attitudes/reactions with that music, but I think that's a different issue than the music itself communicating a worldview.

You mentioned Pearl Cleage and her associations of Miles with romance/seduction. But in addition to Kind of Blue, she mentions chilled wine and lighted candles. It's the whole ritualistic mating dance. And sure, Miles' music has probably been used as the backdrop to countless makeout sessions (or more). But is that because there's something inherent in the notes, or because people have been culturally conditioned that chilled wine, candlelight, and soft jazz merge wonderfully into a kind of aphrodisiac? I would argue that it's the latter, but not the former.

Worldviews, at least as I understand the term, deal with the Big Questions -- Is there a God? If so, what is he/she/it like? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Etc. The answers to these questions are difficult to articulate in the best of circumstances, and philosophers and theologians have debated them for millenia. They require precise language and well-understood terms to even engage in the conversation. And I simply don't think that questions this weighty and complex could possibly be communicated through notes, or how they're used. I can see it somewhat with John Cage. His "music" is clearly intended as a philosophical statement. But I don't buy it with Phil Keaggy. He plays pretty instrumental songs, and he gives them nice biblical-sounding titles like "The High and Exalted One" and "Deep Calls Unto Deep," but there's nothing outside the titles that suggests a worldview. He's just playing pretty, non-religious notes. Or, perhaps a better way to say it is that Phil Keaggy is certainly associated with a worldview, but there's nothing inherent in the music that makes that association. And I don't really buy it with Miles, either. He's playing pretty love songs. But I think it's going way too far to extrapolate from that that he's somehow linking sexual seduction, conquest, and abuse.

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Andy, if instrumental music doesn't communicate any kind of message, that what kind of value do you find in it?

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Andy, if instrumental music doesn't communicate any kind of message, that what kind of value do you find in it?

It's pretty. Or it's jarring, or soothing, or peaceful, or any number of other things that work primarily on a sub-conscious, emotional level. But I've yet to hear instrumental music that communicates the message, "This man likes to abuse women." That's a very specific message that could not possibly be communicated through any scale I know.

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Andy, if instrumental music doesn't communicate any kind of message, that what kind of value do you find in it?

It's pretty. Or it's jarring, or soothing, or peaceful, or any number of other things that work primarily on a sub-conscious, emotional level. But I've yet to hear instrumental music that communicates the message, "This man likes to abuse women." That's a very specific message that could not possibly be communicated through any scale I know.

Oh, no, I certainly agree about the last part. Trying to use music to communicate statements like that is obviously a waste of time.

I guess I was focusing too far into the "any kind of message" phrase.

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Perhaps you could make clear which Wagner you are talking about? :unsure:

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Nonono, I should have been more clear. I know that you are talking about Richard Wagner, what I am wondering is which of his works you are referring to. He is primarily known as an operatic composer - I have personally never heard any of his music except his operas, and I was wondering which of his works you find "narrative" in. (Check the article you linked to, under "non-operatic music", for a summary of those works.)

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But I've yet to hear instrumental music that communicates the message, "This man likes to abuse women." That's a very specific message that could not possibly be communicated through any scale I know.

I'm not really sure how to respond to this. Phrased how you phrased it, I don't know anyone who would disagree, except maybe some ultrafundamentalist who thinks all art is of the devil anyway.

All the same, and I mean this in the most respectful way possible, I don't recall anyone saying this. No one has said that a particular scale or note communicates anything specific. While I appreciate the need to exaggerate to make a point, this is not the point.

And I think your above statement is also a far cry from:

when that personal life has no discernible relationship to the work of art.

Which is what I really felt I was responding to. So I feel a bit played. (But artfully!)

I don't see how art cannot reflect the person creating the work. Does that make the work any less valuable, beautiful, or glorious? I don't think so. Just as I would say modernism, while it may have failed or has serious flaws, still helped created some marvelous and beautiful art and I feel blessed and better for having encountered them.

I think this idea is also reflected in the personalities related through scripture. Immoral acts were done by people God loved and called "after My own heart". And God did wonderous works by their hands and blessed the world all the same.

However, "from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" and, as I heard Glenn Kaiser extrapolate, the writer writes, the painter paints, the musician plays his instrument, etc. While their personal _life_ may not have a bearing on the art, what it is that drives that personal life ("out of the abundance of the heart") does have a bearing on their art.

Nardis' point about the artist, Miles in this instance, creating a whole personna to be digested with the music I think deserves consideration. Miles, as an artist, was not just creating music as his art. He was creating something of performance art to a large degree. You may be able to seperate the parts out, but that seems to miss the point the artist was trying to achieve. The image was as much a part of the vehicle for the music as his trumpet. Did I say that right? Maybe Miles was trying to do with jazz what David Bowie did with whatever it was he was doing musically. Rock? Pop? You pick.

I definitely agree with the first above quoted statement of yours. That is part of that whole notion that "God only plays in major keys" or some other such nonsense. But when God plays music (I believe his instrument of choice is the shofar?) I can't imagine him playing something that will not tell us something about His glory, or his tenderness, or sovereignty, or some other attribute that is part of who God is.

That would indicate that there is something inherent in the music itself that universally (or nearly universally) speaks to its hearers in a consistent way.

Well, there are a lot of artists who view music as a universal language. And there are visual artists who derived their particular styles/voices either from music or by working through an analogy with music, such as Klee or Kandinsky. Some would say that music is the purest or one of the purest art forms. Where does melody come from? Why does one note follow another? How does Will Smith go from music to acting?

I would think music does not need to be laden with lyrics to derive either value or significance as conveyor of a message. I would go back to my first exposure to Mahler's work and the ballet Dark Elegies and how I discovered loss and sorrow before I knew anything about the works.

Not that I think you have said music needs lyrics to communicate meaningfully, but I'm not sure how you can avoid coming to a siimilar conclusion by saying instrumental music (such as Phil Keaggy's) is only pretty. I'm sure I just don't understand (which is not unusual).

(I have to admit I cannot put the names of PK's instrumental music with the work, much less actually remember the names regardless, with the exception of maybe two of his pieces, _Follow me up_ and _County Down_. And those only because I tried my best to learn them. And yet I find tremendous expression, meaning, and message in his works.)

But I could be wrong. What do I know? I'm just some lighting geek.

Joe

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Nardis' point about the artist, Miles in this instance, creating a whole personna to be digested with the music I think deserves consideration. Miles, as an artist, was not just creating music as his art. He was creating something of performance art to a large degree. You may be able to seperate the parts out, but that seems to miss the point the artist was trying to achieve. The image was as much a part of the vehicle for the music as his trumpet. Did I say that right? Maybe Miles was trying to do with jazz what David Bowie did with whatever it was he was doing musically. Rock? Pop? You pick.

That's exactly what I was trying to say a few posts back. One CAN try, perhaps successfully, to separate the art from the artist. But why? When or why would one do this? Well, let's consider the cases that Andy presented:

Imagine it's 1974. Bob Dylan has just released an album called Blood on the Tracks. You know that he's recently been divorced. And half the songs on the album are raw, open wounds; laments about his lost marriage. Is it okay to write about Bob Dylan's life when you review that album? My answer is, of course, Yes. It would seem to me that it would be irresponsible not to, because the music itself is plainly autobiographical.

Let's make it a little tougher. In 2006, a guy named Jon Dee Graham released an album called Full on a tiny indie label. You know that he's recently been dropped by a major label. You also know that in the two years since his previous release on that major labor he's battled addiction issues, and has been without medical insurance at a time when his small son was diagnosed with a rare liver disease. None of the songs on the album directly address his personal circumstances. But they are full of images of conflict and torment, and they arrive at a place of what seems like hard-won peace and acceptance. Is it okay to talk about his life -- those specific circumstances -- when you review the album? I hope so, because I did, and because I firmly believe that those circumstances provide the context in which the album should be understood.

Now let's look at our whipping boy Miles Davis, who has come up numerous times in this thread. Miles made jazz records. They were exclusively instrumental. And he was a jerk. He abused women, and, as Nardis has noted, he intentionally projected a bad boy/pimp image that is certainly offputting to many people. Is it fair to talk about Miles' life when reviewing one of his albums? The abuse of women? Nope. No way. It has nothing to do with his music. His bad boy/pimp image? Sure. He put it out there on his album covers. And it's fair game.

It's seems that Andy is saying with these examples that it's OK to consider the artist/the artist's life (in a review, e.g.) to the extent that it doesn't unnecessarily detract from the art. This implies, to me, that we generally can and should consider the artist, with a few caveats to maintain the quality of the review (or whatever the response medium).

Here's a question: what if the bulk of Miles' known life story was good, wholesome stuff? Is it then fair game for a review? How closely related to the music itself would the life item have to be, to be relevant?

I do appreciate that the instrumental nature of his music makes things a little more difficult.

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[And I think your above statement is also a far cry from:

when that personal life has no discernible relationship to the work of art.

Which is what I really felt I was responding to. So I feel a bit played. (But artfully!)

Sorry. I don't mean to play you. I'll try to be as forthcoming as I can, and answer your questions, which are good ones. I'm taking your statements out of order, only because I think the second is best understood in light of the first.

That would indicate that there is something inherent in the music itself that universally (or nearly universally) speaks to its hearers in a consistent way.

Well, there are a lot of artists who view music as a universal language. And there are visual artists who derived their particular styles/voices either from music or by working through an analogy with music, such as Klee or Kandinsky. Some would say that music is the purest or one of the purest art forms. Where does melody come from? Why does one note follow another? How does Will Smith go from music to acting?

I would think music does not need to be laden with lyrics to derive either value or significance as conveyor of a message. I would go back to my first exposure to Mahler's work and the ballet Dark Elegies and how I discovered loss and sorrow before I knew anything about the works.

Not that I think you have said music needs lyrics to communicate meaningfully, but I'm not sure how you can avoid coming to a siimilar conclusion by saying instrumental music (such as Phil Keaggy's) is only pretty. I'm sure I just don't understand (which is not unusual).

I don't think there is something inherent in the music itself that speaks to its hearers in a consistent way. Music is not the universal language. Or, perhaps better, music is a universal language that speaks with six billion tongues. I cannot tell you how radically different the same piece of music will sound to two equally sensitive, intelligent, spiritually attuned human beings. I have a good friend who experiences something approaching a spiritual epiphany whenever he slaps on Metallica. I hear the same music and want to gnash my teeth. There are genres of music I simply don't like, even though I know that millions of people find tremendous value in them. Music helps me understand what the word "joy" even means, and sometimes makes me want to worship God, and I've played that same transcendent music for people I love and I've met with uncomprehending stares.

That's not in any way to detract from the notion that music reaches people in remarkably powerful ways. It does, and I firmly believe that God uses it in countless good ways in peoples' lives. But there's no formula, nor are there instruments, melodies, chords, rhythms or any other components of music that universally communicate a specific meaning. I listen to music for a lot of reasons, just as I'm sure you do, and sometimes I'm simply looking to be entertained and mildly engaged. But sometimes something amazing happens. I apologize for quoting a review, but I'm too lazy to formulate this again, and it really does express what I'm trying to communicate:

"Lead singer/cherub Jonsi played his electric guitar with a bow, like a mutant cello, and made unearthly sounds with his voice.

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quick little sidebar to something posted some 20 posts ago...

another great book re: the shift from artisan to Artist or tension between craft and Fine Art is larry shiner's the invention of art: a cultural history. a very tasty read.

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Sorry. I don't mean to play you.

In retrospect that didn't sound as funny or witty as it did in my head while I was typing it. It was a bit of a play on music. Ah well. The best laid plans.

I don't think there is something inherent in the music itself that speaks to its hearers in a consistent way.

As you said before...I see, but I don't see.

It's been a "family weekend" so time is tight. But I do have some thoughts. I do agree with this statement. But I don't agree that a universal language should do this either. Anymore than the language we are using here on this board speaks in a consistent way. I think your point here has more to do with the result of (our response to) what has been said than what has been said or how it was said. People say things to us all the time that we may or may not agree with. That doesn't mean they didn't use a language we understand. I think being in the midst of a political season exemplifies this exactly.

More later,

Joe

(edited for grammar)

Edited by jfutral

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