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jfutral

Relationship in art

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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.

I guess I see that as a distinction without a difference, Joe. It's not a question of agreement; it's a question of understanding and interpretation. Two people will hear the same piece of music and have radically different interpretations of it, not because one of them "disagrees" with the music, but because they hear it differently and understand it differently. That's precisely my point. In what way can a language be called "universal" if there are six billion ways to understand it?

If you're correct, then there ought to be a very consistent pattern in terms of how people respond to any given piece of music. Whatever it is that is inherent in the musical "language" ought to elicit the same kinds of reactions. And I'm saying that I don't see it, nor do I hear it.

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If you're correct, then there ought to be a very consistent pattern in terms of how people respond to any given piece of music. Whatever it is that is inherent in the musical "language" ought to elicit the same kinds of reactions. And I'm saying that I don't see it, nor do I hear it.

To clarify my position, I don't agree yet that music IS a universal language, but I do think the possibility warrants thought. And also understand I come from the position that with art, the appreciator of the work brings as much, if not more, to the table as the artist. That said, I don't see how it follows that a universal language should result in a similar, much less the same kind of, reaction in _everyone_.

I see two ways to appraoch this. First by comparing this to a language that, while not universal, is understood by a large group of people. How someone responds to another person using english is affected by several things, things like how adept the person is at using the language, choice of words, choice of environment, even choice of audience.

Even assuming a thorough understanding of the language and a high level of skill in its usuage on the part of the messenger, their are some politicians (for example) , no matter how clearly they speak and how much I understand what they are saying, I simply will not agree with them and I will not react to what they say the same way as someone who does agree with them. So another variable in someone's reaction is their position on the message. Take the gospel for instance. Not everyone who has heard the message of the gospel has responded the same way. Does this mean the message of the gospel is not universal?

The perspective of the listener also has to take into account not just their ability to understand what is being conveyed or communicated, or how well it is being conveyed or communicated, but also the value they place on what is being conveyed or communicated as well as the value they place on who is doing the conveying. Taking the political season again as an example, a conservative isn't as likely to place as much value on the communication of a liberal even if the message is conservative. Not that this is you, but some peole place little, if any, value on a rock musician who plays classical music (such as Yngwie Malmsteen) than an accomplished violinist.

Those are just some considerations I would think of regarding an understood language. Now the second perspective is to see how a universal language does across groups of people of varying languages. This is not hard either. Remember during or after WWII (I think that's when it was, I don't recall precisley, maybe you or someone else remembers more accurately) the President sent a group of jazz musicians throughout Europe as sort of ambassadors. To be sure, American pop music is _very_ popular in non-enlgish speaking countries, even when they don't undertsand the words (and as I discovered in Holland, this is how many Dutch have learned english!). The same can be said of Italian opera in an English speaking country. Classical music has shown its ability to transcend culture and language and people of varying backgrounds appreciate and respond similarly. In this regard music (as well as much art in general) _has_ shown itself at least to have some level or degree of consistent universality.

There was an NPR program a couple years back about a cultural exchange program involving a bluegrass band and a folk group of musicians in a non-english speaking country. The only way they had to communicate was with music. I wish I could remember the details of the program, as the basis was concerning (IIRC) the universality of music as a language. The only thing I really remember is a profound statement by one of the american musicians when he said "Performing music is an act of faith". I love that line. It is so true of art generally and particulalry of the performing arts.

To say if music is a universal langauge then ALL music (regardless of genre, craftsmenship of musician, sophistication of the music, content of message, etc.) will ALWAYS cause the SAME reaction from EVERYONE (regardless of personal nature and nurture) just seems ludicrous. To me a universal language does not automatically equate to consistent reaction or response, even if the message is clear and understood. I think it is best defined as I heard one person put it, where he says, "The power of music to give expression without the help of representation is its noblest possession." It is in this way that I think music can best be understood as a universal language.

YMMV,

Joe

edited to hopefully make better sense!

Edited by jfutral

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I appreciate what you're saying, Joe.

Most of the examples you give have to do with spoken/sung language. Lyrics obviously enhance communication in music. And granted all the potential communication barriers you mention, on the part of both the speaker and the hearer, I still think (as do you) that one has a reasonable chance of communicating relatively unambiguously when using words. Not perfectly, but clearly enough that the vast majority of people will derive the same meaning from the words.

But what I wrote previously really has only to do with the music itself. The examples you give -- the bluegrass band in China, the appeal of (foreign language) opera in America -- don't really convince me. They tell me that some number of people are able to overcome the language/cultural barriers and find value in what they hear. Nothing wrong with that. But they don't tell me anything about the millions (billions?) of people for whom such a musical exercise would be pointless, dull, and utterly incomprehensible.

I've never argued that a "universal" language should apply to every person in every situation. I have stated that I don't believe there is anything inherent in the music itself that speaks to its hearers in a consistent way, and that if music is a universal language, then it speaks with six billion tongues. I guess I don't really know how to quantify that precisely. I do believe that if given unlimited time and exposure to music, there literally would be six billion different sets of "transcendent music" that would best reach each individual on the planet. Of course, that's not literally the case. About all I'm willing to say is that almost every song or piece of music reaches at least one person, and some music reaches a lot of people. But I would bet that even the most commonly agreed upon "transcendent music" still reaches far, far fewer people than it leaves absolutely cold and unmoved. Given the math involved, it's hard for me to define that as a "universal language."

Edited by Andy Whitman

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But what I wrote previously really has only to do with the music itself.

Given the math involved, it's hard for me to define that as a "universal language."

I take it you didn't buy into "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"?

Well, even though I don't _totally_ disagree with you, I can agree to disagree with this. I think we agree that ANY language used for communicating, universal or otherwise, is also dependant on what the listener brings. The best communicator in the world is still going to depend on the listener's desire or predisposition to hear ("for him who has ears to hear let him hear"), much less understand what is heard.

I don't agree that someone finding something "pointless" and "dull" equates with "utterly incomprehensible". I do think you described three very different groups of people. I find a lot of opera dull, but that doesn't mean I find it incomprehensible. And I don't agree that just because a piece or genre of music doesn't affect everyone the same way this somehow negates the capability of music being a universal language. When has language ever been judged so? We are still arguing how to interpret the Bible. And supposedly we have the author to help our understanding! So even when we can speak with some degree of certainty of a language of an unambiguous nature we are not presented with universal comprehensibility.

That music transcends culture, language, time, and class _at all_ and _regularly_ and to _millions_, IMO, speaks to its universal ability to, as quoted, "give expression without the help of representation". That people centuries later still find Bach's music of value, Or that people in Japan find worth in American Jazz or even, God forbid, country music, should blow ones mind. And not just a small group of people, but millions. Even if the examples were small in stature, when taken as a whole, that there are multitudes of these examples should account for something. If math were the defining attribute and we were only presented with a small community here or there of varying cultures or classes (which would still strike me as amazing), the numbers would be far more in your favour.

But I think you touched on something, too. What is it communicating? But that's for another day. I have too much work to do before our next tour. I've enjoyed the conversation with everyone!

Joe

edited to add: did you get the irony with this "Given the math involved, it's hard for me to define that as a 'universal language.'"? Music and math? Hahahaha! :-)

Edited by jfutral

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I recently read an article in the Atlanta edition of Creative Loafing called "Sudden Impact" (http://atlanta.creativeloafing.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A145492) (sorry I don't know how to make this a link. If one of the moderators can, I would appreciate the help). The topic of the article is what is it that makes someone cry or otherwise react emotionally to a work of art (the syndrome actually has a name).

Joe Futral

I stumbled backwards into this forum.....I have found several significant conversations.......this is one.......

I was recently in San Francisco and had some free time, wandering through SF MOMA I encountered this Mark Rothko it really stopped me dead in my tracks. I know something about Mark Rothko and have actually stated in public that I don't like him. This unexpected encounter on this particular day, made me sit down and reconsider. I wasn't weeping but the emotion was there.

Jackson Pollock was a mess, as a person but there is something remarkably liberating and can I say joyful about his deliberate uncorking of the flat vertical plane.

There is a wonderful documentary by Sydney Pollack called Sketches of Frank Gehry that overwhelmed me. I love Frank Gehry for much the same reason I love Pollock, it is so liberating. Their work demands that I engage my imagination and causes me to engage the world around me in a new/renewed way.

There are characters in the Bible that are flat out creepy. David comes to mind (poet,warrior,musician, king, and some uncool stuff) and yet he was used profoundly by God.

I'm not sure that we can judge the art by the artist. We can certainly judge artists for their behavior. Alfred Stieglitz is a hero of mine, what he accomplished and was able to encourage in others is truly remarkable. He was, as a person, quite a lecherous troll. American Art wouldn't be the same without him. What are we to do?

Thanks for this.

Mike

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...

I'm not sure that we can judge the art by the artist. We can certainly judge artists for their behavior. Alfred Stieglitz is a hero of mine, what he accomplished and was able to encourage in others is truly remarkable. He was, as a person, quite a lecherous troll. American Art wouldn't be the same without him. What are we to do?

Thanks for this.

Mike

Hey! Welcome to A&F!

Thanks for your thoughts. You did make me think I wasn't all that clear. In case I wasn't clear (and I usually not), I wasn't advocating judging the art by the artist. But I do think there is a depth to art that can be explored by also getting to know the artist. I also think the artist's work can tell us as much about the artist as studying his life. That so many broken people can and have created glorious works (from whatever perspective) I think shows hope and a divine influence beyond what the news headlines are willing to show.

From the heart of Santiago, Chile!

Joe

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I frequently find myself, after being confronted by someones creative process , wondering; "How did they do that?". It usually sends me running to the library. I am a compulsive reader. I begin to obsess about things like compositional style, brush strokes, intent, the use of language, melody etc, etc. The choices people make come from some influence some where. I find this fascinating.

Thanks for the welcome.

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Hope you're getting some time to sightsee, eat out, etc.

Yeah, all that's well and good, but I'm really hunting for one thing while in South America... coffee! :-)

Joe

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Just a bit of an adendum. I ran across this supposedly by Leo Tolstoy in an essay "What is art?". I got this from http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361r14.html (I'm still not hip to making clickable links, sorry! Maybe this works? <a href="http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361r14.html" target="_blank">Here</a>) Failed miserably!

A snipet supposedly from chapter 5:

"#1. In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

#2. Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.

#3. Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of men, serves as a means of union among them, and art acts in a similar manner. The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.

#4. The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example; one man laughs, and another who hears becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another who hears feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and another man seeing him comes to a similar state of mind. By his movements or by the sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and determination or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms, and this suffering transmits itself to other people; a man expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena.

#5. And it is upon this capacity of man to receive another man's expression of feeling and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based."

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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