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Music & Art


Darryl A. Armstrong
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For anyone interested, and I hope this is readable, I'm involved in (what I feel is) an interesting debate on music and art on another board. I post there as "Godric." I'm interested to know your (heh... anyone here who is actually wiiling to read this) take on this subject... Here is a link to the actual discussion.

Now edited, for your reading pleasure! tongue.gif

policyvote:

Well, I've always said that music, like all art, is communication. The object isn't to make you feel happy, but to make you feel what the artist wants to make you feel.

That having been said, when we're talking about HATING music, what we have is obviously more than a failure to communicate.

Let's look at a personal "everybody thinks these guys are great but I don't" pet peeve of mine, Coldplay. Their first single was a whiny, meandering bit of tripe called "Yellow". The capper for me was the way the guy sang the word yellow. The line was "and it was all yellow", but he's got this incredibly fake-sounding British accent, so the line comes out like "'n' it wz awwwl yellahowugh". As bland and lame as I found the song to be, that one line made me want to scream and cry and break things.

Why? Why do I hate that song so much? Well, first, it fails to resonate with me emotionally. But not only do I not feel whatever they intended me to feel, I completely reject the song. Somewhere on some fundamental level, the song misses so badly with me that I can't even listen to it. Maybe I don't want to feel what the song is trying to make me feel, maybe I don't like what the song is trying to make me feel, maybe I CAN'T feel what the song is trying to make me feel.

On the other hand, maybe Coldplay just sucks.

Peace

policy

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Strider:

or maybe you need to listen to more than one song from a band to be able to judge the band as a whole...

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Godric:

policy:

Well, I've always said that music, like all art, is communication. The object isn't to make you feel happy, but to make you feel what the artist wants to make you feel.

As I said before, I'd call that propoganda, not art. Art is communication, but if an individual work's point is to make you feel the way the artist wants you to feel, that is not communication, that's an attempt at control.

...but he's got this incredibly fake-sounding British accent...

Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but he is British, isn't he?

Maybe I don't want to feel what the song is trying to make me feel, maybe I don't like what the song is trying to make me feel, maybe I CAN'T feel what the song is trying to make me feel.

Maybe you think it's trying to make you feel something when it's really just "painting a musical picture." I'm not saying that music can't or won't influence the way people feel. But as communication, only half of the work was completed by the artist. The other half depends on you the listener to interpret, imagine, etc.

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Synesthesia:

More thoughts on music:

Most of it is just plan chemical. For example, I hear Dir en grey and something inside of me just lights up. Other people hear them and they look puzzled.

Pop music is also sometimes distasteful to me because they are thinking in terms of what an ideal audience would like instead of just playing for themselves. At least in most cases.

That is such a turn off.

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policyvote:

Strider: I've heard the other singles, and while they don't drive me crazy with how bad they are (like Yellow), I haven't heard anything from them that would indicate they're capable of producing music I actually like.

Godric: Without delving too deeply into semantics, IMHO, "painting a picture" is exactly the same thing as playing a song or publishing a novel. In all cases, you're presenting art to an audience--and in both cases, the audience can like it or not, empathize with it or not, take it or leave it. But the good stuff moves you, and artists who know what they're doing move you in specific directions. Just like a writer of fiction, a musician anticipates the audience's reaction.

As an example: Joe Satriani's "Summer Song" captures summer very, very well. When I hear that song, it's the middle of July and I'm doing 90 down the highway with the top down, even if it's December and I don't own a convertible. I'm feeling what the artist is hoping I feel when I hear the song, and presumably what the artist himself was feeling when he wrote the song. That's good songwriting, and good music, not propaganda.

Peace

policy

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Godric:

policy:

Without delving too deeply into semantics, IMHO, "painting a picture" is exactly the same thing as playing a song or publishing a novel. In all cases, you're presenting art to an audience--and in both cases, the audience can like it or not, empathize with it or not, take it or leave it. But the good stuff moves you, and artists who know what they're doing move you in specific directions. Just like a writer of fiction, a musician anticipates the audience's reaction.

Once again, I have to quibble with what you're defining as art. If the "artist" knows what he's doing and moves you to go on a killing spree, is that "good?"

Although the late Mr. McLuhan is famous for having proposed that "the message is the medium," I believe he was wrong, or at least not completely accurate. While the medium by which we communicate (in this case we are speaking of art and music, specifically) may indeed have some affect on how we perceive the message, it is not in and of itself the message. What does this have to do with our subject, you ask? Let me give an example. If a composer writes a sonata that he intends to make his listeners sad, he will employ his medium (minor keys) as his message (sadness). But this is not the whole story for the art critic, whose job, as I see it is to not only define art from entertainment or propoganda, but to interact with the art -- communicate, if you prefer. As a listener you should become a critic. Unless, of course you are only participating so as to be entertained, in which case you are free not to think and enjoy the experience (I don't think there's anything wrong with that, except that entertainment should not be anyone's sole purpose in his/her exposure to art. If one chooses only to be entertained, one becomes much more likely to mistake propoganda for entertainment and thus be affected by it.).

As a critic then, and as someone who is actively communicating with art, the message seperates itself from the medium and grows into something more than mere entertainment and more than mere propoganda, but art in it's truest sense. Now before you suppose that I'm jumping all the guns and delving into the theoretical, I point to your own example of Santana's "Summer Song."

You are interacting with the music when "it's the middle of July and I'm doing 90 down the highway with the top down, even if it's December and I don't own a convertible." The question is, how are you interacting? Are you being "controlled" or are you developing those feelings and images with the song?

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policyvote:

Godric: If an artist was in a blind rage, and that rage inspired the artist to write a song/paint a picture/dance a dance/write a story, and upon taking in that piece I became so enraged that I went on a killing spree, then certianly the artist was effective in getting their message across. Imposing moral judgments on the reaction of the audience has nothing to do with whether or not the piece was well done. In fact, it would take some amazingly well-crafted and inspired art to move someone to immediate physical action.

As regards to my example--well, first of all, it's Joe Satriani, not Carlos Santana. Secondly, being a "critic" of at has nothing to do with "interacting" with it. The very definition of the word "interact" require that you have the ability to change the art--you, as the audience, do not have that ability. All you can do is take it in and process it. Now, the first time I heard Summer Song, I felt the way I still feel when I hear that song--I didn't know it was called Summer Song, but it sure felt summery. Heck, go download it and hear for yourself; get the cut from his "Live in San Francisco" disc if you can.

Basically, what I'm saying is that art that makes you feel the way the artist intended is good art, and propganda is art that tries to change how you THINK about something. Those are two totally different things, dude.

Peace

policy

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Godric:

policy:

. Imposing moral judgments on the reaction of the audience has nothing to do with whether or not the piece was well done.

I didn't say it did. My question was an introduction to my argument. You seemed to be saying that if an artist can make you feel what he is feeling when he creates his piece that constitutes "good" art. A piece of propoganda or entertainment can be well done and not be goood art. Nobody can say that the Backstreet Boys albums aren't well produced. But would you call them good art?

As regards to my example--well, first of all, it's Joe Satriani, not Carlos Santana.

Oops!

I must admit that I am not very familiar with either Carlos Santana or Joe Satriani.

Secondly, being a "critic" of at has nothing to do with "interacting" with it. The very definition of the word "interact" require that you have the ability to change the art--you, as the audience, do not have that ability. All you can do is take it in and process it.

I disagree. Many musicians and other artists have gained insights from listeners and critics. Others will not discuss their inspirations or the "meaning" of their art because they want the audience to decide for themselves. That's an invitation to interact with the art. The artist provides us with a subject or subjects, but we must respond.

Basically, what I'm saying is that art that makes you feel the way the artist intended is good art, and propganda is art that tries to change how you THINK about something. Those are two totally different things, dude.

Propoganda is not limited to realm of thought. In fact, I would venture to guess that it works better by discouraging thought and encouraging reactions. Once again, if an artist's sole purpose is to make you feel a certain way, I do not classify his work as art, but as propoganda. Not all propoganda is bad (in a moral or physical sense) and not all art is without propoganda, but I don't think what you're saying here are two different things.

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Elizabeth:

Policy and Godric,

I have been following your discussion, and it is very interesting. If you look back to the post I made with the Jerry Garcia quote, where he mentions the thin line between entertainment and art, I think he makes a lot of sense.

I wonder if we took a look at our favorite musicians, successful-in-the-mainstream ones, if we could follow a history of their work and see how it changed over time. How much did they change since they started playing? Did their music start to change because of pressure from thr recording industry? Did they keep doing their thing anyway?

One example, for me, would be Billy Joel. For a while there, he did not play the piano. He is a master! His lyrics and music were, to me, beautiful. Then, there was a period where he married Christy Brinkley, was in the public eye, and his music changed. It was not necessarily worse, it just changed, and I no longer cared for it. Other people loved it.

I just really wonder what it is that makes musicians change. One thing might just be simple: their life. Maybe they were poor, and had seen some tough things, had lived through pain. Then, they became rich, and they were happy. Their music seemed fluffier, but it was just that they were no longer deep and dark.

Just a thought,

Liz

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Elizabeth:

"Then, they became rich, and they were happy."

I am not implying that being rich means being happy, it was just an example.

Liz

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policyvote:

Sorry to bring this topic back up from the dead, but I wanted to respond to Godric:

You seemed to be saying that if an artist can make you feel what he is feeling when he creates his piece that constitutes "good" art. A piece of propoganda or entertainment can be well done and not be goood art. Nobody can say that the Backstreet Boys albums aren't well produced. But would you call them good art?

No, because the Backstreet Boys don't HAVE a message, or a purpose, or any reason to make music other than money. That's why, when you listen to their music, it's all sort of bland, pleasant, noncommittal music that's sort of generically about relationships (but nothing too specific or personal). They don't succeed at moving people (other than 13-year-old girls). Good art stirs something inside you, inspires you. If an artist is good at what they do, they can capture a feeling or emotion and convey it to the audience. Of course everyone has their own feelings, reactions, and associations--but ultimately an artist is trying to express themselves, to share some emotion or feeling with an audience.

I must admit that I am not very familiar with either Carlos Santana or Joe Satriani.

I won't hold that against you for the purpose of this discussion, but you should check Satriani out. You should check out "the Extremist", or "Crystal Planet".

I disagree. Many musicians and other artists have gained insights from listeners and critics.

Okay, but that has nothing to do with whether their first album was any good or not. Just putting in a CD and listening to it, or attending an art exhibition, involves no "interaction". You can't judge the quality of art, or the ability of an artist, based on how the later art is produced (based on popular and critical response). A finished piece of art should be judged alone, by itself, on its merits.

Propoganda is not limited to realm of thought.

Yes, it is. Propaganda is political art, meant to change or reinforce the political thoughts of the audience. If everyone who hears a certain song starts tapping their toes, because it's just that catchy--that's not "pro-toe-tapping propaganda", that's just good music.

Once again, if an artist's sole purpose is to make you feel a certain way, I do not classify his work as art, but as propoganda.

Well, you can go ahead and classify whatever you want as whatever you want, but propaganda is a word that already has a definition. Art that effectively captures, conveys, or evokes an emotion, feeling, time or place is not propaganda--it's good art.

Peace

policy

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ae:

<<useless "I agree!" to policyvote>>

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Godric:

policy:

Sorry to bring this topic back up from the dead, but I wanted to respond to Godric:

I'm glad you did! I've been enjoying this discussion quite a bit, although it is blantantly obvious you're arguing off key.

No, because the Backstreet Boys don't HAVE a message, or a purpose, or any reason to make music other than money. That's why, when you listen to their music, it's all sort of bland, pleasant, noncommittal music that's sort of generically about relationships (but nothing too specific or personal). They don't succeed at moving people (other than 13-year-old girls).

::nods::

Good art stirs something inside you, inspires you.

Yes! Good art is more than the sum of its parts (the artist and the audience). Hopefully you're not only inspired in an emotional sense -- hopefully you're inspired in a way that is true, or that reveals truth or beauty, etc.

If an artist is good at what they do, they can capture a feeling or emotion and convey it to the audience. Of course everyone has their own feelings, reactions, and associations--but ultimately an artist is trying to express themselves, to share some emotion or feeling with an audience.

This is where, I think, our differences lie. If what you describe is the sole purpose of a piece, it is propagandistic (as a side note, I've been idiotically mispelling propaganda all this time... ). I'll discuss this more later.

I won't hold that against you for the purpose of this discussion, but you should check Satriani out. You should check out "the Extremist", or "Crystal Planet".

I will. One of the things I like best about meeting and talking to new people is discovering new and exciting music, books, movies, etc. Thanks!

Okay, but that has nothing to do with whether their first album was any good or not. Just putting in a CD and listening to it, or attending an art exhibition, involves no "interaction". You can't judge the quality of art, or the ability of an artist, based on how the later art is produced (based on popular and critical response). A finished piece of art should be judged alone, by itself, on its merits.

I'm not sure that I follow your train of thought. I wasn't comparing an artist's early works to his latter works. I completely agree that a finished work should be judged on its own merits. What I'm trying to say is that the audience and their response is a part of any piece of art. I think we, as a culture, and as consumers, have become lazy regarding how we engage art. We seem to think that all the responsibility lies on the artist alone and we swallow their often incomplete ideas whole.

Yes, it is. Propaganda is political art, meant to change or reinforce the political thoughts of the audience. If everyone who hears a certain song starts tapping their toes, because it's just that catchy--that's not "pro-toe-tapping propaganda", that's just good music.

To quote the wonderful Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

From Merriam-Webster OnLine:

Main Entry: pro

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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I like "Yellow!" British accent or not.

for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

Is it the sole purpose? I may have to rethink my stance on prop, according to this definition. I always thought of propaganda as "religious or political messages of indoctrination masquerading as art," (simplified) and i considered pretty much everything out there propaganda, in one way, shape or form. If it's for the sole purpose of "helping" or "injuring" an institution, i don't follow why we've previously referred to certain Christian films as propaganda, especially if they're not being shown in churches.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I'd say expression is the primary responsibility of the artist. When the artist starts becoming too concerned about how the audience will react, that's the point where he risks becoming a propagandist. The standard for good art can't be whether it makes one feel a certain way -- that's too subjective, even for art. Back Street Boys inspire revulsion in me and adoration in people who are different from me, but that can't be the only or the primary reason that their music is bad art. Otherwise my emotions become the standard by which art is judged.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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