No, Music Isn’t Worse Than It Was in the Past

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I saw some interviews of musicians I respect, which reminded me of this topic. Both bemoaned the current state of music, one of them gloomily predicting the the end boundary-pushing. (This interview was from the 80s.) My sense is that the basis for their assessment stemmed from a comparison with the past. That is, the compared their perception and understanding of the music of the present relative to the music from the past. If this is accurate, I don’t think this is a good way to judge the present. Indeed, I think doing so leads to an erroneous judgments and pessissms.

Now, let me make a few things clear. One, I’m not taking this position because I necessarily think the present moment is filled with great musicians and great music. Instead, I’m basing my position primarily on the way we perceive and understand both the present and the past. The difference, I think, primarily explains why the present seems bleak, relative to the past; and I’m going to explain that in this thread.

(Note: This applies to movies, and I would suspect most other art forms as well.)

On the Functions and Value of Art

In a conversation between Tyler Cowen, a George Mason economics professor, and David Salle, an artist and writer, Salle discusses several functions of art (mostly visual art) that I found interesting. Here’s what he said:

I think people might underestimate the decorative function of painting. Painting has various functions. A good painting satisfies most of them or all of them, pretty much at a high level. One of the functions, historically, is to make the room look better, to make people’s emotional temperature quicken slightly when the painting is in the room as opposed to when it’s not in the room. That’s a decorative function. It’s an important one.

I remember the first time I met Jasper Johns. He actually said to a friend of mine, who was standing with us, “The first obligation of a painting is to make the wall look better that it’s hanging on.” It is one of those statements that is so simple-minded it brooks mystification, but it’s just a simple fact.

What else does painting do? Obviously, we want it to do more than just be decorative. I think any good painting — really good painting — expresses something true about the time in which it was made and about the maker. But that’s another level and doesn’t have to be apparent in the same way that its decorative value is apparent.

What else does it do? It locates the maker in a certain history, a certain dialogue, a certain discourse. It sometimes takes sides. It sometimes provokes arguments. These are other things that paintings can do.

I’ll say more about this later.

How Does One Acquire Good Taste?

That was sort of the question posed by Tyler Cowen to David Salle, an artist and writer on Conversations with Tyler podcast that I recently listened to. Now, before i got into Salle’s answer, perhaps we should raise another question–namely, what does developing or having good taste even matter? I think this is a good question, and I’ll take a stab at an answer. But let’s get to Salle’s answer.

A New Phenomenon Produced by Social Media: Qanon

While learning about Qanon, the conspiracy theory embraced by Trump supporters, I felt like it was something beyond conspiracy theory that I’m used to, and social media seemed to be one of the main reasons for this difference. Yes, it’s a conspiracy theory, but it also has elements of a serialized novel (political mystery/thriller, specifically), interactive game, and cult. It’s not a new art form, game, or cult–so much as something that doesn’t have a name.

Continue reading “A New Phenomenon Produced by Social Media: Qanon”

Art: Innovations and Innovators

I really love artist that push and sometime break boundaries, leading to a new style or vocabulary, or even redefining what constitutes art or not. Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, and maybe Andy Kaufmann would be examples of the latter. Other innovators, who may not cause us to re-think art, but I still I like a lot are Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, to name a few. This is a thread to discuss innovations of specific artists as well as innovations in art more generally. I want to start by talking about two different innovations in music that I’m interested in.

General Thread on Artists and Art

I’ve been watching several documentaries about art and artists, and instead of writing a review for these films, I wanted to start a thread for general thoughts and reaction these artists and art in general; basically a repository of notes on these topics.