Saturday, March 19, 2011

classical music is false catagory

I hate "classical music": not the thing but the name. It traps a tenaciously living art in a theme park of the past. It cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today. It banishes into limbo the work of thousands of active composers who have to explain to otherwise well-informed people what it is they do for a living. The phrase is a masterpiece of negative publicity, a tour de force of anti-hype. I wish there were another name. I envy jazz people who speak simply of "the music." Some jazz aficionados also call their art 'America's classical music," and I propose a trade: they can have "classical," I'll take "the music."

For at least a century, the music has been captive to a cult of mediocre elitism that tries to manufacture self-esteem by clutching at empty formulas of intellectual superiority. Consider other names in circulation: "art" music, "serious" music, "great" music, "good" music. Yes, the music can be great and serious, but greatness and seriousness are not its defining characteristics. It can also be stupid, vulgar, and insane. Composers are artists, not etiquette columnists; they have the right to express any emotion, any state of mind. They have been betrayed by well-meaning acolytes who believe that the music should be marketed as a luxury good, one that replaces an inferior popular product. These guardians say, in effect, "The music you love is trash. Listen instead to our great, arty music." They are making little headway with the unconverted because they have forgotten to define the music as something worth loving. Music is too personal a medium to support an absolute hierarchy of values. The best music is the music that persuades us that there is no other music in the world.

progression of music

All music becomes classical music in the end. Reading the histories of other genres, I often get a funny sense of déjà vu. The story of jazz, for example, seems to recapitulate classical history at high speed. First, the youth-rebellion period: Satchmo and the Duke and Bix and Jelly Roll teach a generation to lose itself in the music. Second, the era of bourgeois pomp: the high-class swing band parallels the Romantic orchestra. Stage 3: artists rebel against the bourgeois image, echoing the classical modernist revolution, sometimes by direct citation (Charlie Parker works the opening notes of The Rite of Spring into "Salt Peanuts"). Stage 4: free jazz marks the point at which the vanguard loses touch with the masses and becomes a self-contained avant-garde. Stage 5: a period of retrenchment. Wynton Marsalis's attempt to launch a traditionalist jazz revival parallels the neo-Romantic music of many late-twentieth-century composers. But this effort comes too late to restore the art to the popular mainstream.

The same progression worms its way through rock and roll. What were my hyper-educated punk-rock friends but Stage 3 high modernists, rebelling against the bloated Romanticism of Stage 2 stadium rock? In the first years of the new century there was a lot of Stage 5 neoclassicism going on in what remained of rock. The Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, the Stills, the Thrills, the White Stripes, and various other bands harked back to some lost pure moment of the sixties or seventies. Many used old instruments, old amplifiers, old soundboards. One rocker was quoted as saying, "I intentionally won't use something I haven't heard before." A White Stripes record carried this Luddite notice: "No computers were used during the recording, mixing, or mastering of this record."

The original classical music is left in an interesting limbo. It has a chance to be liberated from the social clichés that currently pin it down. It is no longer the one form carrying the burden of the past. Moreover, it has the advantage of being able to sustain constant reinterpretation, to renew itself with each repetition. The best kind of classical performance is not a retreat into the past but an intensification of the present. The mistake that apostles of the classical have always made is to have joined their love of the past to a dislike of the present. The music has other ideas: it hates the past and wants to escape.

fashion and the avant-garde

What will we wear in the future? Probably not so many logos.

The elite fashion world is showing signs of leaving them behind. The newest fashions from Hermes have only a tiny H stitched into the center of the button. Dolce and Gabbana are chucking their D&G label because it's been ripped off one too many times. As soon as the elite lose interest, we know a fashion trend is on the way out. Is haute couture dead? I doubt it. Paris won't let itself grow old. Some people were shocked when the staid houses of Dior and Givenchy hired avant-garde English designers John Galliano and Alexander McQueen to head their houses. But this is how it always has been. The elite aligns with the avant garde to create the new, and both embrace outrage.

A new word has cropped up in discussions among many of avant-garde clothing designers—intelligent. The Japanese desigi Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, the Belgian designer Marti Margiela, Helmut Lang, and Ann Demeulemeester have all been making clothes that make you think about the way they are structured, their relation to the body, and our aesthetic presumptions. Margiela is the most avant-garde. His clothing is a half-made assembly of visible seams and recycled fabric. One gets to play an intellectual game with the clothes and look fabulous.

conspicuous outrage

Only high-status individuals can afford the pleasure of not pleasing. Protected by social position, they are free to create their own rules, and have been among the patrons and creators of avant garde fashion and art.

To fear being in "bad taste" or looking ugly or vulgar are middle-class concerns. The middle class are fashion followers, the most conservative of whom are dragged into wearing a style only because it has become so prevalent that it would be nonconformist not to. The upper classes only fear being mistaken for their middle-class imitators, which is why they abandon a fashion as soon as it is adopted by them. As fashion editor Diana Vreeland once advised a junior editor, "Never fear being vulgar, just boring, middle class or dull." Fashion begins in outrage, ends in mainstream acceptance, and reemerges only later when the imitators have long gone.

Outrageous clothes belong only on those with the right attitude. Compare the middle class beauty queens, the Miss Americas who smile as they parade in their evening gowns and bathing suits, who talk about social issues, travel with chaperones, and exude sincerity and earnestness, with the high-fashion model who smokes and parties, looks like a heroin addict, won't get out of bed for less than ten thousand dollars a day, and rarely smiles. Models have the world on a string, and they show it. Their job is to represent the elite, to astonish, to provoke envy, but not to please.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

medieval / renaissance art

In medieval times, the arts were predominantly in the service of religion, as they have been in human societies from the beginning. They were not regarded "aesthetically" as something meaningful and significant in and of themselves, but instead valued only insofar as they revealed the divine. Renaissance artists gradually replaced eschatological with anthropocentric concerns, but during the transition from a God-centered to a man-centered art their works portrayed either a familiar ideal/divine realm or the actual world in which they lived. The artists' "art" consisted of accurately representing that subject matter using craftsmanlike standards of beauty, harmony, and excellence.

- Ellen Dissanayake

orality vs literacy

Nevertheless, despite the artificiality of the poles of the oral-literate continuum, certain intriguing oppositions and comparisons can be made. Oral communication is, first of all, personal and involved. Speaker and listener must be face to face or at least in each other's vicinity, allowing for a shared experience. Common knowledge and expectations can be assumed, so that much can be taken for granted. A lot can be left out, and if the hearer is confused she or he can ask for clarification. Written language, by contrast, is impersonal and detached. Writers cannot presume shared knowledge, so they must be explicit where a speaker is implicit; precise and careful where a speaker can be careless; streamlined and sparse where a speaker can be redundant. Written language is primarily technical, concerned with logical and coherent explication or argument. Spoken language is vivid, idiomatic, and at least as concerned with facilitating a social encounter as with accurately and unequivocally conveying an informative message.

These differences between spoken and written communication are reflected in the kinds of societies and kinds of people characteristic of the two types. In oral societies, analysis and questioning are not encouraged-indeed, they are hardly possible in the literate sense, where one has a text that can be reread, checked, compared, pondered, classified, and interpreted. Hence people look to tradition and authority—which are preserved by means of proverbs, folktales, ritualized formulations, and so forth—for instructions on how to live. Their attitude concerning the validity of these cultural repositories is one of certainty and belief. Because the entire group is joined in the same beliefs or world-picture, it is characterized by a sense of communality, a submersion of individuals within the larger whole rather than their being expected to rely primarily on themselves.

- Ellen Dissanayake


In the Annunciation, Leonardo makes dramatic and convincing use of linear perspective. Everything in the painting recedes towards a single vanishing point on the horizon. This gives the impression that the angel and the Virgin share the same, unified space which extends continuously all around them.

Leonardo di Vinci - Annunciation (1474)

idealism in art

At its most general, Idealism asserts that the physical world is less important than the mind or the spirit which shapes and animates it. Idealists choose the soul, the mind or the psyche over the body, the material and the historical. When ideals (of appearance, or proportion for example) regulate the way an artist represents the world his work can be described as Idealist.

Plato's Theory of the Forms was the the most important Classical influence on Renaissance Idealism. The Ideas, or Forms, contain all that is necessary and universal and are therefore perfect and unchanging while the material world is simply a deceptive procession of changing appearances which have no more reality than shadows.

The leading artists of the High Renaissance--Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo --are all associated with slightly different forms of Idealism. Michelangelo's was most identified with the Platonic Forms because of his reliance on ‘disegno’(design). The term is used to describe art which is shaped by the artist's imagination rather than by his imitation, or copying, of a natural model. Michelangelo's art also idealised the body by giving it monumental proportions. His figures are usually astonishingly muscular.

Michaelangelo - Leda and the Swan (1530)

Raphael's figures are equally idealised but they are characterised by sweetness of expression, serenity, elegance, clarity of line and beauty of colour rather than physical grandeur.

Raphael - Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1508)

Leonardo's Idealism was different again. It was characterised by an emphasis on finding the Divine in the perfectly human. Beauty, subtle facial expression, the unity of the figure with its setting and the elimination of unnecessary detail to suggest emotion, were all aspects of his Idealism.

Leonardo di Vinci - Benois Madonna (1478)

Renaissance artists strove to paint the Ideal, not because they shied away from looking at the world, but because they wanted to capture the absolute and universal truth hidden within it.

establishment art

Academicism promoted Classical ideals of beauty and artistic perfection and established a clear hierarchy within the visual arts, preferring grand narrative or history painting and advocating life-drawing and classical sculpture.

George Stubbs - Whistlejacket (1762)

Stubb's Whistlejacket was an example of the meticulous attention to the figure which characterised Academic painting. Within the Academy tradition artists were expected to have a sound knowledge of anatomy.

Joshua Reynolds - Colonel Tarleton (1782)

Reynolds was one of the advocates of the 'grand manner' in painting. His Colonel Tarleton is a perfect example of the grand manner adapted for a portrait. The portrait displays Colonel Tarleton's military virtues - his nobility and bravery - and his personal triumph over everything base inhuman nature. His clothes are relatively plain and the activity in the background has been simplified to avoid any overt theatricality.


Casper David Friedrich - Tree with Crows (1822)

The trees look dead but they are set against a sunset, reminding us that death is inevitable, part of the cycle of nature and not to be feared. However, the painting invites a melancholy response in the viewer rather than a philosophical indifference. Romanticism privileged nature as a source of truths about human experience which could be most effectively expressed in art and best understood intuitively or emotionally.


Gustave Courbet - The Artist's Studio (1855)

Realists aspired to paint what they saw, even what was dirty and unpleasant. The Artist's Studio can be read as Courbet's critique of this failure to engage with the real world as he saw it: the artist's studio is grimy and crowded, but the painting on his canvas shows a beautiful landscape which bears no relation to the world in which the artist lives. Courbet was also showing himself to be both a master of Realist painting and of the style of painting he was rejecting.


Andre Derain - Bridge over the Riou (1906)

Derain has simplified his landscape subject matter into a colourful pattern that flattens the landscape almost entirely. It's difficult to work out what is in the foreground and what is in the distance. Shadow and light are shown as different (through related) colours rather than as darker and lighter shades of the same colour. Derain uses a characteristic intensity of colour to capture the vividness and heat of the Cote d' Azur landscape and climate.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Joseph Kosuth - Clock (one and five) (1965)

This work is composed of five elements: a photograph of a clock, a clock and entries from an English/Latin dictionary for the words 'time', 'machine' and 'object.' By placing a real clock beside a photograph of one, Kosuth questions why we consider a photograph but not the object itself to be art. This juxtaposition also challenges the idea that art is beautiful and/or functionless.

the viewer, not the artist

Sol LeWitt - Wall / Floor ("Three Squares") (1966)

Sol LeWitt has assembled aluminium beams covered with enamel to obtain a simple cubic form. The artist intends the work to be "created" through the perception of the spectator. The "creation" will change according to how the object is viewed.

The opportunity for multifarious objective interpretations to validate the work defies the conventional belief that art objects express or explore the artist's personal experiences. A further challenge to preconceptions forces us to judge the work as a concept not as an object made by LeWitt.

conceptual art

Conceptualism emerged in the 1960’s and was first defined and promoted as a movement by Sol LeWitt in 1967. Its central claim is that art is a 'concept', rather than a material object. There are strong precedents for Conceptualism in the work of the Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp.

Conceptualism is shaped by four basic tenets. The first is that the art work is an idea, or concept, rather than a material object. To understand the idea that shapes an art work is to understand the work itself - so it is possible to understand an art work without ever having seen it.

Conceptualists deliberately blur the distinction between language and art when they define the art work as an idea or concept. Regardless of whether a Conceptualist art work employs wood or canvas, the real work is the idea and the language used to construct, manipulate and explore it. The artist's intention and the spectator's response are an integral part of the art work itself. This has radically affected the materials used in Conceptualist art, and the way such works are made.

Conceptualism also criticises the commercialisation of art. In a capitalist economy commercial value is attached to tradeable objects, especially those which support and endorse current social arrangements. Designating an object as 'art' can be a sure means of increasing its material value, so it can be bought, sold and insured for enormous sums. When Conceptualists assert that the art work is the idea, not the material object, they hope to disrupt this trade, or at least problematize it.

Finally, by emphasising the concept over the art work Conceptualists attempt to disrupt the process by which ownership translates into social status and cultural authority. Individuals become important collectors because of their wealth, not because of what they know about art. However, institutions such as museums and galleries can shape and influence our experience of art through their powers of selection and omission.

Sol LeWitt - Cubes in Color on Color (2003)

value inversion

Andy Warhol - Marilyn Diptych (1962)

pomo art

Post-Modernism developed from critiques of architectural modernism in the 1970s. By the 1980s, visual art which criticized society was also being referred to as “post-modern”. Post-Modernism is effectively a late Modernism many of whose critiques can be traced back to Modernism itself.

Architects took the lead in the development of Post-Modernism. They criticized the International Style of Modernist architecture for being too formal, austere, and functional. Post-Modern architects felt that International style had become a repressive orthodoxy. It had been adopted by the corporate world and exploited at the expense of its social vision.

Post-Modernist architecture uses more eclectic materials and styles with greater playfulness. Parody of earlier styles is a dominant Post-Modern trait. Another is the refusal to develop comprehensive theories about architecture and social progress.

The ethical touchstone of Post-Modernism is relativism—the belief that no society or culture is more important than any other. Although few Post-Modern artists are pure relativists, they often use their art to explore and undermine the way society constructs and imposes a traditional hierarchy of cultural values and meanings. Post-Modernism also explores power and the way economic and social forces exert that power by shaping the identities of individuals and entire cultures.

Unlike Modernists, Post-Modernists place little or no faith in the unconscious as a source of creative and personal authenticity. They value art not for its universality and timelessness but for being imperfect, low-brow, accessible, disposable, local and temporary.

While it questions the nature and extent of our freedom and challenges our acquiescence to authority, Post-Modernism has been criticized for its pessimism: it often critiques but equally often fails to provide a positive vision or redefinition of what it attacks.


Sol LeWitt - Cubes in Color on Color (2003)

jeff koons

...takes mass produced objects from everyday life and exhibits them as art. This thwarts our expectation of art's authenticity and uniqueness. Koons' work deliberately provokes us to consider how art institutions impose cultural and economic value on objects, and challenges our acceptance of their definitions of 'art'. These consumer items are exhibited as art to make us reflect on how our most private dreams of success are shaped by the culture and economy in which we live.