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March 04, 2007

Another Point on the Curve

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Was there something in the arts air in the mid-20th century? Something that brought "progress" -- in the form of a historical narrative thrust -- to a seeming halt?

Many observers of the painting scene contend that, once pure abstraction became the latest New Thing, there was no agreed-upon direction to go from there. The result was a confusion of mini-movements that is still with us.

Architecture has been stumbling around as well, with no agreement about what to do in the post-International Style age that began to emerge in the mid-1960s. I over-state my case: the Architectural Establishment actually agrees on one thing -- that pre-Modern styles on new buildings are beyond the pale (unless the intent is irony or satire).

I suggested that automobile styling has been doing a fair amount of wheel-spining in several posts including this one. 1950 is when I date the end of historical thrust.

Michael and commenters have been discussing the notion that fiction (aside from the usual genre categories) has split into two classes: popular fiction and "literary fiction" -- something that has been slowly occurring for several decades, and in contrast to the situation before, perhaps, 1970. (Someone please help me out with a date on this.)

And then there is jazz.

Terry Teachout reviews Alyn Shipton's book A New History of Jazz in the latest (March, 2007) Commentary. The article can be found here.

Teachout used to perform music to earn a living and he's Commentary's music critic. He knows a lot more about music and jazz than I do (I lost interest in jazz around 1960), so I'll take his word until someone comes up with a more persuasive take on these things.

About two-thirds through the article he makes the following observations.

To be sure, it may be that contemporary jazz simply does not lend itself to the narrative style employed so effectively in the earlier sections of A New History. Prior to 1970, jazz's fast-growing stylistic diversity had not yet compromised the underlying integrity of its common musical language. Even the truly radical innovations of avant-gardists of the 60's like the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman were rooted in a body of performance practices known to all musicians and listeners....

After 1970, though, this commonality of practice began to grow increasingly tenuous, ultimately to the edge of nullity. In "Postmodern Jazz," the final chapter of A New History, Shipton admits that while his pre-1970 history appears to be "a straightforward narrative" marked by "a clear sense of development," contemporary jazz can no longer be described in such terms.

Hmm. Loss of historical continuity. Sometime in the third quarter of the 20th century. Sounds tantalizingly familiar.



posted by Donald at March 4, 2007


That was Larkin's account: jazz went from origins to zenith to decadence remarkably quickly, but following the same trajectory as the other arts.

Posted by: dearieme on March 4, 2007 6:50 PM

My view is that jazz took a very wrong turn with BeBop. The focus then became on what the musicians wanted (10 minute solos) without regard to what the general public wanted to hear. Of course, bebop has a small, loyal following, mainly of musicians! Then free jazz (free of having to entertain anyone), etc.

Modernism is ruining all the arts. It started in painting, and has moved to music, architecture, literature, dance, theatre, etc. Its mostly a bunch of navel gazers who don't or can't master fundamentals and don't want to be bothered by an audience who knows it. Its too hard to be genius when you're limited by having to entertain people and being judged against the past greats. Best to shove them under the bus to keep the illusion alive.

Of course, there are always small numbers of well-meaning people to humor the egocentrists, and pat themselves on the back as smart for doing so. But certainly not enough to make the arts popular and profitable. That's what the government and tax-exempt institutions are for. Many artists and art organizations have become welfare cases. I guess that's how you operate if you can't put people in the seats--use the government to open the dumb public's wallets for you. The way you do that is to worm your way into these structures with modernist fellow travelers. You disguise the incompetency with advanced degrees gotten from academic institutions you took over long ago. Same with the museums. Then you censor anyone who disagrees that your modern art and artists suck.

Posted by: Lost in a Fog on March 4, 2007 9:52 PM

No ready answers here, but go ahead and add poetry.

We went from geniuses pushing the boundary of form (Thomas, Auden, Frost, Millay, the last probably Roethke) to a mess of vocabulistic ideological arrogance with a few weak holdovers like Richard Wilbur and Dana Gioia, to "poetry slam" -- yuck.

Posted by: J. Goard on March 4, 2007 11:14 PM

First I agree that Art, that is painting, has long since ground to a halt in genuinely aesthetically interesting innovations. Well, not entirely. But we sure are past any golden age at the moment. (Not to say one can't re-emerge.)


My pet answer is the "the rise of the contemporary professional art critic as the key arbiter of artistic success."

As opposed to the rich and powerful of somewhat more refined tastes than those for whom artistic display had not appeal, wishing to demonstrate their grandeur, yes mostly to their fellow but generally somewhat lower elites, but also somewhat to their broader society. With a relative paucity of erudite art scholar analysis as the arbiter. Think Medicis. Think Greeks. Think even haute bourgeois Dutch supporting Veermer and Rembrandt and Rubens.

Now consider how differently Andy Warhol became an arts icon. Sure the haute bourgeoise ended up deciding they wanted to display and patronize his works, but how did that come about?

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 12:39 AM

It could well be that the arc of rise, full confident flowering and then decline in the Arts has parallelled that of the historic arc of the haute bourgeoise. Although, needless to say, there is great wealth in the present day world, there is no longer the confidence in certain verities, which undergirded both the (broadly speaking) middle class and the Arts from 1492(expulsion of the Moors from Spain) thru 1914(onset of WWI).

This is a huge subject and one about which it would be all too easy to wax bombastic; but there is no question, in my mind at least, that the crisis in the Arts that has been with us ever since WWI has something (who knows what?) to do with the crisis in confidence that has beset the great middle class since the onset of that war.

Posted by: ricpic on March 5, 2007 6:37 AM

Yes, I wonder if art has more to do with the declining tastes of the rich people who pay for it than anything else. Mozart and Co. had to write for kings and princes.

So here's a theory nobody will ever espouse, because it's too politically incorrect: the decline in classical education among the upper classes meant that rich people had no sense of taste and couldn't appreciate art with references to older periods, and that's why people try to be creative by dipping crucifixes in pee.

Posted by: SFG on March 5, 2007 7:41 AM

It struck me last night that perhaps the dominant posters here at 2blowhards belong to an ascetic aesthetic sect, the arts equivalent of the Amish or Hassidim. Not that anyone would want to give up their autos or computers or telephones or central heating, but damn it, practitioners of the fine and decorative arts should march straight back to the mid 19th century (or further) and stay there!

Why don't jazz musicians ignore all inspiration and sources of material other than marches and popular folk songs from the player piano era? Why don't painters today reject the visual vocabulary of the past century as decadent and sinful? In a multi-media, three hundred channels of television, iTubes downloadable music from anywhere around the globe era what do you expect? Get a grip guys! However attractive a fictive ideal artistic past might seem, it never existed the way you seem to imagine and it certainly can't be willed back into existence now.

If aesthetic ideals should be tied "to what the general public wants" then the winners of American Idol should demonstrate the greatest musicians of our age. Or isn't that what you mean? When a group like The Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans add a dash of hip hop and a dollop of reggae to their marching band meets Dixieland roots do they debase themselves, or are they being true to both popular culture and there own time and inspiration? When the "historical narrative thrust" of painting INCLUDES Picasso and Braque and Pollock and et al, why dismiss or denigrate those painters who acknowledge their influence?

Posted by: Chris White on March 5, 2007 8:37 AM

Jazz is one of the few things I actually know about, so I'm moved to comment here.

"Many artists and art organizations have become welfare cases. I guess that's how you operate if you can't put people in the seats--use the government to open the dumb public's wallets for you."

The biggest welfare cases in all of the arts are symphonies, so I'm not sure your example furthers your point that it is modernism's self-indulgence that restricts its mass appeal, as most symphonies fill their season with Mozart, etc.

Jazz has been in decline since the early 70s. So what? It had a 50 year run during which it produced, in my opinion, the greatest music in all of human history. What more do you want from it? Part of its greatness was its astonishing freshness and its seemingly spontaneous reinvention every few years, so the desire to restrain jazz and narrowly define its scope goes against the very essence of the music.

Of course, if you believe that " jazz took a very wrong turn with BeBop," than I really don't know what to say. Even a staunch traditionalist like Wynton Marsalis would disagree with you on that one.

And jazz isn't exactly dead. The most profound experience I've ever gotten from "the arts" was at a Dave Holland show, where he and Marvin Smith and Steve Coleman played the most perfect music I'm ever likely to experience. It touched on many aspects of jazz history, while also being entirely modern. It was not music as amber-encased revue, but music as ever-evolving artform, conscious of the past, with eyes on the future, and I can't believe I just typed something so corny, but it's true.

Open your eyes and ears, people. Its a truly a wonderful world out there. The only thing that differs from today and yesterday is that we don't know how today is going to end. That's both the exciting and scary part, and the part that moves people to long for yesterday, I think.

Posted by: the patriarch on March 5, 2007 10:57 AM

I neglected above to give my theory as to WHY the rise of the professional art critic (together with professional gallery owners, etc.) as the primary arbiter of taste has had such a visually impoverishing effect on painting.

Am I claiming that professional art critics inherently have poorer taste than the most art appreciative of the haute bourgeoisie? That’s rather improbable on its face, isn’t it? Those who have literally spent their livings studying art, usually with at least an early formal education period of having studied a wide range of art history and styles, as compared with rich amateurs whose primary efforts and talents have been expended elsewhere (though often the patrons of the finest art historically were the beneficiaries of wealth primarily or even entirely generated a generation or two before them, or anyway started from scratch then.)

Improbable on its face or not, I AM saying something like that. Let’s look beneath the face, at what I think has, generally speaking, gone on.

Art critics make their living by writing, and persuading by writing. Gallery owners also make their living by verbal persuasion. Both but especially critics are constantly hungry for the NEXT NEW THING. As the twentieth century progressed, from the visually brilliant and also revolutionary impressionist and early modernist (Picasso, Braque) schools, the idea that revolution, or at the very least interesting and rapid change, was the key to greatness, took firm hold in art historical and critical circles, and from those, to the public at large. Continuing to like the familiar became boring for critics who were thereby less necessary, and they and the art world worked with great verbal persuasiveness to make the familiar, however visually attractive, thoroughly unhip and even boring to the rich art buying public – or certainly to the up and coming and increasingly important newly arrived parts of it.

All this long ago reached the point where the elites had been conditioned to recognize that they couldn’t possibly trust their own initial reactions to works of art, or even their untutored long term reactions. No, they required context and instruction in how it all fit together into the fascinating and ever moving WORLD OF ART, provided of course by art critics and the right sort of elite and with it gallery owners. Indeed the “merely beautiful” long ago was declared prosaic and thoroughly uninteresting, and counterproductive for demonstrating how with it you were. You the sort of hip with-it-ness that a rich man married to a high status and still beautiful woman hopes consciously or not might enable him to ALSO attract the young wife of someone who’s moving in his circle (probably at its lower peripheries) as his mistress, perhaps with her hope of replacing wife #1 while he’s interested only in the supplemental. No the art collection alone won’t do it, but moving in the right high status circles might, and might even help induce wife #1 to find it worth it turn the other way (he hopes) or anyway not look too hard. That sort of thing is what makes lots of high male achievement go round, regardless of how realistic it is or isn’t to actually work this way (as opposed to say tumultuous serial marriages – which is far more often the older wife’s preference or demand – despite THAT often not working as she’d imagined and the current culture has told her it would).

So this critic (formal and informal, e.g. gallery owners) mediated art world had certainly by the immediate post WWII period, made it quite impossible to appreciate contemporary art works without first reading what the most influential and fashionable critics had to say about them, and what they “contrasted with”, and were “rebelling against”, and “progressing from”. That sort of dialectic stance became nearly everything – the visual impact, or at least certainly any actual visual beauty, entirely secondary. Verbal, conceptual impact was everything – and got to the point where it could be essentially fabricated by the critics. “Black on white” shapes being profound, and whatnot.

All that was reached by at least 20 years ago. Absolute minimalism. So that’s not what’s be in since, because it’d been done. But there hasn’t been any great wonderful development either, seems to me. Just lots of arbitrary, essential aimless exercises in compare and contrast, in art theorems and ideologies, with the visual imagery remaining secondary. Visual art has become valuable for its accompanying text, its extended caption, only. The visual impoverished by verbal abstractions

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 12:01 PM

Have you ever noticed that what is popular is never good? Nothing that has ever been popular has ever been good, at least according to some people. There are no truly educated people who like popular stuff. I guess that's an easy way to dismiss those you disagree with. Have you ever noticed that the same elitist people think all new styles are good? I mean every single new thing, without qualification, as opposed to the old. The key phrase there is "without qualification"--newness for newness' sake, without regard to quality. God forbid we should ever pass judgement on something as being inferior to something else. That would imply we have standards. Only the elites are entitled to have standards. We have to wait for them to tell us what is good and bad. Just like the medieval Church did. 'Til then us poor schlubs will have to get along somehow.

Did you catch the religious bigotry in the response? What exactly is wrong with Hasidism or being Amish? I guess they don't embrace newness for newness' sake. That would make them bad if we actually had standards. But since we don't have standards, that makes them odd, and that's similar to being bad. Because its not a popular way of living, and few choose it, it must be odd and weird and inferior. Funny how now what is popular is what is good, isn't it? Wait a minute, I don't mean good, I mean not odd! Yet again, no reference is made to the quality of their lives. Quality is a four letter word!

You see, there is one thing said here, and another thing said there, without any sort of consistency between the two. Does anybody ever take anyone who does this in real life seriously? Why should we take such people seriously about the art world then? Especially when they insist that one thing is just as good as another, and want everyone else to believe them, but can't explain why? Of course, if you want to be muddled and confused, it sure is your right to be. But don't be too disappointed if the rest of us don't want to follow along.

P.S. I noticed how you threw the bit in that anyone who doesn't like the modern arts is trying to restrict the arts practictioners to only one type of work or another. But it may come as a surprise that it has never been our idea to censor, just to ridicule and deride selectivley. I wonder how you arrived at that idea, almost as if by reflex, to censorship. It sure does seem to be the common strategem of the modernists to censor those who don't acknowledge the self-proclaimed value of their highly questionable enterprise. For a proponent of freedom, you sure sound kind of funny. I guess freedom of choice to a modernist really means the freedom for them to choose what is good or bad for the rest of us withhout our input. You'll have to excuse us if we find that onerous and unappealing.

If that's okay with you, I mean?

Posted by: Lost in a Fog on March 5, 2007 1:19 PM


"iTubes downloadable music from anywhere around the globe"

iTunes is so 2005. Get with it. AllofMP3. (Which may be so 2006, but the 2007 oneup hasn't arrived yet.)

(Those needing instructions on how to provide (the really cheap compared to iTunes) payments now that the big US credit card companies have cut of all DIRECT business with them need only email me. You can figure it out from their site and following links, but it wasn't easy when it first did it six months ago, and in fact I got lost first couple of times. I suppose they need to be a bit convoluted, given ASCAP etc.)

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 3:10 PM

I blame the rise and dominance of professional experts. The notion that a professional critic in the arts (or music/lit) is to quality art as -- for example -- a top notch scientist is to high- end science is where the problem lies. Having a theoretical physicist decide whether some garage engineer's math model of Jupiter's moons is crap or not makes sense. Having a high end critic tell you that Piss Christ is Art but Toy Story is not does not compute.

Chris White's comment is typical of this sort of snobbery. The fact that there is little or no elite art that bridges the gap between academic folderol and American Idol allows him to denigrate the idea of popular standards. In contrast, the great artists of the past were subservient to the educated social elites NOT to the elites within their own profession. Hence their production had to satisfy a general, non-specialist demand. The disappearance of the high middle brow as the arbiter of taste AND artistic survival is the problem.

Frankly, artists can try to sell their junk any way they see fit, but we should withdraw all subsidies for modern art and art schools. Let art school be focused on museums and the past only. Force artists to make it in the commercial world and we will eventually have better and more transgressive commercial art.

Posted by: who knew on March 5, 2007 3:52 PM

Continuity implies that there are specific styles in an art or design field that morph into new specific styles, or occasionally are interrupted by something revolutionary bursting out (Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony; Stravinsky's Rite of Spring; Kandinsky's abstraction).

But we no longer live in a world where there is one dominant style in any medium. You can listen to popular music of any decade from the beginning of commercial recording until the 1970s or so and make a pretty good guess as to its period. But what does "popular" music mean now? Hip-hop? "Alternative" rock (and what is that an alternative to?)? Madeleine Peyroux? Tom Waits? Martina McBride? They're all popular, but what else do they have in common?

Like someone lost in a grocery store the size of an airliner hangar, we have so many choices that we don't know what to make of them. Thanks to the electronic media, most people now are familiar with a wide range of styles, contemporary and historical, in any art or design form that interests them — unlike as recently as half a century ago, when few non-specialists recognized anything except the current fashions.

So whatever it is can go in any direction now (including "backward"), and can influence anything or hybridize wildly.

Some people are uncomfortable not being able to trace a current creative product in terms of its ancestry or define it on a stylistic grid. And, as with nouvelle cuisine, there are mixtures that are interesting conceptually but don't taste (sound, look, etc.) good in practice. Even so, as long as both historic and innovative styles are instantly available, it's unlikely that we'll ever go back to one particular style dominating an era. But there's an unexpectedness and variety in the creative world now that is often exhilarating.

Posted by: Rick Darby on March 5, 2007 5:38 PM

What the h*ll's with all those black circle question marks in my post above, when I cut and past something I wrote in Word (for Windows XP) to the blog?

Quotes, apostrophes and maybe parentheses seem to all be translated to black circle question marks.

What kind of invidious Apple world discrimination is going on here, huhhh? :-)

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 8:02 PM

Lost in a Fog--

"Have you ever noticed that what is popular is never good?"

Complete and UTTER rubbish. The worst of elitist cliches (and believe me, I'm about as elite educated as it gets, but don't have that spirit).

Ever heard of Cassablanca? Immensely popular immediately. Made to be popular, not elite art. Still immensely popular among those who encounter it.

Likely to continue to be considered among the greatest films of all time 50 years from now, as it still is today, 60 years after it's release.

Idiot! Many other examples.

Shut up about what you know not.

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 8:08 PM

I'm really kinda pissed about all those black circled question marks for quotes and apostrophes above, just because (apparently) I cut and pasted from Word for XP to this blog. That's a SERIOUS glitch on YOUR part here. (Your hosting site's part, most likely.)

Please clean up. Who'd want to read?

Can't anything be DONE about this?

Posted by: dougjnn on March 5, 2007 8:16 PM

I'm in a Fog

I love answering rhetorical questions.

- "Have you ever noticed that what is popular is never good?"

No, I haven't. Some of what is popular can be fabulous and sometimes, great art can be popular. Jazz, which is under discussion, is an art form that most would consider popular. Still, Kenny G is more popular than Joe Lovano, but few would argue Lovano is not the better artist.

- "Have you ever noticed that the same elitist people think all new styles are good?"

Lots of new styles are boring and stupid. Most have a high percentage of dreck being produced relative to the far more rare pieces of compelling art. Of course, most older styles also produce far more dreck than greatness.

- "Did you catch the religious bigotry in the response? What exactly is wrong with Hasidism or being Amish?"

Not a thing wrong with being either Hasidic or Amish. I am mighty hard pressed to see how my evoking groups who reject modernity due to strong belief in their traditional and religious way of life to those rejecting modernism due to a strong belief in the superiority of their aesthetic counts as bigotry. It's sort of the old joke about the only minority it's okay to hate is bigots.

- "Quality is a four letter word!"

I count seven. And quality cannot be objectively, nor quantifiably, defined. If, for example, one rejects abstract painting out of hand, then those many intense and insightful discussions regarding quality that I engage in with abstract painters will be meaningless to you. That does not mean they are meaningless.

- "I wonder how you arrived at that idea, almost as if by reflex, to censorship."

Hunh? Where do you interpret me as arriving at the idea of censorship? Am I for it or agin' it? Am I censoring someone or suggesting they want to censor me? For the record, I'm agin' it, not worried about it happening to me, and I sure don't want to censor anyone myself. I'm not, however, above dishing out my own ridicule and derision on occasion.

- who knew

"Force artists to make it in the commercial world ..."

I've spent the last twenty years engaged in the arts "in the commercial world" and seventeen before that in the museum sector. I've known thousands of artists. A number of them teach art for a living and one might construe that as a subsidy. Many "work a day gig" because it is difficult to make a living as an artist of any type. Every few years one or another gets a Percent for Art commission or a Meet the Composer grant and, in rare cases, they even make as much on those as if their gallery sold the painting or they got hired to do a jingle. In short, artists are the hardest working entrpreneurs I've ever known.

the patriarch and Rick Darby

Thumbs up! And a tip o' the hat.

Posted by: Chris White on March 5, 2007 9:58 PM

Dougjnn--I was being sarcastic when I said that! I thought that It was clear I was speaking tongue in cheek. Sorry to ruffle your feathers, because I actually agree with you!

Patriarch--I agree with you to a point on jazz and bebop. And you are right on about symphony orchestras. I figured that someone might point that out, although I would say that symphonies get an awful lot of private money. Attendance is down at symphonies for two reasons: most of their clientele has moved to the suburbs and is now replaced with people who generally have zero interest in european classical music, and they too jumped on the modern bandwagon in commissioning weird symphonic works and made people sit through them in the 60's, 70, 80's, and 90's. That trend seems to be reversing a bit as they try to fill the seats back up.

As far as jazz goes, I like some of it. I used to have a good friend who was a musician, and we used to go out and see all the bands around town, including a number of guys you mentioned. Actually, the guy took lessons from Steve Coleman in San Francisco. He didn't like the guy personally (said he was a black racist), but really respected him musically. Some of the performances were top notch, but it was a rare thing, even with the incrdible chops some of these guys had, to get the type of great performance people go to hear. I think its extremely difficult to improvise and do it well on a consistent basis. Woody Allen once said (not much of a fan, but the quote is good) that he didn't improvise in his comedy routines because he thought the audience deserved the benefit of perfected material. I tend to agree with him. I know that jazz stepped away from that big time with bebop. And when they did, and started pushing forms and boundaries, they lost the popular audience. That's a trend that kind of feeds on itself, the newness for newness' sake thing. Quite a bit of life involves compromise. Even Dave Brubeck always plays "Take Five" at his shows, as a nod to the audience (by the way, best jazz show I've ever seen was Dave and his group 3 years ago at age 80+!).

Jazz lost its momentum when it became mostly about the artists. Did you notice it had a bit of revival a few years ago with the jazz dance steps craze amongst the younger set? If it ever got back to that, it would rise again, and more people would tune into the other stuff.

Anyway, as far as high art music goes, I'm mostly a classical guy. Thanks for responding with the thoughful post though!

Posted by: Lost in a Fog on March 5, 2007 11:45 PM

"I know that jazz stepped away from that big time with bebop. And when they did, and started pushing forms and boundaries, they lost the popular audience. That's a trend that kind of feeds on itself, the newness for newness' sake thing."

I say this respectfully, but I couldn't disagree with you more. I can't overstate it enough when I say that people like Coleman and Miles and Coltrane were not doing what they were doing "for newness' sake." They were pushing the boundaries because that's where their muse took them, and because that's what the music demanded. And many, many people responded positively.

The decline in record sales for jazz didn't happen until rock 'n roll came about in the mid-50s, a good 10 years after bebop arrived, and 5 years after West Coast cool jazz was big (including your beloved Brubeck), so I don't think you can blame musical innovation for the publics' lack of interest. They simply moved on to a new form.

It's obvious that you appreciate more pre-written, linear forms of music, like Brubeck and classical. That's great. Brubeck is an amazing musician, I've seen him a few times in concert and the guy can still play at his age. It's just not where my passion lies. I saw one of Brubeck's contemporaries, the great drummer Elvin Jones, play a few years ago. He too was in his 80s and the guy absolutely tore it up, sounding almost as good as he did when he was with Coltrane. Now, can we objectively compare the two and decide that one is empirically "better" or more of an artist that the other? Hell no. I prefer Jones, and you probably prefer Brubeck, that's about all we can say. Both artists have greatly contributed to the most American of art forms, and I leave it at that.

About Coleman, I've met him as well, and the guy is an asshole. But holy Christ, what a genius. I've seen him countless times and while some performances were better than others (of course, that's the case with every performing artist), I never once was bored or didn't hear him do at least a few things that blew me away. So when you say something like "it was get the type of great performance people go to hear," I honestly don't understand what you mean. Every Coleman show I was at, whether in a warehouse or at Yoshi's, was packed. Most were sold out. Now, if he were to book a show at the Warfield, it would probably be about half full, but so what? Should artists' main goal be to try to appeal to the broadest possible audience? I don't think so. And anyway, that IS the goal of some artists, so God bless 'em. Go for it. I just wouldn't use that as the sole determiner of "quality."

I'll end with a quote attributed to numerous sources, from Louis Armstrong to Flea: "There are two kinds of music; good and bad." I couldn't agree more. Good and bad examples from every genre.

Posted by: the patriarch on March 6, 2007 11:05 AM

"The fact that there is little or no elite art that bridges the gap between academic folderol and American Idol allows him to denigrate the idea of popular standards."

This is another fallacy that I think makes it easier to condemn "the other." Just going from personal anecdote, I know many people, including myself and my wife, who don't miss an episode of American Idol (it's seriously great drama) while also being able to appreciate a lot of modern art and some lesser known musicians. So where does that put us on the spectrum? It's harder to define and that very thing is what frustrates people who wish to place everything in neat little separate boxes.

I enjoy American Idol and the musical stylings of, say, Christina Aguilera for what they are: great pop culture. Fantastic, nothing wrong with that. Am I blown away but what the Idols and Ms. Aguilera are doing musically? No. For that I'll look to other sources. What exactly is wrong with that?

There ARE people who disdain anything popular. Usually they are in their late teens/early 20s and will grow out of that phase. Some never do. Too bad for them. On the flip side, there are some who disdain anything NOT popular, or rather, anything that is championed in the arts press. That phenomenon, if present, usually only intensifies with age as their grasp of emerging culture lessens. Once again, too bad for them.

As I get older, I find my weakening grasp of emerging culture liberating. I no longer worry about keeping up and can just enjoy what I enjoy.

Posted by: the patriarch on March 6, 2007 11:44 AM

There was a link on Arts & Letters Daily to a recent op ed piece in the Boston Globe that touches on some of the on going aesthetic issues discussed here. Here's the link:

[ ]

And a nice quote from it:

"Art world insiders have trends but few criteria. The word they most often use to describe art is "interesting." Reactionaries have criteria, but no art. Their favorite art word is "bad."

"So the people with the most energy, a.k.a. the avant-garde, have a particular responsibility in this kind of situation. They have to find a way to use the word "good." After that, we can talk again about something being great."

The author is Dushko Petrovich, a painter, currently artist in residence at the Royal Academy in London.

Posted by: Chris White on March 6, 2007 12:23 PM

Guys, guys, let's not fight. Maybe we should look at what happened in American society in the third quarter of the twentieth century, and think how that might have changed the social dynamics for both art creation and consumption.

Discussing art in terms of universals is pretty ahistorical for what appears to have occurred in a pretty tightly defined historical era.

But then, you know me, I like history.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 6, 2007 2:03 PM

Re: Jazz

I also love Bebop. It’s a great deal of the post bebop jazz which strikes me as dreck (Coltraine and Davis excepted, or at least partly excepted – too unstructured and well, a-rythmic, a discipline or lack thereof they were working within for my taste, but genius nonetheless).

To me this quite analogous to my loving many of the impressionists and the early modernists such as Picasso, but find Jackson Pollock to be little more than a producer of sometimes attractive (and sometimes not) wall paper.

That is the early pioneers of modernist arts, who still have some or a lot of more classical training and an ability to produce full on representational works, often produced truly wonderful works.

Similarly I love the works of the high Renaissance. Such as the murals in the Medici chapel in Firenzi. Such as, hell, a whole lot of the mural in churches and castles in Italy more generally. Another rapid transition time, at it’s cusp.

Posted by: dougjnn on March 7, 2007 7:57 AM

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