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Does Art (Music Especially) Still Suffer from the Isolation that Concerned the Modernists?
I am going to focus mostly on music since it is what I am comparatively more knowledgeable in, but this applies to all art.

In my music history class, we are currently studying the modernists. Schoenberg, Babbitt, Cage, Webern, Berg and their contemporaries. Composers from the generation that believed that if something was composed for or liked for the masses, it was not art. Schoenberg created the Society for Private Music Performances so that his compositions and those of his students could be performed and listened to only by intellectuals who could understand that music. He did not want it to be listened to by the public because if it was, it was not art.  Babbitt went even further.

"Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields."

I fully understand this view and believe that it applies to not just art, but to all fields. Yes, the specializations are going to be isolated from the public that doesn't understand them or study them in depth. But art is different because people encounter it everyday. Of course, this is my own ignorant view and I am welcome to be educated on this. *goes hunting for thinqon topics on art*

But I digress. My question is if this still exists in music and in art today, and how far does it expand?

In music, it's so easy to go to a popular music video and decry that it's not art because of its quality and the fact that so many people like it. (Again, idea that it it's for the masses it's not art.) Many of us who listen to music choose to stick to genres that are not popular or played on the radio to give us the feeling that we know what true work of musical art is. Most people will tell you that "Stairway to Heaven" or "Hotel California" have more depth to it than a song by the Black-Eyed Peas or Ke$ha. While this is subjective, (though it is hard to argue) it cannot be ignored. Does this mean that the question of art has to do with the past? (1960's rock band to 2000's pop group, genres notwithstanding). Does it have to do with emotion?

Although my question is more directed at instrumental music, I would like to be enlightened on this idea of art and the masses. Can only elitists understand art? Does this still exist today as it did at the turn of the 1900's? How is the same/different? Furthermore, have we moved to far and do we know have to formulate the question of "what is art?"
I understand and almost agree with what babbit was saying: That a layman cannot begin to understand the depths of the intellectual architecture of his music. I think we should never forget that the highest goal of art is to move the audience in some emotional way. Therefore, if babbit's music is emotionally moving to a layman it is just as proper for a layman to listen to it than babbit himself. Babbit and his peers may be moved by the music for a completely different reason, one that the layman may never understand. But then, who ever connects to a piece of art work for the same reason as someone else?

To comment on the low end of music, let me use an analogy to express my thoughts on this. If a very simple ball were to be suspended in the air above flat ground so that anyone could see it, what changes about the ball as the number of observers increase? 

I believe that art cannot be defined by its simplicity or complexity, or the number of observers. Because each observer has his/her own experience with the object which is not actually shared with anyone else, nor does it actually change the object; in this case the music. It is the observer's individual relationship with the object which defines the art. 
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Latest Post: August 13, 2011 at 10:25 PM
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