One of the PDF-only studies that I complained about earlier is a hand-wringing report from the NEA on how public appreciation of art is on the decline. As summarized by Inside Higher Ed:

Compared to the NEA’s 1982 survey, the steepest decline was in ballet, which that year was seen by 11.0 percent of college-educated adults, but in 2008 was seen by only 6.3 percent. Declines were seen in every type of art considered: jazz (from 19.4 percent to 14.9 percent); classical music (33.1 percent to 20.1 percent); opera (8.0 percent to 5.2 percent); musicals (40.5 percent to 32.7 percent); non-musical plays (30.2 percent to 19.8 percent); and art museums (49.2 percent to 44.5 percent).

I have a number of problems with the study, but the biggest one is that this seems like an awfully narrow definition of what counts as “art.” And if you’re going to define “art” that narrowly, it’s not surprising that attendance is on the decline.

Conspicuously absent from their lists is pretty much any art form that is currently active. Jazz and classical music are on the decline, but rock/pop type music is not considered at all. Which means that there’s no tracking of the main musical form that has been widely popular in the last fifty-odd years.

“Yeah, but popular music isn’t art,” you say. But that makes no sense– if popular music isn’t allowed to be considered as “art,” then what is Jazz doing on the list? The modern definition of Jazz includes lots of music that was popular a bit more than half a century ago. Certainly within the lifetimes of the people who still go to jazz concerts.

By their definition, the Richard Thompson shows I’ve been to at the Egg in Albany wouldn’t count as art performances, but the student jazz performances on campus that I’ve stopped by do. That makes no sense at all.

And this goes on through all the categories. They lament the decline in attendance at opera, ballet, and theater performances, but there’s no tracking of film. They complain that the making of art is on the decline, even with the Internet providing more opportunities for distributing art, but their list of art forms does not include any kind of video, an art form that has absolutely exploded online, thanks to YouTube and the like. And while their data do show a sharp increase in the number of people doing photography, probably attributable to ubiquitous digital cameras and services like Flickr, they don’t talk about it in their summary of the results.

So, yeah, art appreciation is on the decline. Provided you define “art” as “art forms that used to be popular, more than fifty years ago.” But then, why is this surprising?

Comments

  1. #1 jagorev
    June 17, 2009

    Something tells me that you wouldn’t have taken such a snarky and dismissive tone towards a study that showed fewer people enrolling in science classes. Nor would you have argued about on overly narrow definition of what counts as science.

    I guess everyone’s got their own prejudices – even science bloggers!

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    June 17, 2009

    Something tells me that you wouldn’t have taken such a snarky and dismissive tone towards a study that showed fewer people enrolling in science classes. Nor would you have argued about on overly narrow definition of what counts as science.

    If you find me an article lamenting the decline of science enrollments that relies on a definition of “science” that does not include, say, biochemistry (or any other major science), then I will be every bit as snarky and dismissive towards it as you could possibly want.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    June 17, 2009

    It’s not just changes in our society’s artistic tastes, it’s changes in technology as well.

    In 1982 the CD had just been invented and was not yet widely available. If I wanted to hear a concert quality performance of, say, the Berliner Philharmoniker doing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I had to go to a concert where and when they were playing that piece. A few years later when I got my first CD player, all I needed to do was to buy the CD (which was among the first ten CDs I bought). And I can listen to that CD as many times as I want, at any time I want. Similarly for any other classical piece. More popular genres, including jazz and rock, have more freedom to vary from the score during a live performance, so you might hear something in the live performance that isn’t on the recording.

    In 1982 VCRs were a novelty, and DVDs did not exist. If I wanted to see a ballet, an opera, a musical, or a non-musical play, I had to go to a theater. Now, I can see them at home, whenever and as often as I want, and not just the handful of musicals (like The Music Man or The Sound of Music) that were made into films.

    In the case of art, today it’s in a lot more places than art museums. My local mall used to have not one but two stores devoted to selling art pieces to ordinary consumers (they may have folded because of the economy). You can see sculptures in public places in many towns, and not just big cities. I own a piece of art myself, bought directly from the artist at an exhibition. You don’t find as many single pieces, because artists have to eat, too (and rich patrons are harder to find), but editions of 500 or 1000 are common.

  4. #4 Onkel Bob
    June 17, 2009

    The reason for narrow definition could be that they only considered what the NEA funds. Could it be that the NEA needs to start funding *gasp* non-boring art?

  5. #5 Moopheus
    June 17, 2009

    “In 1982 VCRs were a novelty, and DVDs did not exist. If I wanted to see a ballet, an opera, a musical, or a non-musical play, I had to go to a theater.”

    These things were not viewable on TV before the VCR?

    Also, these changes don’t constitute a change in interest in various forms of art, only a change in the way people access them, which is a different problem entirely. If anything, these changes could increase the audience for different art forms, but they don’t.

  6. #6 Meursault
    June 17, 2009

    Although you are technically correct lets not make this a semantic problem. I believe they are referring to high arts which are a very important part of human heritage. Now, the relation between jazz and classical music is very important due to their mutual influences (think Gershwin). Art is a tricky word, like culture. Many others have tried to question what we call art, like Duchamp or Cage. Is a painter good because he has great technique, or is only the idea transmitted what counts as art?

    IMHO posting stupid videos in Youtube or taking pictures of your feet and posting them on flickr or going to a 50 cent concert is not art, which is what the bulk of the people do nowadays. The people who do attempt to do some serious kind of art using these new means are probably the ones who still attend and opera, visit a museum or read a book once in a while. It was sad for me for example to see that the Orlando Opera went bankrupt when I was going to check their program for the next season.

    It’s a shame though that they don’t mention other forms of high art like literature and cinema as Chad mentions.

  7. #7 Excited State
    June 17, 2009

    Not to mention the steady decline in artistic graffiti, precipitated by careless government regulation of art on train cars in New York and elsewhere…

    They would probably be up in arms about declines in the number of kids who give up violin, piano, and band instruments to teach themselves electric guitar or how to use the turntables. Or put down a paintbrush for a spray paint can (hopefully without damaging others’ property).

    While I would hope that people continue to appreciate the “classical” arts long into the future, it’s ridiculous to think that art would ever die out in a human society. It evolves. Think back to the criticisms of jazz and ragtime when they were new… even the waltz was dismissed as a newfangled fad.

  8. #8 Excited State
    June 17, 2009

    Meursault,

    I think Calvin and Hobbes have something to say to you:

    Calvin: A painting. Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. “High” art!

    The comic strip. Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. “Low” art.

    A painting of a comic strip panel. Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. “High” art.

    Hobbes: Suppose I draw a cartoon
    of a painting of a comic strip?

    Calvin: Sophomoric, intellectually sterile. “Low” art.

    In other words, get off your high horse. There are no high and low arts. And you can’t assume that the only people who make good art by new means are also into the things that you consider art. Hip hop, for instance, has a wide variety of influences, but opera isn’t one of them, and great music has been made by people who have never experienced your kind of art.

  9. #9 Meursault
    June 17, 2009

    Excited State,

    I’m not trying to categorize art as being high and low but point out that the article only discussed so called “high arts”. There are other forms of artistic expression such as pop art, street art, etc. and there are very important artists that probably were not influenced by renaissance painters or Beethoven, I’m thinking Warhol, Basquiat or Jim Morrison. I’m not complaining about people not having the same taste as me, and I’m sorry if I compared directly to things that are of my taste, but hey, you cannot tell me that something as vapid as the Numa Numa should be regarded as art. Or that visiting 4chan is the same experience as going to a museum.

  10. #10 jagorev
    June 17, 2009

    So what makes it okay for us to decide what is and is not ‘science’ (cf: almost no scientist would accept Intelligent Design as science), but unacceptable for us to define what is is not ‘art’?

  11. #11 Uncle Al
    June 17, 2009

    Art is that which generates a charitable tax deduction, from US rich tagged to pay the Great War’s debts. They fled to Europe, bought up all the street crap, and returned home. Trading amidst themselves at auction they created false vacua of value. Tipoff was donation of Official $million crap to museums whose Boards were the selfsame rich creating quid pro quo tax write-offs. Cobwebbed museum basements are hugely bursting with things too horrible to contemplate.

    Thomas Kinkade’s outputs are valueless because they generate profits at point of sale (e.g., QVC home shopping network) not through accelerated aging and privileged conversion. They would otherwise be hailed as luminous textured traps cloistering lurid deities ravenous for every passing Hansel and Gretel… until some sour pundit exposed the hidden “N” in every painting, Duouro tawny wood port decayed into Budweiser Lite.

  12. #12 Brian
    June 17, 2009

    Jagorev: The answer to your question is that we CAN define “science” in a useful, consistent way. Defining art is difficult, if not impossible.

    I recently read a book called “The Art Question” (forgot the author’s name, but he is a philosopher, not an artist I think) and it basically comes to that conclusion.

    OTOH, to answer Chad a bit, the definition of what is art does change over time. So, if you’d asked someone in the 30’s and 40’s “Is Jazz art” the answer would have been “no”. If you ask now, the answer is “Yes”. If you ask 40 years ago, are the Beatles art? The answer was “No”. If you ask in 100 years? that may be considered just another genre of classical music.

  13. #13 jagorev
    June 17, 2009

    Brian: It is undeniable that some popular music and films rise to the level of art. But that doesn’t mean that Nickelback or the Twilight movie is art, and it would seem that Chad would have the NEA consider those box office receipts as part of its measurement of public interest in art.

    Maybe there’s not a simple definition of art – maybe what we consider as art is subject to custom and social taste and “family resemblances” to older forms of art, etc. All I’m saying is, while you might not agree with where exactly the NEA has drawn the line, it is ridiculous to suggest that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between art and non-art.

  14. #14 Eric Lund
    June 17, 2009

    Responding to Moopheus:

    These things were not viewable on TV before the VCR?

    Only at a time chosen by the broadcaster, which may or may not have been convenient for you.

  15. #15 Onkel Bob
    June 17, 2009

    So what makes it okay for us to decide what is and is not ‘science’ (cf: almost no scientist would accept Intelligent Design as science), but unacceptable for us to define what is is not ‘art’?

    The root of art is an appreciation of aesthetics. Aesthetics are subjective and despite what Kant wrote oh so many centuries ago, cannot be evaluated on an objective scale. Tetrapod Zoology had a recent post that spawned many comments of “cute.” I’m pretty much immune to cute as a visual aesthetic, I only care about the other aesthetic quality – does it taste good?
    Science can be evaluated on an objective scale – can the data be reproduced? Art can be evaluated in the same manner; (I have B.A. in Art History) however, its appeal does not lie in that evaluation, but lies in the mix of the subjective and the objective. So art can be defined but that definition will not be universally accepted.
    I tell students to think of human experience as a sphere with an axis running through it. On one pole is the purely objective experience – mathematics comes to mind. On the other pole is the purely subjective – the creative. Around the equator is Art History and Geography (my M.A.).
    There are many arguments over design versus art, decorative art versus fine art, high art versus low art. Kitsch has its place, I compare it to ice cream. Life would be brutal without ice cream, but we could live. Then again, you can’t just eat ice cream and expect to be healthy.
    I still think the definitions here are simply arbitrary parameters assigned by the NEA, namely it only considers what they fund to be art. Now whether that means they need to expand their funding or definition, I really, and I mean really, don’t care. The NEA for all its bluster has never funded the avant garde. (Which imho, is very boring) This hand wringing over the arts is just that, nonsensical whining. When visual communication went from cave painting to drawing on animal products, painting on walls did not stop. When the printing press was introduced, manuscripts all but disappeared, only to be revived. Photography did not kill painting with pigments. Digital art is more ephemeral than any of them, and I don’t see it replacing anything – only augmenting what already is in place.

  16. #16 Johan Larson
    June 17, 2009

    Charles Paul Freund had some useful things to say about the declining influence of traditional high art in American society:

    “At midcentury, ‘important’ and ‘influential’ culture was whatever the gatekeeper class said it was. Culture consumers seeking status and demonstrable sophistication slogged through anything the gatekeepers pointed to, from atonal music to the French new novel to eventless drama to flatness in painting, just to know the stuff and be able to talk about it. Pleasure was beside the point.

    “Critics, curators, programmers, academics, etc., enjoyed enormous power to confer stature and significance on any given work because there was a middlebrow consensus that there was a status cost in not keeping up. But the middlebrow audience that once empowered gatekeepers with such high regard has shrunk. Many of the cultural activities that once had mainstream significance–literary fiction is a famous example–are increasingly marginalized. Nanook of the North retains its stature, but outside the subcultures surrounding documentary or silent films, there’s no longer any status cost in knowing nothing about the film, and fewer people bother with it.”

    Freund was discussing movies, but I expect much the same could be said of the other artforms the NEA tracks.

    The article is here:
    http://www.slate.com/id/3145/

  17. #17 Excited State
    June 17, 2009

    Meursault,

    See, this is why most, if not all, definitions of art are useless. As soon as you settle on a definition, you’ll find someone breaking the rules or blurring the lines.

    Numa Numa isn’t art why? Because it’s vapid? What does that mean? Is it the synthesizers, the nonsense words, the fact that it was made into a popular youtube video? Many people would consider screen prints of soup cans or huge copies of panels from comics to be Not Art, because they’re vapid or stupid. I happen to like them, and museums consider them art. I also enjoyed the Numa Numa video.

    Do we consider the motives of the artist? Does it matter if it’s made for its own sake, or for money or fame, even if it’s internet fame? Is it just the final product that matters, or is it the finished work?

    Now, we can certainly disagree on the definition of what it means to be good art. And if we have enough common experience, we can have a productive discussion of what makes good art in our respective genres. But if you dismiss other genres as not being art, you prevent that discussion from happening.

  18. #18 jagorev
    June 17, 2009

    Excited State: I’d suggest that the constant deriding of classical music, theatre, and jazz as “boring” by Chad isn’t exactly helping us have a productive discussion on this topic.

  19. #19 Wilson
    June 17, 2009

    Nickelback and the Twilight movie are art. Bad or tasteless or short-lived art, possibly – only our ancestors will know for sure – but still art.

    One other thing that all of the ‘lamented’ (in the report) arts have in common is the fact that they are live experiences (performed – or in the case of museums, staffed – as you experience them) that you have to go out to see.

    Experiencing things live and in person seems to be being devalued (with the exception of rock concerts, which seem to be overvalued) and I find that kind of sad. That’s why live ‘performances’ such as those put on by ImprovEverywhere make me feel a little more encouraged about the future of live art.

    (Don’t mistake this as a condemnation of film and video, please. It isn’t; I think there’s plenty of room in the world – and in our lives – for all of it. Well, except in the lives of new parents like Chad. :) )

  20. #20 CCPhysicist
    June 17, 2009

    One factor that might be relevant is the state of the economy in 2008 in contrast to 1982. The recession that was in process in both of those years was having a much greater effect on the wealthy in 2008. The “gatekeeper class” was in the process of losing a lot of money.

    And I would also add, as someone who attends the symphony as well as jazz and rock concerts, that most symphony orchestras avoid the “high art” that is 20th century symphonic music just as most ballets avoid the art that is 20th century dance. The older patrons who fund it don’t like it, so it doesn’t get performed.

    But seriously, who could argue that Blue Man Group is not performance art at the highest level? I mean, its not like the Firebird Suite by Stravinsky met with public approval when it first appeared.

    As for what constitutes “high art”, if you didn’t read The New Yorker article summarized here

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_mead

    you might not know about the great challenge of repairing damage to older “contemporary” art works (ones that are now pushing 10 to 40 years old), such as one where a piece of elephant dung had to be replaced. It had to come from a *particular* elephant whose dung the artist always uses!

    However, my favorite was the one where someone accidentally removed the packing blankets from around a work without realizing they *were* the work of art! Is it art if the museum curator doesn’t recognize it as part of an art work?

  21. #21 Chad Orzel
    June 17, 2009

    Excited State: I’d suggest that the constant deriding of classical music, theatre, and jazz as “boring” by Chad isn’t exactly helping us have a productive discussion on this topic.

    “Constant”?
    It’s in the title, and that’s it. I’ve made a total of one comment since posting this. You’re using a funny definition of “constant,” here.

    I don’t have anything in particular against classical music, jazz, or theater. I’m not particularly interested in any of them, but I don’t deny that they’re worthy endeavors, and I wish their devotees the best. What I object to is the notion that only classical music, jazz, and theater count as live art performances, and that concerts of popular music are somehow less worthy.

    And, to return briefly to one of your earlier points, it’s not true that I’m not snarky about too-narrow definitions of science– I have, in fact, complained at length about people who use “physics” to mean “high energy/ particle physics,” and try to associate everybody in the vast and diverse physics community with the existential crises of a smallish number of theorists. See here, for example.

  22. #22 CCPhysicist
    June 17, 2009

    Having looked at their data tables, the fact that attendance went up in the 90s means it could reflect economics as much as anything. So what would the data look like if they included pop music concerts? Did more people go to rock concerts in the 80s and 90s than last year? It might be falling off also.

  23. #23 Onkel Bob
    June 17, 2009

    However, my favorite was the one where someone accidentally removed the packing blankets from around a work without realizing they *were* the work of art! Is it art if the museum curator doesn’t recognize it as part of an art work?

    Not the first time. The japonisme craze came about because goods (mostly ceramics) shipped from Japan were wrapped in the rejects of wood block prints. The people receiving the packages were more excited about the wrapping then the porcelains.
    Which begs the question, if the producer doesn’t consider it art, is it art? Much of the African Art I studied was not produced as art as it was created to be a “tool” to invoke magic and teach the subsequent generation. OTOH, many Renaissance works of “art” are not acts of creativity as they are slavish reproductions of preconceived definitions. Shouldn’t art be more than technical reproduction?
    If no data is collected, is it science?

  24. #24 Meursault
    June 17, 2009

    Excited State,

    The problem that I have with your argument is that you are expanding the notion of art to infinity! Like jagorev said on another comment: “it is ridiculous to suggest that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between art and non-art”. I’m not saying that art has a concrete set of rules that define it but there must be non-art somewhere. Now allow me to be a little more controversial and remind you when Karlheinz Stockhausen, a famous avant-garde composer, said the 911 attacks were “the greatest work of art there ever has been”. Although I don’t know exactly what he meant, or whether he is right or wrong, this statement should make us reflect about where to draw the line on what we call art.

  25. #25 Brian
    June 17, 2009

    I agree with Wilson (who misspelled “Descendants” as “ancestors” BTW) that Sure, Nickelback can be considered art. If DuChampe’s “Fountain” (a normal urinal, hung on the wall of an art gallery) can be considered art (Which it IS, by pretty much anyone who “matters”) then Nickelback can also be considered art.

    However, Jagorev, I agree at some level, that “Receives NEA funding” is a consistent, if not valid, definition of “art” for this discussion. However, That definition still includes much film, music that wouldn’t be considered “classical” by most non-musicians and a lot of electronic art, etc. So, the study is still GREATLY flawed, as Chad says…

  26. #26 Courtney
    June 17, 2009

    As a classical/experimental composer, I have a couple responses to this entry. First, I’m going to go ahead and agree that the definition of art proposed by the NEA does seem needlessly narrow, and thereby does narrow and restrict and make less relevant any conclusions we make about it. But, for the most part, I’m very sympathetic to it’s alarmist tone (to a degree).

    BUT, you will notice that forms in which the audience for that type of art was increasing or becoming stable (opera, jazz) experienced a decline for the *first* time between the years of 2002-2008. Immediately, you suggest this is because they are no longer popular music forms… but opera has never (or hardly ever) been a popular music in the United States, and classical music has rarely been truly popular anywhere. And jazz was not really a popular music in 1982, either. (although, a stronger argument exists than it was than for opera)… & my perception had always been before that jazz has always had pretty young and thriving audience… So, what changed? There are many variables here, but as an indicator (albeit a poor one) it is discouraging… and this is why:

    I’m going to propose this: a division exists (a continuous one, not a discrete one) between music/media/art that is enjoyed immediately and without much thought and music/media/art that requires more from its audience: because it is more complex, less available to the average listener of a culture, and/or addresses difficult concepts. Many forms of art mentioned in the survey have never been embraced by the popular culture. (& I agree there are forms of rock music that would fit this bill of requiring audience investment). I think this type of music is very valuable because it asks questions/serves a function that less accessible/complex forms do not. I don’t think either one is intrinsically more **valuable** or deserves some sort of distinction (high art vs. low art).

    The point is that the amount of people who see value in or are trained to appreciate more esoteric, more difficult, less accessible music **may** have dropped. (Of course, it could be other factors in the lack of attendance of performances: such as the increasing availability of recordings… but then, music recordings at least were very available in 1982 as well.) Although, I would view the lack of audiences for live performances as a discouraging trend, since I value that highly.

    So if the population, as a whole, is being less educated about the arts (or willing to be exposed to new, different, complex, less familiar forms of art), then I find that is a highly negative trend… although, I still don’t think that one can conclude that from this survey. But again it does show some discouraging trends (but again still could be affect of the economy, narrow scope of the survey). And anyways, since I AM interested in the continued survival of all these forms of art, I DO find it troubling. (as well as the implied lack of value on art… music not being WORTH the time of training/education it takes… only accessible music (requiring less time & effort & training to enjoy) is worth it… I think that values music as a whole much less than I do (& would find comfortable living in a society that valued it in that manner)…

  27. #27 Eric Lund
    June 17, 2009

    Courtney raises several good points, and I agree with her that the distinction between “high art” and “low art” is continuous rather than discrete.

    The trend toward cutting back on arts and music education has had a definite impact. When I was growing up, it was still expected that middle class people would know a little bit about classical music, whether or not they liked it. So my siblings and I learned to play musical instruments, as our parents had when they were in school, and the high school band repertoire included pieces from the 18th to early 20th centuries. Chad, who is a few years younger than I, seems to have had little or no education in classical music. Part of that may have been access to concerts and recordings (I lived in a large metro area that had a commercial classical radio station; Chad was in rural upstate NY with access to, at most, NPR), but there is almost certainly more to it–middle class fashions don’t change that quickly. I remember people starting to fight about keeping arts and music education while I was still in school–Proposition 13 in California and its imitators elsewhere were starting to take their toll.

    Economics, too, is taking its toll. For most people, inflation-adjusted wages have been flat or falling since 1973 (for a while this was disguised by women entering the work force, but not anymore), and live concerts are expensive. A new CD typically costs $15-20 retail, less if you buy online, and the whole family can enjoy it. Earlier this month I attended a Boston Pops concert in Symphony Hall; I paid $28 for a nosebleed seat (second balcony), and that was a group rate. Multiply by 4 for a typical family and add transportation costs (driving and parking, in most cases), and it becomes a very big deal for most families.

  28. #28 Vivian Wessel
    June 18, 2009

    Being an “arts” person working in a science related field, I am elated by the discussion–definitions of art and society. Obviously, art is subjective, which is what makes it so much fun. We can learn about our similarities and differences, develop critical thinking skills and empathy. I’ll give you a definition of art given to me by my first-ever art history professor(who used to be a stand up comedian, which, in itself, is an art): Art is something that makes you feel something. Therefore, nature can be art, traffic can be art, a nail-biter, scary movie–that might be art too.

  29. #29 Wilson
    June 18, 2009

    @Brian: Wilson (who misspelled “Descendants” as “ancestors” BTW)

    Oops. Thanks for the catch. <sigh>

  30. #30 hip hip array
    June 19, 2009

    “In 1982 the CD had just been invented and was not yet widely available. If I wanted to hear a concert quality performance of, say, the Berliner Philharmoniker doing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I had to go to a concert where and when they were playing that piece.”

    Nothing on vinyl was worth your attention?

  31. #31 hip hip array
    June 19, 2009

    CCPhysicist@20: “just as most ballets avoid the art that is 20th century dance.”

    Poor Balanchine: completely forgotten. Ditto Twyla Tharp, Wheeldon, Morris..

  32. #32 BAllanJ
    June 19, 2009

    I read a quote from Frank Zappa once where he stated that the most important defining thing for art was the frame. If someone produces something for others to appreciate the looks/ sounds/ whatever of… it’s art. The artist defines it as art. It may be bad, or it may fail… but the attempt makes it art. 50 cent is art… not my cup of tea, but art. I don’t think a nature view is art, although a picture of it could be.

    btw, i’ve noticed a sharp decline in slide-rule-based physics lately

    And isn’t the nea the national endowment for the arts, not national endowment for the “high” arts

  33. #33 Josh
    June 20, 2009

    Steven Pinker addressed this kind of stuff in his book “The Blank Slate”. He basically states that the reason people don’t like, e.g., modern classical music is because it sucks! It’s intentionally unpleasant and difficult to listen to. Now, I can agree that with a trained ear you can get some enjoyment out of even the most abrasive music (I love a lot of free jazz, myself), but in general, you shouldn’t be surprised if people don’t listen to music you composed precisely for it to be irritating.

  34. #34 BAllanJ
    June 22, 2009

    Found the Zappa quote, if anyone’s interested:

    The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively–because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a ‘box’ around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?

    If John Cage, for instance, says “I’m putting a contact microphone on my throat, and I’m going to drink carrot juice, and that’s my composition, ” then his gurgling qualifies as his composition because he put a frame around it and said so.” Take it or leave it, I now will this to be music.” After that it’s a matter of taste. Without the frame-as-announced, it’s a guy swallowing carrot juice.

    So, if music is the best, what is music? Anything can be music, but it doesn’t become music until someone wills it to be music, and the audience listening to it decides to perceive it as music. Most people can’t deal with that abstraction–or don’t want to. They say: “Gimme the tune. Do I like this tune? Does it sound like another tune that I like? The more familiar it is, the better I like it. Hear those three notes there? Those are the three notes I can sing along with. I like those notes very, very much. Give me a beat. Not a fancy one. Give me a GOOD BEAT–something I can dance to. It has to go boom-bap, boom-boom BAP. If it doesn’t, I will hate it very, very much. Also I want it right away–and then, write me some more songs like that–over and over and over again, because I’m really into music.

  35. #35 MarkusR
    June 22, 2009

    “”In 1982 the CD had just been invented and was not yet widely available. If I wanted to hear a concert quality performance of, say, the Berliner Philharmoniker doing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I had to go to a concert where and when they were playing that piece.”

    Nothing on vinyl was worth your attention?”

    I think his point is that vinyl didn’t come close enough to live performance quality. CD and other standards since then have elevated the quality quite a bit.

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