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Can "Art" or "Music" be graded with rules and ranked on an "artistic" level?


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Posted on Feb 18, 2012 11:17:00 AM PST
Unfortunately, to a lot of people, music is little more than "background" for what-ever: Driving, partying, dancing, etc. They don't really "care" about it, they just "like" whatever's put in front of them by the media or whoever's throwing the party, which might explain why some people's musical "taste" stops evolving after they get out of high school or college.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 4:19:08 PM PST
ZzBridges says:
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it keeps me going.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2012 5:46:19 PM PST
barbW says:
Many posters will agree with you, but they're uninformed. Older posters will rail against a deep subject that they've avoided or missed in their life. They don't want to be told that they're uninformed.

Younger posters will rail against a deep subject because they'd rather be comfortable and lazy about being uninformed, if they can find a little justification from someone they respect. They don't actually WANT to find out what's required of them, so they continue to be uninformed.

Read this book about the objectivity you dismiss;

The Aesthetics of Music

Musicologists for centuries have made a comfortable living researching the science of aesthetics. How can objectivity be a myth?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2012 6:15:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 18, 2012 10:20:59 PM PST
Yes. You get close to the truth of the status of art by using critical standards. People who don't use these just have opinions. Critical standards include but are not limited to inspections of : 1. technical accomplishment. 2. aesthetic beauty. 3. intellectual ambition. 4. intellectual massiveness. 5. emotional resonance. Ways of approaching these are through comparison and contrast of an artist's work and aesthetic approaches with those of other artists. Inspection of genre. Knowledge of technique. Conclusions among critics using critical standards. Passage of time. Even emotional feelings towards the work's effect on your psyche or body, inc. intuitive aspects like "wow, that makes me feel good." Etc. The biggest problem in rock and roll, for instance; many people will offer opinions if you ask them "who do you think is better" Nirvana or the Hollies; Radiohead or Procol Harum. Problem is the people who answer "Radiohead" probably have not heard the complete work of Procol Harum; those who answer the Hollies, have probably not bothered to figure out what Cobain is singing on all of his records and exactly what it was he brought new to the party. Constant revisionism is mandatory. Some stuff sticks, some doesn't.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 9:21:02 PM PST
werranth413 says: "Musicologists for centuries have made a comfortable living researching the science of aesthetics. How can objectivity be a myth?"

I know this is a smart-alecky kind of response, but I can't help it:

Preachers are still making a comfortable living espousing the idea that God created the earth in six days, so how can it be a myth?

Scientologists make a very comfortable living hooking people up to e-meters, how can that be a myth?

Doctors make a comfortable living prescribing dozens of anti-depressant medications to millions, so how could they possibly be wrong?

Just because specialists spend time on something doesn't always mean that what they're spending time on is true or correct. Although I must reiterate here that I don't mind there being a discussion or even attempts at creating standards for art. It's an interesting and worthy idea, as long as it is kept in mind that these standards can never be completely objective. As mentioned above, "constant revision is mandatory".

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 10:32:42 PM PST
It's nice to hear "musicoligists for centuries have made a comfortable living." I'm not sure that would hold up to an objective inspection though. Unless you are talking about the day job.

"Objectively" speaking God did not create the world in six days. That is an issue of faith, which sometimes is mistaken for opinion.

Critical standards have led me to believe that Alice Cooper has written better social-political songs than Bob Dylan. Dragontown is killer. Who would have thought Desmond Child could have gotten him over that hump at one point.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 10:44:26 PM PST
J. Hand says:
"1. technical accomplishment. 2. aesthetic beauty. 3. intellectual ambition. 4. intellectual massiveness. 5. emotional resonance."

Yep. Those are certainly universally applicable and completely objective.

[Gets mop to clean up huge puddle from dripping sarcasm.]

@Michael Topper -Arguing with Werranth is like talking differential calculus with a house cat. (not comparing Werranth to a cat, BTW) She's another of those who espouse the idea that it is not possible to enjoy art without formal education and/or being an artist. It doesn't matter what you or anyone can say she will never accept any view but her own. My reference to a house cat was that you can talk to a cat (I talk to mine) the cat will look like it's paying attention and may even 'smile' or make happy cat sounds. In the end, it remains a cat and nothing you say, no matter how witty, intelligent, or well thought out has any effect.

@Werranth -In another thread you asked how being the way I am could influence younger folks into appreciating music. The student I am work studying turns out to be a very good acoustic guitarist. He plays very well to my ears although I'm sure you'd probably find fault with his ability or technique because he had minimal training in it. Anyway, I just ordered him a turntable online and am helping him (as technical advisor) assemble an audio system. I never actively tried to convince him to do that. After being around me regularly for a while now and hearing the variety of music I listen to, much of which he hadn't been exposed to before, he's off and running exploring those things on his own, old vinyl among them. He has come over several times now with LPs he's bought at a local flea market and antique mall.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 10:53:00 PM PST
@Billie Eyeball:

""Objectively" speaking God did not create the world in six days. That is an issue of faith, which sometimes is mistaken for opinion."

So true. Opinion is a LOT more rational than faith.

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 11:43:27 PM PST
J. Hand says:
Werranth ended her earlier post with "How can objectivity be a myth?" Simple. It's all based on some person's subjective evaluation morphed into something presented as objective fact. I haven't read the book she cited and have no interest in reading it. Ultimately, it is likely the author citing his own opinions and passing them off as fact and/or citing the opinion of others and doing the same. I can already imagine Werranth unsheathing her 'Sword of Education' and proclaiming I am not educated enough to render any such judgement. That's exactly the thing that rankles me about the elitist approach to art- they want nothing less than to [metaphorically] steal it from regular people and make art appreciation an exclusive club. (In another thread she even stated she'd be interested to know the educational background of those with a negative opinion about classical music. It was obvious she wanted to blow off any critics as being poorly educated.)

This sums up her views and that of those who share them perfectly:
"Many posters will agree with you, but they're uninformed. Older posters will rail against a deep subject that they've avoided or missed in their life. They don't want to be told that they're uninformed."

See! We're UNINFORMED! If any, me especially, disagree with her I am "... rail[ing] against a deep subject that [I've] avoided or missed in [my] life. [I] don't want to be told that they're uninformed."

I never avoided or missed anything! I simply didn't care enough about the subject to pursue it! And as to being told I am "uninformed', Bull Pucky! I don't know a whole lot of things, so yeah- I guess I am "uninformed". It hasn't prevented me from having a had a life that was 85% a pretty damn good time and an fairly good adventure! I love my music and have had 40+ years of enjoying my music! I certainly didn't need anything but my ears to guide me and I am even more glad I didn't have someone "guiding" me along some preconceived path comprised largely of what that person found good and acceptable.

Here's her view on you younger folks and your relationship to music:

"Younger posters will rail against a deep subject because they'd rather be comfortable and lazy about being uninformed, if they can find a little justification from someone they respect. They don't actually WANT to find out what's required of them, so they continue to be uninformed."

Again, just listening to a tune and saying "I like that!" means you'd prefer to be comfortable and lazy and remaining uninformed. In other words, you don't have any interest in being like Werranth and those like her. I guess the "someone [you] respect" add-on means your friends who approach music or art in the same way results in negative peer pressure. Absent, as in her proclamation to us gray-beards, is any possibility you may not care about reading music, learning an instrument, studying music history, etc. It can't possibly be a choice any of us make- it's laziness.

She almost stumbles into the truth with "They don't actually WANT to find out what's required of them, so they continue to be uninformed."
Yep. Exactly. Many of us don't care for anything beyond what our senses provide for us. And that's perfectly fine. The "what's required" part speaks to exactly the issue I have with this elitism: these folks insist somehow art REQUIRES us to be formally educated.

I am not anti-education by any means. I have studied all manner of subjects my entire life and still do to this day. If something interests me enough, I will pursue it. I know I am not unique in this and that any person has that ability to find something that is meaningful to them and get as involved with it as is possible, even to turning it into a career. The thing is, that's a personal choice! You don't need a Werranth or anybody else telling you that you are 'missing something' or have 'requirements', especially about/for something like music (or any art) most do for leisure. You don't find people at a car dealership demanding you need to learn the principles of internal combustion engines and drive-trains to enjoy driving. You don't have to know aeronautics and turbine engines to enjoy flying. You don't have to be a chef to enjoy food nor own and operate a vineyard to enjoy good (or cheap, but tasty) wine. Follow what you love in the way you choose to and wave your middle finger at anyone who tries to tell you different!

Posted on Feb 18, 2012 11:59:02 PM PST
J. Hand says:
The thing with standards with the ultimate result being some art being declared as "bad" is what happens to the bad art? Is it censored? Is it banned? Are the artists who are labeled as creating "bad" art frozen out? So what then? Art suddenly has to conform to a set of standards to be deemed good? Sorta like Walmart saying music has to be censored to be sold in their stores (to take advantage of their marketing power)? And if that's the case, what is the ultimate effect? Censorship? Limitation? Art in chains? And if such a set of standards could ever be created, wouldn't that provide the very basis for government control of art in some nations?

If the people who promote this belief that art can be subjectively analyzed remain a group that like to tell each other how culturally superior they are, puff their egos and look down their noses at the rest of us, and annoy people on forums that's fine. Even if they hold positions in education, usually with time, formalized brainwashing can wear off and imagination and curiosity will return. As long as they never hold positions of power where they can put their meddlesome views into action, I say let them be. They'll shrink to some population level and remain there where they will do little harm but will be readily available for those who want to join them. Fear them should they ever gain any real power. Think the morality police in Iran. At the very least, if such a group ever got to power you'd have a single person or group of deciding what is 'good' and 'bad' art for all. I'm sure saying that would be a bad thing IS an objective statement. Subjectively, anyway... :-)

In the US a group in the state of Texas has the ability to decide the content of textbooks being used in schools throughout the country. That's insanity unleashed and revisionist history unleashed!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2012 11:59:36 PM PST
J. Beaver says:
werranth,

Thanks for the recommendation, I will check it out. I got exposed to aesthetics reading Goethe's 'Theory of Colors', which unlike Newton's is based on aesthetics rather than optics. In the end, both theories fall short. My impression of aesthetics is that as a science, it's akin to astrology; very elaborate, and with a strong historical tradition. But it remains an arbitrary set of conclusions based on a well-constructed but ultimately arbitrary set of assumptions.

I don't see any pressing need to codify taste. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes it takes an outsider to see it. Isaac Newton sold insurance; he wasn't a professional scientist but he revolutionized physics. Michael Faraday was a bookbinder's apprentice. Albert Einstein was a clerk. The people who've made the greatest contributions in many fields were non-specialists, people who hadn't been indoctrinated with all the flawed assumptions that a "formal" education in those subjects carries with it, nor conditioned to think in restricted patterns. Sometimes breaking the rules is more effective than canonizing them. Too much structure can sterilize any type of art.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 8:01:13 AM PST
Nah, I don't see much of this. I don't find criticism and critical standards and those who deal with them "elitist," in fact, the opposite. Quite often they use critical standards to expose elitism and artiness in art, and most of the critics who judge "pop" art tend to be populist, and they are just doing a job, not trying to score "smart" points. On the other hand, there is nothing more ostrasizing or off-putting then a stupid ill-informed opinion, emotionally delivered.

A lot of the problem here is semantic. If a person doesn't believe that there is a difference in the meanings of words like "subjective," "objective," "standards," "bad taste," then they certainly aren't going to be persuaded that art can be judged, although in every other aspect of life standards are welcome. If you ask somebody to get you an apple from a refrigerator and they bring back an orange - what they hell is the difference to a person with no standards. And if neither a car dealership nor the driver had no standards who cares when you crash and the airbag doesn't come out?

Same with art: musicians must have their instruments in tune or provide a very good aesthetic reason why they are out of tune. It all starts from there but the casual listener doesn't go much furthur, nor should he or she. Who has the time? This unfortunately keeps the exploring side of aesthetics embryonic in the sense of the hugeness of art. This is all okay, but just don't say "subjective opinion" is the same as "objective opinion" becuase by definition they are not. Sorry.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:18:27 AM PST
barbW says:
I'm saying that objectivity is not a myth.

And you said, "Just because specialists spend time on something doesn't always mean that what they're spending time on is true or correct."

I don't know what that means, but it convinces you?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:21:00 AM PST
barbW says:
"Unless you are talking about the day job."

huh? I'm missing your meaning there.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 9:27:18 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2012 9:28:48 AM PST
@werranth413: objectivity is not a myth, but objectivity can't always be applied to everything (like judging music or art), which is what you were implying. If I misread you, I apologize. Like J.Hand said, a bunch of so-called scholars trying to pass off their opinions as fact does not objectivity make. If a bunch of people get together and say "we think that singing on pitch is always a good standard to have in music", it's still an opinion, just a collective one. It might be helpful, and it might be an opinion many others agree with, but that does *not* make it a "fact" that singing in pitch is always a good thing in music. I know it's a simplistic example, but it gets the point across.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:28:23 AM PST
barbW says:
"...the idea that it is not possible to enjoy art without formal education and/or being an artist."

No, I said there's so much more to it, and I said you were missing out.

"In another thread you asked how being the way I am could influence younger folks into appreciating music."

I was concerned that young people would accept your approach as being the best for them before they considered learning about music. I never asked the above.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:37:08 AM PST
barbW says:
Hi J.B.,

We can assume that we get an education to save time, among all the other benefits. Life is very short. You can't discover everything on your own.

You can rebel against aesthetics, but in the process at least you learn the premise of what it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 9:46:49 AM PST
barbW says:
We agree, "objectivity is not a myth, but objectivity can't always be applied to everything..."

I can't tell in advance whether one of my students will 'like' a great work of the piano literature which is their next assignment. It depends upon their experiences and their path up until then, but so what? It's not about 'liking'. Most people will come around to appreciating the work after education and experience has had an effect, so it's not subjective.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 10:01:14 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2012 10:01:35 AM PST
werranth413: "appreciation" is different from "like"...that changes the tenor of the debate somewhat. But IMO judgement of art should go beyond "appreciation". If it still doesn't grab one even after a long, detailed explanation of the skill or technique or complexity or what have you involved in its creation, then that's still a huge part of the judgement process. Like you imply, there are certain things about a person's background and experience (their "path", as you say) in life that will always remain subjective no matter how much "formal" musical training they have.

You may then try to claim that while that *is* subjective, when you take personal subjective experience away, we can *then* get to some kind of "objective" standards for music that are independent of that and that can at least lead to "appreciation"...possibly. But then we'd be forgetting that the "objective" standards for music/art were originally created by humans with these very same subjective experiences, so they are based on shaky ground to begin with. Which is why even collective opinions do not get any closer to an objective truth, when we're dealing with cultures with radically different histories and formative experiences/"paths"--for example, the standards for judging Indian music are far different from, say, Western classical. Whose standards are "right"?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2012 10:11:18 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2012 9:58:43 PM PST
barbW says:
I'm running off to church right now, but remember there's a physics, arithmetic and natural history source for our affinity for music (appreciation).

As for Western vs others, curiously both have their different but well-considered claims of superiority, 'rightness' or purity.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 11:00:11 AM PST
@werranth413: yes, there are those sources, but the way different people and cultures interpret them is still quite subjective.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 11:35:30 AM PST
Gena Chereck says:
This isn't really in response to any specific comment, but I found something funny yesterday that make me think of this thread for some reason...

Anybody here ever heard of "The Most Wanted Song" and "The Most Unwanted Song"?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Most_Unwanted_Song

Based on the results of an online survey (from sometime in the '90s), the former combines all the sounds and elements most favored by a sampling of the listening public ("a musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably 'liked' by 72 ± 12% of listeners") while the latter combines all the sounds and elements most hated by the 500-some people who took the poll ("fewer than 200 individuals of the world's total population will enjoy this").

"Most Wanted": http://www.wired.com/listening_post/2008/05/survey-produced/
(5 minutes)

"Most Unwanted": http://www.wired.com/listening_post/2008/04/a-scientific-at/
(20-plus minutes)

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 3:51:21 PM PST
Comment Man says:
This is a very overheated conversation. I fear those who deny objectivity in art seem to have a personal interest in subjectivity, from the sheer virulence and nastiness directed at the occasional poster who questions the consensus. For the record, you have every right in the world to like whatever art or music you like--it is your natural right as a human being. You also have the right to believe the Earth is flat--you may ignore whatever scientific evidence there is. This is why I call this ultimate subjectivity argument solipsistic--you set up a single standard--whatever you like is your personal good--and argue all other standards are nonsense.

J Hand asked rhetorically what happened to bad art, is it banned? As if anybody noticing there is such a thing as good and bad art is advocating censorship! That is why I have noted before his argument about equating upholding a standard is basically a persona argument and unfair. Sure, if you want, you may picture me as a Nazi. It doesn't hurt my feelings. But honest I sold all my swastikas last week at the flea market!

What does happen to bad art and bad music? They are forgotten.

How does one judge good and bad art? It is a SUBJECTIVE judgment based on intelligently chosen STANDARDS. Thus, the philosphy of aesthetics is a method by using considered measures to develop your taste. I have listed what my particular standards are: durability, originality, technical ability. I understand these fairly well in some areas (literature) less well in others (music) and not at all in some areas (visual arts.) Can I be mistaken? Sure, when I misevaluate according to my own standards.

Thus I do have objective standards, even if ultimately subjectivity rules art.

In passing, all perception, all science etc. can be reduced to subjectivity.

And I note that nobody has answered the argument that people who understand objective standards better than me (and may have others I do not understand) may quite a good living from evaluating art and music.

It would be nice if the subjective supporters would ratchet down the shouting. Repeating I'm right I'm right is rather childish.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 5:36:15 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2012 5:40:44 PM PST
Is there shouting going on? What for? Quit your shouting.

There's hard work involved in critically accounting for something, because there are standards. Opinions are fine with minimal standards or none at all.

Art that is determined to be bad by a critical consensus isn't sent to a concentration camp. That would be the role of non-subjective and highly opinionated ideological insanity which is known to ignore facts of the most basic source, though they are free with a multitude of opinion. Critics have to work hard to make a case for the unsung, or assault a monolith. I'm not much interested in opinions, they just don't move me. In fact opinions have no real weight and it's why people with opinions can't make that huge musicoligist money because who would want to read them if they have no standards.

Movies are one of the the easiest ways to talk about ideas of critical standards because everybody sees so many. Pop music is actually a lot harder to talk about because few people have identical references. With the movies there's a "critical consensus" offered in my Sunday paper. Alot of people who use some form of critical standards to judge movies add their voice - i.e. critics. So at the top of the list you will have stuff everybody has seen - The Aritst or Hugo for instance. But also at the top of the list are Iranian films (A Separation), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Shakespeare's Coriolanus. This is what a critical consensus does - it works for you to give you some knowledge of what is good and bad.

What do opinions do? Well the top ten would probably be those few movies people actually saw - critics have to see nearly everything, people with opinons only have to see a few: Mission Impossible, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Sherlock Holmes. "What are these good," you may ask the opiners? Just because, that is my opinion they may answer. Opinion is not the same as criticism. Just as opinion is not the same as journalism - which is why they make a special page for it.

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 7:14:07 PM PST
ZzBridges says:
@Billie Eyeball:

Snippy post warning:

Please don't take personally, I just have strong "opinions" on the value or lack of from some so called experts.

"Opinions are fine with minimal standards or none at all. Therefore, those that use their personal opinions and Opinions of the great untrained mass, have minimal standards or none at all."

From the general tone of the first para. (Art that...), do you actually say that to friends that come to you with, "Hey Billie, I just checked out this new band. They're great"? Hypothetical answer: "Critics have to work hard to make a case for the unsung, or assault a monolith. I'm not much interested in opinions, they just don't move me. In fact opinions have no real weight and it's why people with opinions can't make that huge musicoligist money because who would want to read them if they have no standards."

I checked out a couple of your Sunday morning movie critics. Ebert - no actual formal training in "movie reviewing" or cinematography. Siskel - degree in Philosophy. I don't recall seeing any of the Sunday morning critics boasting about their degree in cinematography or musicology. So the point that I take from this paragraph is the more movies you watch the better qualified you are to critique them. If there are standards to use for criticism of anything, why would it matter how many you have watched, listened to or read? I realize that the more variety of experience you have, the more you may be able to use comparison in the critique process, but that seems to be "the" qualification of most Sunday morning critics. That and an opinion. Yeah, they break down the product and critique it in detail. An "opinion giver" can and does do the same thing.

That segues to and also applies to the last paragraph. I haven't studied all the posts so far, but I'm willing to bet no one has said that "The Top 10" list of anything is an indicator of artistic quality.

So my last little attempt at the deeper meaning of your post is, if I have an opinion of what music I believe is high in artistic value, or "the ones I like" if you wish, after 53 years of listening, comparing and deciding, I would be better served to ignore all that and go with what "The Critic" sage has informed me to be the best music "in his opinion", because he has listened to more and there is a consensus of opinion that he is best qualified. He may also be better qualified to grade the technical aspects of the product. The skill and talent. Maybe not the Art.....IMO. I just had to use that once.
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Discussion in:  Music forum
Participants:  29
Total posts:  197
Initial post:  Feb 13, 2012
Latest post:  Feb 29, 2012

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