Friday, May 07, 2004

The skeletons in Classical Music's closet...

The pretentious air their dirty laundry and admit that "Mozart really does all sound the same" and "Liszt is trash."

Don't get me wrong. I love classical music. I can't stand classical music people. Not the musicians. Classical music fans. Chardonnay-sipping, NPR-listening, elitist annoyances who act like it is only they who are keeping us from sliding into a cultural wasteland.

So they need government subsidies. Blech.

That said, I'm a member of an even more pretentious group. I'm on the Junior Council of The Kitchen, a major avant garde arts institution which presents some extremely odd stuff. Quite good, incidentally, if you like that sort of thing. Artists who have started at The Kitchen include Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Eric Bogosian, Meredith Monk, Brian Eno and my personal favorites, David Byrne and the Talking Heads. Anyway, The Kitchen presents very cutting edge stuff.

And I understand roughly 50% of it. I probably shouldn't admit this in public, being on the Junior Council of the place and all, but while I think a lot of it is esthetically pleasing, I have no bloody idea what most of it is supposed to mean.

I have the same problem with a lot of visual art. OK, take, for example, Piet Mondrian's Composition No. 8. Looks cool, right? Lines and stuff. Well, according to this, here's what Mondrian was going for:
"Mondrian wanted the infinite, and shape is finite. A straight line is infinitely extendable, and the open-ended space between two parallel straight lines is infinitely extendable. A Mondrian abstract is the most compact imaginable pictorial harmony, the most self-sufficient of painted surfaces (besides being as intimate as a Dutch interior). At the same time it stretches far beyond its borders so that it seems a fragment of a larger cosmos or so that, getting a kind of feedback from the space which it rules beyond its boundaries, it acquires a second, illusory, scale by which the distances between points on the canvas seem measurable in miles.

" 'The positive and the negative are the causes of all action ... The positive and the negative break up oneness, they are the cause of all unhappiness. The union of the positive and the negative is happiness.' The palpable oneness of the solitary flower or tower, being subject to time and change, had to give way to the subliminal oneness of a vivid equilibrium."

Oh. Yeah, didn't get that. Just thought it was kind of cool looking.

Now, after a lot of performances at The Kitchen, we have these little cocktail things afterward and everybody stands around and talks about the work we just saw. And if I was being honest, I'd say something like "I really thought it was cool looking when that girl ran around with the Saran Wrap."

But I can't do that. So I've come up with the following pseudo-intellectual description of works I don't understand:

"I think it expressed the basic dissatisfaction that the artist has for the plight of the urban proletariat in today's post-industrialist society."

You know, pithy, vaguely Marxist-sounding, and utterly meaningless.

And usually everyone nods sagely, and thinks I have a clue.

Hat tip, by the way, to James Lileks who noted the classical music thing which spawned this little rant and about which you've probably already forgotten.


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