Wednesday, August 5, 2015

From Leaning Bricks to Flying Buttresses

I will start with this statement: Technical complexity or even technical facility are not necessarily the measuring sticks for artistic quality. Simple art can be beautiful; a technically limited artist can do a good thing.

Cathedral builder. 
Usually, though, great art is both complex and technically sound.

Now that I have said that, I have to voice my frustration as a guy who has spent his life in pursuit of musical excellence: being a musician in a world of non-musicians can be incredibly frustrating. The reason for this is that the average person understands so little about music; music is a mystery to most in a way that visual art, literature, theater and even dance are not. The average person understands the core of what is happening with these arts. Music is more ethereal.

A good comparison, in terms of my incredulity about the music that impresses the non-musician, would be this:

It's like being an architect who knows how to design cathedrals who sees a group gathered around a man. The  crowd is agape with appreciation; they titter about how great the man's architectural sense is; how innovative his work is; how great his accomplishment is. When the architect gets close enough, he looks at the man's work and sees that the fellow has taken two bricks and leaned one against the other. The architect knows this is nothing, but the crowd does not; they are amazed and mystified.

Of course, this would never happen, because people understand enough about architecture -- they, after all, live in buildings -- to see that leaning one brick on another is no big deal. People do not, however, generally understand enough about music to make this distinction. (If you can't tell me the notes in a C Major chord, you can't even lean two bricks together.)

Brick leaner. 
This is not to say that I haven't enjoyed the aesthetic of a brick leaning upon a brick. I often like music that is simple. Again, complexity is not the only measure of artistic worth. But it is frustrating to think so much about craft and to learn so much over a lifetime just to see work with less dedication and/or craft get equal or greater recognition than more adept work.

I know many feel that no one has the right to say what is great and what is bad when it comes to art. We all just like what we like. Okay. I can't stop anyone from liking something, no matter how aenemic I might think it is. The problem is, though, that I know if people understood even a little about music they would probably quickly change their opinions.

Imagine you finished running a marathon and everyone ignored you in favor of a perfectly healthy guy who walked across the room to toss his soda cup into the trash. I've  already gone through hundreds of pairs of running shoes, so...

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