I’ve recently been perusing the book “The Conspiracy of Art” by Jean Baudrillard. His famous declaration in the late 1980’s was that “art is dead”, and that it was “confiscating banality, waste, and mediocrity to turn them into values and ideologies”.
This is a topic that I’d like to tackle more fully at another time, but there is one aspect of the argument that I would like to talk about today. It is that art, when talked about, is often very difficult to justify, to understand, to grasp, to appreciate, to care about. Music especially is subject to this because it is even less tangible than visual art, and takes longer to absorb. That is, you can look at a Rothko painting in it’s entirety in 1 second, notwithstanding how long it might take to really come to be in relationship with it. But, it takes a full hour to sit through all of Beethoven’s 9th or Eno’s “Neroli”. Further, you can’t put Bach, Iron Maiden, and Ryuichi Sakamoto all in the same room playing simultaneously and hope for acceptable results, though museums do it frequently with visual art.
Human language is a particularly interesting and destructive tool from the viewpoint of shared experience and creativity: it is absolutely necessary in terms of allowing communication, and yet in the very act of that communication it destructively edits and invalidates the experience. By nature, language quantises the subject, jamming a continuum of experience into a single word, chopping away much of the subtle and fine details. Consider talking about colour as an easy example: it’s very easy to say “blue” and yet it can mean thousands of shades. Imagine how much more complex this can be in terms of describing the effect of music in engaging what we usually call “feelings” but which are actually a huge range of physical, psychological, and emotional responses.
The issue is further complicated by songs, because they use language to communicate meaning, using music as a means to strengthen the emotional impact of the words. Without getting into the question of whether music is a human invention, it does beg the question: do the words serve the music, or the music the words?
I haven’t even touched on poets – masters of building clouds with bricks.
I myself struggle in writing even this blog as I feel I am quantising my experiences of music and living as I clumsily force words to try to effectively convey what I know I feel. How do you describe “home”?
We have to be careful to protect the non-verbal aspects of our artistic and creative experience. There is a reason why so-called esoteric schools reference the ineffable with such manipulative playfulness. Not being able to explain our art is a strength. Some mystery is good. Good art is mysterious. Why? Because it addresses and expresses aspects of our experience that contain true wealth but cannot be grasped, controlled, catalogued, or spoken about, and yet can be shared. This is the great gift of art for an intelligent species. It is the communication of all the parts of our being that the narrow frequency band of spoken and written language cannot touch. Where language begins, there marketing aka “incomplete truth” begins also. To paraphrase the philosophers: life places on man the demand for harmony while providing none of the conditions for it.
If this posting sounds confused and contorted…well, it is. But that’s what happens when you decide to talk instead of play! Surely this is the moment when the ecstatic mendicant points a finger to the moon, stumbling drunkenly along and laughing as I look down and struggle with words.