Had an interesting discussion today about art. Let me give a slight representation of what we went through. It’s by no standard a fixed, finished and rounded opinion. Just a thought to sharpen the view of what I am as a composer and what I can do.

What do we, consumers and artists, use/need to be able to determine the quality of a piece of art? A lot of things, I know. Context (social, psychological, upbringing, etc) is extremely important, on all sides. The consumer, the artist, the work of art ánd the place where and the circumstances under which consumer and work of art ‘meet’.  To name a few.

I tried to divide a work of art into two parts: the framework or the structure and the ‘content’. Every work of art has content, of course, but it also is hung up inside/fastened to a structure. There are thousands of structures, like the painting of a tree.

Mondriaan did a lot of studies of a single tree. In the Gemeentelijk Museum in The Hague I saw them. The tree is framed on the canvas and depicted with the stem below and a crown of branches higher up. When we just look at that painting we see that the structure for depicting the tree follows a certain structural principle. Next to that framework Mondriaan had countless options to add to it. For instance he chose to work with black and white and greys.  (I will not go deeper into other choices he made; you can see for yourself) This tree has been painted several times by Mondriaan.

A year later (1912) he painted this one. As you can see the structure of the tree is still there but a lot more happened here. The painter added different content to the same structure (and slowly started compromising the structure itself).

For centuries structure was something that was firmly positioned. A still life needed to be painted this way, a portrait that way (person in chair, looking away from the viewer in a fixed angle). Symphonies followed this pattern, cantates that pattern. Only the bold ones like Caravaggio and Rembrandt) dared to deviate. Actually it was by the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that artists started to fuck around with structure.

By the 1960s the ‘anything goes’ attitude in the art scene became widespread. For a long time I loved that thought myself, as well. Anyone can be an artist. Sure. And indeed anyone can be but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept all that is produced as equally valuable. Let’s go back to the olden days when structure was still a basic rule to measure quality with. That made it a lot easier for a consumer to qualify a work of art. As a viewer/listener one can concentrate on the ‘content’ because the structure are a give fact. So, as a consumer you focus first and very quickly the quality of the structure (does it follow the ‘rules’?) and then you can fully concentrate on the content. This has been valid for centuries but in fact still is operational in pop music which follows a lot of (structural) standards and varies (only) in the content.

Art music (whatever that may be) is a different piece of cake. Structure is for a lot of musicians a difficult subject. The whole ambient scene sort of let structure completely go. They are like Rothko canvases. Change happens on the borders of the canvas, nothing much in between.


comments are welcome