Friday, September 24, 2004

Abstract is as abstract does

Andante, the online music magazine, has an article entitled 'It Sounds the Way a Jackson Pollock Action Drip Painting Looks' -- Considering the Music of Elliott Carter by Pierre Ruhe. I love Elliott Carter's music, and Ruhe does a great job getting into the characteristics of these dense and frenetic works.

In a response to Alex Ross' take on writing about music, A.C. Douglas reveals a Schopenhaurian view of music: "Of all the arts music alone addresses and speaks directly to the center of feeling, bypassing altogether, and with no need of the interposition of, the intellectual faculty." Arthur Schopenhauer felt that music alone was a direct expression of Will, rather than the mere representations of perception and emotion that all other arts entailed. A brief description of Schopenhauer's views can be seen at Wikipedia, and a more detailed account can be found at this Stanford University site. As Wagner was highly influenced by Schopenhauer's philosophy of aesthetics, it makes sense that a Wagnerphile like ACD would agree with this view point.

To me, though, other art forms can also speak directly as perception, with no intellectual interference. Abstract visual art, like a Jackson Pollock painting, creates emotional impacts in me though I don't know much about painting technique or theories of proportion and color. Modern dance also creates indelible feelings within me with no analysis at all on my part. After these impressions are made, I can certainly examine them and attempt to figure out how the dance or the painting made such an impact on me, just as I can examine why a musical performance was so beautiful or unnerving after the fact. I also get emotional jolts from programmatic works, such as a play or a representational painting, even though I don't know why. There is a painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that shook me to the core when I first saw it. It is called "Rock" (I think) and had many people doing various things around and on a large rock. I couldn't tell you what they were doing, or what the rock represents, any possible interpretation of the meaning of the painting. What I can tell you is that the figures were so bold, the expressions so twisted yet sad yet powerful that it practically knocked me off my feet. If I knew more about the techniques of perspective and brush strokes, maybe I could explain why this painting affected me. If I knew more about the representational meaning of the painting, it would certainly affect my feelings, though I have no idea how my feelings would be changed or augmented.

About ten years ago I watched a videotaped ballet performance of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilege. There is a definite story, which is enjoyable on its own. But on the first viewing I was entranced by the smooth motions of the dancers, moving seamlessly from one pose to the next. It was so beautiful, yet unrelated to the plot of the drama. Again, I was affected emotionally by a programmatic work, with no intellectual involvement.

I feel that all forms of art have unique characteristics, yet all can affect us at a wide variety of levels. The better* the art, the more potential levels for interaction. They can stimulate us intellectually, inspire us to become better people, anger us, make us cry, or calm and soothe us.

*Perhaps "more interesting" or "long-lived" is more truthful than "better." I can think of musical pieces that I found to be perfectly crafted, yet I got everything out of a single listening. This concept is still fuzzy to me.

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