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Does Art Need to Be Dark to be Taken Seriously?

 
 
coluber2001
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 12:00 pm
Shapeless wrote:
My background is music history rather than art history, so it'd be interesting to get some input from y'all about how the two fields line up with each other, but in classical music the lingering academic bias in favor of "dark music" over "happy music" owes quite a lot to the Cold War, when accessibility and optimism were associated with socialist realism and totalitarian regimes while obscurity and pessimism were associated with Western artistic freedom. "Happy music" was something Soviet composers were being forced to write on the threat of execution, so audience-alienating avant-gardism of the kind that Boulez and Stockhausen were writing was billed as the necessary (and only) alternative. (The web journal Open Democracy recently ran an interesting article on the analogous situation of art in North Korea today.)
.

It's an outmoded conception of music these day (I'd like to think), but many composers and music critics still adhere to it. Broadly speaking I don't think this polarization holds much water, but I have to admit that there is something compelling (if not always convincing) about the idea that the 20th century, with all its bloody horrors, made "happy music" seem a little less digestible; I can vaguely understand why a composer would think of "happy music" as a lie or a denial. (It's partly why I like Boulez and Stockhausen; their music evokes a vivid picture of the things we've been through in the past few decades, though they would probably object to this kind of interpretation.) On the other hand, maybe it's because of the awful 20th century that we need happy art to help us cope.



I agree for the most part on the "awful 20th century" inspiring dark music, and that happy music was a response especially in America, which fully embraced poplar music and rejected classical music. There are exceptions, of course, Richard Strauss, for one. The problem is that Europe was always awful, involved in war after war, but the musical styles ranged from the happy Baroque through the Classical and Romantic periods then back to the Neo-classiccal(Stravinsky), then on to the modern hodge-podge of multitudinous styles, some good some bad, and some very forgettable.

One of my favorites is Mahler who seems to cover all territories at once from the sublime to the depressing and everything in between. He by himself seems to polarize everybody; you either hate him or love him; no casual listeners
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Shapeless
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 12:30 pm
coluber2001 wrote:
The problem is that Europe was always awful, involved in war after war, but the musical styles ranged from the happy Baroque through the Classical and Romantic periods then back to the Neo-classiccal(Stravinsky), then on to the modern hodge-podge of multitudinous styles, some good some bad, and some very forgettable.


There was nothing new about war in the 20th century, definitely, but the 20th century is unique because that's when we got uncommonly good at it. Take any war from previous eras... we can now duplicate that at the push of a button. It is revealing to compare the musical responses to the two World Wars: it's not surprising that neoclassicism came out the interwar period and Darmstadt avant-gardism came out of the Cold War. That is to say, it is not surprising that Straviskyan neoclassicism emerged out of pulverized France in the 1920s, when Stravinsky and his clique blamed hyperemotional German Romanticism for the war, and that they sought to set things right by "returning" to pre-Romantic genres (in theory; not that 1920s neoclassicism, in practice, resembled its supposed models in the least). In that sense, anti-Romantic composers still had some sense of optimism that there could be musical life after the worst war ever. It was much harder to keep up that illusion after 1945, when in spite of their efforts Europe still tried to annhilate itself in an even more horrific war; and so it seems equally fitting that the nihilistic avant-garde, of the kind coming out of Darmstadt for example, should be born out of the post-WWII era.

Of course, it would be too facile to lump all 20th century composers in this narrative; as you mentioned, there are notable exceptions. In previous threads I've expressed my admiration for Ligeti in this respect; I would say the same for Britten, Bartok, Milhaud, Messiaen, Rochberg, Saariaho and many others.
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coluber2001
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 01:02 pm
Shapeless wrote:
coluber2001 wrote:

Of course, it would be too facile to lump all 20th century composers in this narrative; as you mentioned, there are notable exceptions. In previous threads I've expressed my admiration for Ligeti in this respect; I would say the same for Britten, Bartok, Milhaud, Messiaen, Rochberg, Saariaho and many others.


It's interesting that you list Ligeti, a mostly ignored 20th century composer. I, like most people, first heard his music in the movie "2001." The music only reinforced the mysterious themes of the film, some people reducing Ligeti's music to nothing but sound effects. Without his music, though, the movie would have suffered.

The late karl Haas revealed himself as stuffy and snobby on one of his radio programs by viciously mocking Ligeti's "Requiem." It's an unusual requiem to be sure, but tens of millions of people would instantly recognize its primary theme appearing with the monolith in the movie.
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Walter Hinteler
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 01:17 pm
Atmosphères was a success, not only 1961 in Donaueschingen but is played today as well quite often. (I only remember that because we heard it at music classes in school :wink: )
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Shapeless
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 02:19 pm
Well, it may be true that the general listening public doesn't pay much attention to Ligeti now (at least in the United States), but that's true of most concert music written after midcentury. As far 20th century composers go, though, Ligeti is far from ignored. When he expatriated to the West, he was the recipient of a promotional campaign of the kind that most composers can only dream about today (those who deign to dream about it). He's made it into music textbooks, anyway.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 03:19 pm
Karl Hass....dead?
Sad
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Walter Hinteler
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 03:25 pm
He died more than a year ago, early 2005.
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Walter Hinteler
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 03:26 pm
A2K-thread about his death.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Thu 20 Jul, 2006 06:34 pm
It's been years since I've heard his radio program. I liked the way he introduced it with a simple piano piece HE played. He was a ritual (like Johnny Carson) for me.
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Walter Hinteler
 
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Reply Sat 22 Jul, 2006 10:47 am
Quote:
http://www.artdaily.com/imagenes/2006/07/22/072206k.jpg

From September 15, 2006 through January 14, 2007 Haus der Kunst - Muenchen will show the exhibition "Black Paintings". The Emergence of the Black Series - At the end of the 1940s, artists of the New York School - Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella and Barnett Newman - concerned themselves intensively with the color black. An astonishingly high number of nearly monochrome black painting series were generated and they will be shown together for the first time in the exhibition Black Paintings.


source: ArtDaily: Black Paintings at Haus der Kunst - München
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coluber2001
 
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Reply Thu 3 Aug, 2006 01:22 pm
A painting or mixed media canvas I saw at the Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth, yes, cow town! Aschenblume (ash flower) is the title by Anselm Kiefer. One is mesmerized and overwhelmed by the canvas and its mystery. On investigation it's a deconstruction of an Albert Speer-designed hall and the feeling of ancient desolation comes to the surface. A dried giant sunflower stalk hangs down in the middle of the canvas.

http://k53.pbase.com/u44/timchen/upload/28751580.TheModern21.jpg
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 06:47 pm
The best argument for the possibility of great art as "sunny" is an overview of the painting of Matisse. But most often, I might suggest, even the work of bringers of cheerful news (llike many impressionists) has a touch of sadness in it. I always prefer my pastries to be predominantly sweet but with a touch of saltiness in them. Light and dark, like sweet and salty are complementary.
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ossobuco
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 06:58 pm
And I like italian pastries, significantly less sweet by a long shot than the stuff in the supermarket. Sweet best enjoyed as a waft ... to me.
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ossobuco
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:01 pm
Or the blast of the perfect Belgian chocolate cream with an imprinted horse... but.. only one, on a long day in winter.
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ossobuco
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:03 pm
Took me a long time to get Morrisot, even Renoir, am ok with her now and succumbed to him when I saw one in person at the Phillips Museum in DC.
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fbaezer
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:11 pm
I jumped from Thomas's bright insight on the first pages of the thread to the last pages, and osso's remarks about sweets struck something on me.

The art-has-to-be-dark stuff is a problem I had never been presented to.

Perhaps it's because I'm not American.

The "official", popular and commercial depictment of the USA is very bright.
We outsiders think USA and imagine Disneyland, Las Vegas, Times Square, pop icons, cartoons, baseball fields, sunny landscapes, California surfers...

The key element of the American food is sugar and salt. Make any dish, add sugar and salt and kazaam, it's americanized, it's pop.

So... in that context, bright art tends to be seen as too pop, too shallow, too similar to the official and commercial depictment of US life. Positive art is seen as too sweet, too much like a Twinky, if the analogy stands.

Just a few random thoughts.
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fbaezer
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:15 pm
What is persistent is the idea of complexity in art.

My generation in Mexico had two groups of poets bitterly against each other. Los exquisitos vs. los pinchepiedreros (the exquisites versus the f-kk¡nstoners). The key to the argument was, if I'm writing a poem about how I stumbled into a stone and write (properly) "f-kk¡ngstone", is it valid poetry?

I believe the only good Mexican poetry made by members of my generation (born in the fifties) comes from the pinchepiedreros and alikes.
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ossobuco
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:31 pm
Hmmm. Not looking back, and having no cameramind, I remember reacting to Thomas' post, with both understanding and a yes, but.

I'm not sure complexity is everything, though it often "sings", whatever the chord/music. Not sure simplicity, apparent or real, is not artful. Well, hell, I'm not sure of anything.

I think I understand you, fb, on the poets, but not sure (which reminds me, next in line for me to read is a Fuentes, will report).
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ossobuco
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 07:42 pm
Also, FB, I've refined this into a cycle. Sugary grease needs to be followed by salty grease, after which one needs sugary grease and so on - whether it be in amusement parks or chips and cookies.

Well... there are alternate interests, but those do capture a lot of money across the counter.
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JLNobody
 
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Reply Tue 15 Aug, 2006 08:05 pm
Regretfully, FB's characterization of American (NORTH American) art is painfully correct. Any culture that finds value in Warhol or Koons is a grossly immature culture. I would call them Los Pinchechistosos.
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