Music and the Political Machine

I’m sure I’m not the only NewMusicBox reader who took in David T. Little’s recent New York Times piece, “Should Music be Political?”, with great interest. As one of those commentators who “assert[s] that all art is political, period”—in good company with George Orwell, who, as Little notes, famously declared that “the very notion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political position”—I’d like to defend, in a modest fashion and in a more out-of-the-way venue, that position from Little’s accusation that it’s “driven by its own private ideological motor.”

One of the reasons why I was so keen to read Little’s article is that he emailed me some years ago to ask about the political dimension of an old and pretty awful piece of mine; in retrospect, this email may have been part of the information gathering that eventually gave birth to the dissertation he mentions, whose topic is the political in music. I can’t find that email now, so I can’t be sure what feeble explanation I gave him at the time. However, what I’d say if he asked me the same question today is that such a chunk of juvenilia falls squarely into the category of propangandistic music—a much larger category, I think, than Little recognizes, including pretty much everything written by Frederic Rzewski, whose music demonstrates that socialists can be bullies too (in particular, I was surprised to see that Little mentions Coming Together, a piece whose “message” is absolutely clear, in the context of critical, as opposed to propagandistic, music). My little piece was certainly driven by an ideological motor, but I’d like to think that the political music that I try to write now—and that the colleagues I admire most succeed in writing—strives to dismantle ideological motors rather than to rev them up.

Genuinely critical music—a broad, agnostic rubric that has no characteristic material or formal markings—is anti-ideological, which is to say that it shows ideology for what it really is: according to Louis Althusser, an imagined relationship to one’s material circumstances. Critical music pulls back a curtain; propandistic music, on the other hand, simply lowers a new and hopefully more egalitarian curtain in front of the old one. The entire point of critical music is to dissolve ideology. Orwell’s dictum isn’t ideology, it’s the rejection of ideology—namely, aestheticism: the ideology of art’s non-social-ness. I agree wholeheartedly with Little that this isn’t something to be afraid of. To my mind, though, the differentiation between propagandistic and critical musics has to be the real site of contestation, not the question—which isn’t really a question at all—of whether music should be political: To acknowledge that music is socially constructed (a fact, not an opinion) and that the topology of society is not symmetrical, that not all of us are afforded the same securities and freedoms (also a fact) is to acknowledge that music is necessarily political whether we want it to be or not.

31 thoughts on “Music and the Political Machine

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    This reminds me of those evangelicals who show up at my door telling me that God is everywhere whether I believe it or not and that Jesus loves me anyway.

    Categorical statements about others’ work can pretty much be nonsensical, and “music is necessarily political whether we want it to be or not” is one of those nonsense rhymes.

    You don’t speak for me.

    Dennis

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  2. colin holter

    Dennis, if you’re willing to direct me to a score and recording of your least political piece, I’ll be happy to take a stab at convincing you that it has a political dimension.

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  3. philmusic

    I find it interesting that you and Mr. Little focus only on the intentionality of composition rather than the more prosaic politics of getting a performance.

    I believe that you Colin don’t believe that there are compositional teams that enforce orthodoxy–that is; excluding members by compositions style alone. I do. You know, those new music groups who up front will tell you (or not) that they won’t perform serial, or “difficult” music–yet make the political calculus to perform “Important” composers like Babbitt and Carter etc.

    Phil’s Political page

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  4. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Colin, I don’t argue with religious believers and I wont breast-thump with you on this one. You will find political content, expression, rejection, acceptance, etc., where you want to find it, and then you’ll do the ol’ QED. I could even make the argument for you; I was, after all, in the everything-is-politics wars of the 1960s and know my way around this kind of rhetoric … and I also learned that it’s really, really boring arguing with political evangelism.

    I just wanted to make clear that your statement doesn’t speak for me. At all. Ever.

    Dennis

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  5. Chris Becker

    Little’s article leaves out an incredible amount of past and current music making that squarely falls in the realm of revolutionary. I am truly confused as to why the New York Times asked him to write about this subject. He does not speak – well, he doesn’t speak for Dennis :) – but he doesn’t speak for or acknowledge the musicians I personally know in NYC who are very much steeped in politics and creativity that are far more provocative than the two musical examples included. I’m thinking of the curators of VisionFest and Earthdriver.org.

    Down here in Houston, you have ensembles and organizations like MECA, Nameless Sound, Musiqa, Project Row Houses, and Labotanica who present creativity in a socially conscious context. The revolution is still happening, people.

    Which isn’t to say Little isn’t sincere in his survey and opinions, or that he isn’t bringing attention to some great music. But his summation of the state of what I’d call socially conscious music making just isn’t accurate.

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  6. colin holter

    OK. I can tell I’m not going to be able to engage you in a real conversation on this, Dennis; to be honest, I’m a little hurt that you seem to think I’m no more reasonable than a religious zealot. I’m trying to be a non-ideologue here.

    Should I just go hunting around your exhaustive web archive and find a suitable piece in time for my post next week?

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  7. dB

    Colin, I think at least part of what Dennis is saying is that you will be able to read anything as political if you want to. It’s a simple case of audience interpretation vs. composer intention. Anyone and everyone’s music is as political as you want it to be, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their intentions.

    We live in a world where what cars we drive, where we live, even what we eat have become politicized, even though many of those decisions may have been made for reasons completely independent of politics (say, financial realities, for example). For me, saying that all art is inherently political is the same as saying all actions are inherently political. Isn’t it possible for the motivation to write music to be as political as the motivation to go to bed when you’re tired?

    The Orwell quote, to me anyway, seems to be a response to the idea that music shouldn’t be political, which I would agree is a political stance. I don’t, however, think that means it’s impossible to make art without political motivations.

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  8. colin holter

    Isn’t it possible for the motivation to write music to be as political as the motivation to go to bed when you’re tired?

    Indeed – but things like a) whether one has a bed, b) whether one owns or rents the space in which one’s bed is located, c) when and why one becomes tired (i.e., what kind of labor one is expected to perform), and d) to what extent one’s leisure time is curtailed by the necessity to go to bed and thus be prepared for more labor tomorrow are all inherently political matters, as is the issue of “personal finances” – the conditions under which art is created are politically constructed, after all. Everything is political, or at least social and historical (same difference) – and my beef is really with the notion that music, as an art, is somehow “outside” these economies.

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  9. mclaren

    We’re on to you
    You tridentine transubstantiationists keeps trying to push your religio-political agenda on us by continually using triads, but the rest of us are onto the political implications of using three tones at once.

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  10. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    Thanks for the post Colin, and for drawing our attention to Little’s article. Chris Becker has a good point that he omits a lot, but as a matter of taking a stance, this is very clear and revealing.

    I think the further this topic is discussed, the further we will break music down into sub-categories upon sub-categories. That’s all fine, but I’d rather look at each composer’s intentions, and how each particular piece has been received. For instance, within music explicitly written as political and that which is just experienced as such, I find a difference between the composer politician, totalitarian, and activist. This is to say NOTHING of the composer’s intentions, but just the music’s reception with me.

    For instance, Cage’s 4’33” and early Boulez feel activist to me- reacting from a position of little authority. Now, between these two, Boulez’s early works often feel propagandistic- seeking manipulatively to inject an attitude in the audience- while Cage feels critical. But this is just me. Listening to Wuorinen and Adams back to back has, for me, the experience of watching a presidential debate- nothing unexpected, but clear messages are always present, and I usually enjoy both.

    I think that composers really ought to take into consideration their own position in the historical/musical context of their music being heard. What for me might be written as a piece of activist critique (I have several pieces which I view as such), could in the hands of another composer be party-line pandering or political bullying.

    And lastly, it seems to me that ignoring one’s position within a greater context in one’s art is as odious as ignoring one’s place within society. To react artistically to history is to engage an artform which has be picked over by the political tides for centuries, and thus to assert a political stance. On this point I have to agree with Colin, but I find it discouraging that so many artists seem resistant to reconciling their work with the world around them.

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  11. davidwolfson

    I would like to make a point similar to Dennis’ in I hope a slightly less contentious way: Sure, you can look at any music—just as you can any action—as political. But is that necessarily a good idea?

    Viewing everything through the lens of politics is a choice, and not one that is appealing to some people, either composers or listeners. I will concede freely that every piece of music is written in a social/economic/political context, but knowing the specifics of that context does not necessarily make the experience of listening to the music any richer, or even different.

    Or that of composing it, either, which I think is the center of Dennis’ argument. If I choose to let my socio-economico-political situation be an unexamined background, rather than a conscious premise of my work, what’s that to you? You can find political meaning in it if you wish. Others will find beauty in it (or not), interest in it (or not), inspiration, instruction, annoyance, boredom—or not, depending on their own individual filters. What I think can be annoying about your position is that it seems to be claiming a privileged status as the only valid filter through which to listen.

    Having said that, if you’d like to riffle through my catalog and point out the political implications of one of my pieces, I’d be fascinated. ;-)

    David Wolfson

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  12. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Mischa wrote, “many artists seem resistant to reconciling their work with the world around them.”

    I see the semantic issue here, that everything<=>politics. If you reject that view (which is identical to god<=>everywhere), as I do, then there is no equivalence between politics and “reconciling their work with the world around them.” I can perfectly well do the latter without engaging the former.

    The problem stems from that true believer’s orthodoxy of equivalence, which demonstrates that a transcribed dream such as my “i cried in the sun aida” is actually a commentary on the horrors of persecution or at the very least as an interation of my mental state, a state that was not doubt informed by my poverty and anti-establishment agenda. (Or, as the line goes, “there, I fixed it for you.”)

    Not accepting the politics<=> orthodoxy, , though, I reject those commentaries as being externally applied or even delusional — without me “being resistant to reconciling [my] work with the world around [me]” … which reconciliation I can do by grasping that the piece might evoke such responses.

    Dennis

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  13. pgblu

    I’m rather surprised at Dennis’ strong reaction. To me, Colin’s assertion is completely uncontroversial.

    To look at things politically can be enlightening, but I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the political ‘lens’ is the first, the most important, or indeed the only lens with which music should be regarded. It is an analytical tool, but we shouldn’t claim that it explains everything under the sun. Roman numerals don’t tell us everything about a piece of music, either, but they’re still a useful, often surprising, analytical tool that one must learn how to use properly.

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  14. philmusic

    In that case I must strongly agree with Dennis. (It seems that there are also stylistic teams by “ideas” as well). On the other hand if everything in music is political then the politics of music just might be irrelevant.

    How this might explain my political protest music, that stood on the barricade, or my use of style as satire is unclear.

    My problem with the art Mr. Little describes is that there is no professional risk involved. No one goes out on a limb. Rather similar sentiments are a team requirement. not a choice.

    Phil Fried

    Phil’s Song of the Communards, and no I wasn’t there.

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  15. dB

    …things like a) whether one has a bed, b) whether one owns or rents the space in which one’s bed is located, c) when and why one becomes tired (i.e., what kind of labor one is expected to perform), and d) to what extent one’s leisure time is curtailed by the necessity to go to bed and thus be prepared for more labor tomorrow are all inherently political matters…

    Colin, I can accept that the things you list are political, but I don’t think that makes either the concept of being tired, or the act of sleeping political, since you’ll get tired no matter what type of labor you do, and will have to sleep whether or not you have access to a bed.

    If we’re defining politics as “any actions that take place in a cultural milieu,” then literally everything is political. We gain nothing from pointing it out. To me, some actions are political, and some aren’t. You seem to be suggesting that the one’s that I think aren’t political secretly are, because politics conspired to create the circumstances that allow that situation to exist.

    Just as an example, I would consider a kid whistling in the park to be non-political music, because there was no political intent, no political message (as opposed to, say, Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1). You seem to be suggesting that the music actually is political, because (just to name a few reasons) his society valued parks enough for him to have access to one, his country managed to avert nuclear disaster two generations ago, and because gender politics forced his great-great grandmother into marriage to his great-great grandfather against her will. I would agree that those actions allowed the event of that boy whistling in that park to happen, but I am not willing to agree that that necessarily makes the act of whistling in the park political.

    It’s not that I think art lies outside of the realities of the world (though, I would say that one of the things I love about art is its potential to do just that), but that I truly believe the world isn’t all political. I believe that there’s a continuum of political-ness (from debates about global warming to debates about what kind of toast to get with breakfast), which can and should be reflected in our art.

    Not to complicate things, but we’re still just focusing on intentions here, essentially ignoring the role interpretation. I think the fact that political messages in art can be made-up after the fact, misread entirely, forgotten and re-envisioned by a new generation, makes this as messy an issue as talking about any other aspect of a work of art’s meaning. The idea that any work of art could have an inherent political meaning strikes me as the same as the idea that it could have an inherent emotional meaning. That’s obviously a debate for another day, but I wonder if people’s opinions on this issue line up with their opinions about innate meaning in art in general.

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  16. holbrooke

    If we’re defining politics as “any actions that take place in a cultural milieu,” then literally everything is political. We gain nothing from pointing it out.

    Agreed. Everything may be political but by the same logic everything is also chemical, chronological, physical, etc. The simple fact that you can look at something from a wide variety of perspectives is not new to anyone. The challenge remains to demonstrate the value in looking at one particular thing from one particular angle.

    In other words, Colin seems to be saying that he is able to explore all music through a political lens. I believe him but I’m only interested in the fruitful (if there are any) results of such investigations. There is certainly room for some meaningful scholarship to be done along those lines. But without the work it seems like an empty slogan, like: everything is neurological! Or some other big idea.

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  17. pgblu

    A kid whistling in the park is not art, though if someone comes long and starts calling it art, then that’s pretty darn political… and if groups then point to the kid and say ‘artist’ and throw grant money at him… well then you would do well to ask what their motivations are.

    As to your last paragraph, db, I’m not sure what you’re arguing. If I may paraphrase you, “Not to complicate things, but… well, things are really complicated.”

    Is this an argument for or against contemplating the political dimension of art?

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  18. dB

    I suppose the definition of art (or any word, really) is necessarily political, pgblu, but I can’t imagine a one where a kid whistling in the park doesn’t fit. Even by the most conservative definitions, a whistleable tune is music, and music is art.

    Say, for example, the kid was whistling a theme from the William Tell Overture he heard on a cartoon. At what point did that theme stop being music? When Rossini died? When it was arranged for use in the cartoon? Or does the act of whistling transform “music” into “not music”? None of these options make any sense to me, so I’d say it’s still music. Unless you’re suggesting that not all music is art, in which case the definition would be entirely subjective, so not really a definition at all.

    The last paragraph of my previous post wasn’t really an argument for or against contemplating the political dimension of art, just an attempt to point out that the political-ness of a piece is just as subjective and open to interpretation as its emotionality. A more apt paraphrase might be “Not to complicate things, but…things are actually much more complicated than we’ve acknowledged” (which is, I think, pretty much the gist of all sentences that start with the phrase “Not to complicate things, but…”).

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  19. pgblu

    Not all music is art. The score I have sitting on my shelf that nobody reads or plays is not art. And if I play it to myself with no one listening, then I’m not making a political impact of any kind, nor am I expressing a political stance that matters to anyone. My decision not to share that music might be politically motivated, of course.

    According to composer Mathias Spahlinger*, there are four political dimensions to art:

    (1) its text, or extramusical content. Examples abound: Nicolaus A Huber quotes the rhythms of protesters’ chants into his oboe solo Vor und Zurück.
    (2) its mode of production and dissemination Whether your piece is played by the New York Philharmonic (congratulations!) or by a group you organize yourself from your neighborhood. How much they get paid to play, which venue you choose, and how this affects the makeup of your likely audience
    (3)its function, e.g. is it pure concert music, is it for a marching band, will it be used in the presidential inauguration ceremony, was it made to accompany a film?
    (4) content/poetics the compositional techniques it uses, the poetic/aesthetic position it espouses, etc.

    The interaction between these aspects is often more important than any one of them (especially the last!) in isolation. You quickly find that the four dimensions don’t accommodate one another perfectly. What position you take vis-à-vis any one of these dimensions can be politically regressive or progressive, but, as Spahlinger’s hypothesis goes, you can’t control all four at once. For example, if the function is explicitly political (a protest song, for example), then the compositional technique will tend not to include, say, nested polyrhythms.

    If your piece is played by the New York Philharmonic but is meant as a tribute to the pro-union protesters in Madison Wisconsin, then you have the weird situation that the organization which plays your piece is partly underwritten by people associated with the Koch brothers, who are allegedly responsible for much of the anti-union policy trying to take root there. So, you pay tribute to one side while legitimating the other.

    While it’s not possible to be progressive in all four of these aspects at once, a politically conscious composer does have to think through all of them. And, as the old saw goes, think or be thunk… the apolitical composer doesn’t neutralize these dimensions by simply not thinking about them.

    *See Spahlinger, “this is the time of conceptive ideologues no longer”. Contemporary Music Review, Vol. XXVII, issue 6. 2008

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  20. philmusic

    “..My decision not to share that music might be politically motivated, of course…”

    Or not.

    Or perhaps it’s some else’s political decision not to perform it.

    One might ask why the book report and why this book is gospel? Then ask why your book report is apparently unfiltered by your own opinion. Perhaps you don’t think you have the right to one but I can hardly believe that. Are you reduced to merely transferring the opinions and ideas of those who write books and you learned in school to those who haven’t?

    I would rather have my own ideas and be wrong.

    Phil Fried

    Phil’s misinformed page

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  21. pgblu

    Gospel?!
    One might ask why the book report and why this book is gospel?

    I’m presenting an analysis, not an opinion, for your perusal. I happen to think it’s a useful way to categorize the political dimensions of music, and I welcome a critique of it.

    I would rather have my own ideas and be wrong.

    That says it all, really.

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  22. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    Maybe we’re getting a little too far from Colin’s original post, but I want to bring this briefly back to how we individually think about our music.

    We’ve all met (or perhaps some of us are?) composers who say “I’m not interested in bringing in extra-musical matters- I compose pure music, absolute music.” This is irresponsible and immature. The responsible artist is constantly engaging his or her environment in the art. (That’s not to say that every piece needs to reference our current political situation, art that doesn’t evolve from the experience of contemporary social life is hardly art at all).

    It goes back to the question of why we compose. “Because I love it”? Perhaps, but given the rotten state of the world, sitting around composing solely for fun is self-indulgent. Even more so when proclaiming to champion disregard for the world. How about “I compose because my music gives people something to enjoy experiencing”? Then your music is a commodity at best.

    Sorry for the mini-manifesto, but each listener and performer will find different political implications in every piece/performance/recording. We understand the issues of reception, but we as composers need to take a little responsibility for what we produce.

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  23. dB

    And, as the old saw goes, think or be thunk… the apolitical composer doesn’t neutralize these dimensions by simply not thinking about them.

    I’d agree with this in the same way I’d agree that a composer can’t neutralize rhythm by simply not thinking about it. Just because something is a parameter of music (and I maintain that political-ness is too subjective to be considered a parameter in the same way that pitch and rhythm are) doesn’t mean it’s always worth considering. Harmonic analysis can be darn useful, but there are many pieces where it doesn’t reveal much beyond the fact that harmonic analysis doesn’t reveal much. The same would apply to political analysis.

    Not all music is art. The score I have sitting on my shelf that nobody reads or plays is not art.

    This defines “art” by our access to it, which strikes me as absurd. If nobody looking at it makes it not art, how does it maintain its status as music? Is it that nobody’s ever played it that makes it not art, or just the fact that they’re not playing it now? Would so-called “lost works” have lost their status as art while they were forgotten, only to regain it when they are rediscovered? This sets up a bizarre Schrödinger’s cat scenario, where we don’t know if the cover of a score contains art until we open it. I’m happy to call a play I’ve never seen or a book I’ve never read “art,” so I don’t see why scores would be exempt from this kind of benefit of the doubt.

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  24. pgblu

    Harmonic analysis can be darn useful, but there are many pieces where it doesn’t reveal much beyond the fact that harmonic analysis doesn’t reveal much. The same would apply to political analysis.

    I don’t completely disagree with this, dB. But consider: you generally don’t really do political analysis of a score (except in terms of aspects 1 and 4, the latter of which is the most complicated one and the former of which strictly speaking only requires the ‘libretto’). As I had said, it’s the interaction of these levels that gets interesting, so score analysis can only tell you how #1 and #4 interact. For example, how Beethoven actually sets the word ‘freedom’ in a song about freedom. Assessing the political impact of music in real terms (as opposed to hypothetical) requires information about how it is presented, disseminated, discussed, and so on.This defines “art” by our access to it, which strikes me as absurd.

    What is so absurd about saying art is not art until it is viewed or heard by someone? Let’s say that’s a political definition of art, then. If I paint a picture in the privacy of my garage, and then immediately incinerate and discard it, then the question of whether that was art or not is quibbling fodder for theorists.

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  25. IanPace

    I’ve just been reading Colin’s excellent piece and some of the interesting discussion which follows. Whilst in essence at one with the notion that practically everything in the world is ‘political’, I wonder if it might be better, as a result, to do away with the word ‘political’ in this context? I’d prefer to say (sticking with music) that all forms of musical production, distribution and reception occur in some type of social/historical/geographical context and we would do better to consider them in that respect, rather than pretending they exist as some atomised, wholly autonomous phenomena.

    Spahlinger’s four dimensions are all deeply relevant, but his formulation does seem excessively centered upon production and intention. I’m not sure if this formulation really leaves much room for consideration of the (not uncommon, in my view) situation whereby some music is set up in order to have some sort of critical/radical meaning, but this does not really coincide with how it comes to be received?

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  26. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Ian is touching on the problem and nicely recasts it as “some type of social/historical/geographical context.” That’s probably adequate, but then falls into a kind of general meaninglessness. Can any artist really grasp the context, especially the larger one? Can any ‘receiver’ grasp the artist’s context? And ultimately what does that offer? (Right now prattling on in the background is a bunch of buffoonery on NPR about Bach’s cello suites, trying to contextualize their time and place and emotion and expression.)

    But I don’t suppose Mischa will be especially convinced by any of these arguments. Right up front I pointed out that this was a kind of political zealotry or evangelism. Let’s try that.

    Here’s what Mischa wrote: We’ve all met (or perhaps some of us are?) composers who say ‘I’m not interested in bringing in extra-musical matters- I compose pure music, absolute music.’ This is irresponsible and immature. The responsible artist is constantly engaging his or her environment in the art. (That’s not to say that every piece needs to reference our current political situation, art that doesn’t evolve from the experience of contemporary social life is hardly art at all).

    Let’s replace that stuff with some version of God: We’ve all met (or perhaps some of us are?) composers who say “I’m not interested in bringing in God- I compose pure music, absolute music.’ This is irresponsible and immature. The responsible artist is constantly engaging God in the art. (That’s not to say that every piece needs to reference God, art that doesn’t evolve from the experience of God is hardly art at all).

    See how that works? It’s precisely the evangelist approach, which affords neither evidence nor example. You can apply the same process to the Spahlinger that Philipp quoted, or even go back to Colin’s and do the same. You end up with credo rather than reason.

    Admittedly there’s already been some stepping back from the politics<=>everything argument. Maybe the hard-line “music is… and “art is…” and “composers ought to…” can also be drained from the discussion? Then perhaps we can explore where art and politics actually do intersect, and how that happens?

    Dennis

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  27. dB

    Assessing the political impact of music in real terms (as opposed to hypothetical) requires information about how it is presented, disseminated, discussed, and so on.

    I honestly hadn’t realized that you’d been advocating this type of historical perspective in examining the politics of a work of art. I think we’ve been agreeing all along. How any work of art is presented, disseminated, discussed, etc. says as much (if not much much more) about the time and place of those events as it does about the work itself. Its political impact, like its emotional impact, can really only be spoken of in cultural (or personal) terms.

    What is so absurd about saying art is not art until it is viewed or heard by someone?

    It’s absurd because it begs the question “who counts as someone?” If a six-year-old had been the only person to view an abstract painting, and declared it “not art,” is the painting now art simply because a human has seen it, or not art because that human thinks it isn’t? What if the only person to ever experience a work of art (or the last person to remember experiencing it) dies? Does that thing stop being art, or is the fact that it had been experienced make it art, even if none of those people exist anymore? What if nobody has experienced it, but someone claims to have anyway. Would the thing they claim to have experienced be art because we can’t tell the difference, or not art since our belief that it is art was based on a lie?

    To me, there’s no difference between a painting that nobody has seen and a painting that everyone in the world but me has seen. If there’s any “magic” that turns something into art upon it having been perceived, it happens on an individual level, not a cultural one. If we define it that way, what is and isn’t art is limited by the experiences of the individuals in question, which facilitates no discussion. I’m happy to defend War and Peace as a work of art, even though I’ve never read it (whether or not anyone else claims to have read it).

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  28. pgblu

    Spahlinger’s four dimensions are all deeply relevant, but his formulation does seem excessively centered upon production and intention.

    There is nothing about Spahlinger’s formulation that cannot be applied to the reception side of the process. Just replace ‘intended function’ with ‘perceived function’, and so on. How Spahlinger himself applies this paradigm may be a different matter, but, on the whole, I don’t really think that’s the case.

    dB, I think we’re talking past each other. Whether an unseen painting is art or not is ultimately not a very interesting question, is it? I apologize if it’s me that sent us down that road.

    Seems a lot of us have been operating on different definitions of ‘the political’. I assume that has become clear now.

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  29. rtanaka

    Just follow the money trail and you’ll find the intersections of where art and politics lie. Who’s paying for the composer’s work and how/where was this money made? Skip all of the boring discussions and just get to the truth.

    It’s probably more interesting to talk about how “social consciousness” has in recent years become a fashionable way to promote interests which are largely self-serving. Composers nowadays tend to be more self-aware but it doesn’t seem to stop them from doing it — I just hope that they’re aware enough to know that that type of approach will not earn them support or respect in the long run.

    Politics involves a lot of lying and being disingenuous in order to keep things afloat. I’d like to think that the good stuff worth keeping cuts through all of that and just gives an accurate portrayal of something from a certain perspective. Good art, like earnest people, are a rare find, though.

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