Mozart and Art

Sun, Aug 28, 2011 at 12:20 AM

"The Story of Civilization", Vol. X, "Rousseau and Revolution", "By common consent the greatest of Mozart's symphonies are the three he poured forth in a torrent of inspiration in the summer of 1788-at a time of depressing poverty and mounting debts. The first is dated June 26, the second July 25, the third August 10-three births in three months. So far as we know, none of them was ever played in his lifetime; he never heard them; they remained in that mysterious realm in which black spots on a sheet were for the composer "ditties of no sound"-notes and harmonies heard only by the mind. The third, misnamed the Jupiter (No.41 in C, K.551), is usually accounted the best; Schumann equated it with Shakespeare and Beethoven, but it does not lend itself to amateur appreciation. No. 40 in G Minor (K. 350) begins with a vigor that presages the Eroica, and it proceeds to a development that has led commentators-struggling in vain to express music in words-to read into it a Lear or Macbeth of personal tragedy; yet to simpler ears it seems almost naively joyous. To the same ears the most satisfying of the symphonies is No. 39 in E. Flat (K.543). It is not burdened with woe, nor is it tortured with technique; it is melody and harmony flowing in a placid stream; it is such music as might please the gods on a rural holiday from celestial chores."

There is a divide between people of simple ears, and professional artists. A painter might praise a composition of blobs incomprehensible to someone else because he has tried painting that way and knows how difficult the technique is to master. A bagpipe player will praise the most boring and monotonous of songs because he listens to it as a measure of the pipers skill, not as music.

An expert, by fault of being an expert, is frequently unable to properly understand the appeal of popular art. Aristotle, on the other hand, seeing art in philosophical terms, as an expression of human nature which allows the human spirit to experience passion vicariously would appreciate popular art.

There is a divide in this area between experts on art and lovers of wisdom. The expert on art loves a piece of art as an example of artistic technique, a philosopher loves a piece of art as an expression of human passion, a description in music, paint, stone, or theater of the human condition.

To the philosopher, popular art is one of the most valid and truest forms of art, because in order to be popular it must resonate with the hearts of the audience, excite their feeling and sympathy, and thus serves the purpose of art.

To people who teach art, popular art is hardly art at all, since it is not an expression of technique and craftmanship which can only be learned from those who teach art.

Some people seeking to appear to be philosophers, listen to the teachers of art, and understand neither art nor philosophy, but breathelessy attempt to pretend that they are wise and artistic.

For the philosopher, a piece of art should stir the audience. Technique for its own sake ruins art when it interferes with that goal. Yet, technique is essential to accomplish that goal as perfectly as possible. The study of technique is therefore important to the mastery of art, yet, knowing your own heart, knowing when something feels right in just such and such a combination with the other elements of a composition is the essential element of art. Passions such as fear of failure, can make you deaf to your own heart and reduce you to mere imitation of things you think will work.

If you get it right, and get an audience, it will resonate in their hearts, and they will love it as well.

Popularity is not the only test of art. People evaluate art on the basis of what they know, liking things which are familiar enough for them to understand them, and yet not so familiar as to be boring. Many thing are popular because they imitate other things which are popular, yet have no real virtue in themselves. Sometimes things are popular because they are just novel enough to please.

The great artist should attempt to find the constants of human nature, which are present in every age, and every human heart, and compose to that audience. This is far, far, more easily said than done.

Therefore, be pleased when your work pleases a multitude, yet do not be disturbed if it has no audience. The gatekeepers of audiences may be to learned in their expertise to see the value of your work, or it may be that your work will resonate more perfectly in decades to come.

If you seek popularity know your audience. Know what they can understand, and how far you can take them to something new. An artist should seek to be familiar enough to allow his audience in, and novel enough to entertain them.

Sex and violence are easy and drown out other notes. Eventually, though, they become boring to the audience, and if you cannot express other parts of the human spirit, you will become boring as well.

Art is a mirror of life, try looking upon your own life as a work of art, and attempt to live it as well as you can.

As Ayn Rand taught in "The Fountainhead" be true to yourself.

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