September 9, 2011

Making art vs. making pretty pictures

Just a brief post this week. I've been reading "The Rest Is Noise" by Alex Ross for the past few days and would strongly recommend it to any classical guitarist even though there's not much, if any, info related to the guitar in it.

If you're not a fan of 20th century/modern/contemporary/new music, this book is especially for you. For one thing, the author's thoughtful descriptions of many of the key pieces can help unlock this dense music for a listener who doesn't have the ear for it.

More importantly, The Rest Is Noise traces the development of many of the composers, movements, and ideas behind modern music through their historical context. Understanding how and why this music came about can help us learn to recognize the art in what may actually seem like a bunch of noise at times.

My art teacher in high school, Mr. deGroot, used to say that the point of art is not to make "pretty pictures." Setting aside the fact that a lot of 20th century art is unapologetically the opposite of "pretty pictures," let's consider that the guitar repertoire in fact contains a lot of music for which the composer was essentially paid by the page for their work in order to satisfy demand. A lot of that music is more like "pretty picture" music than art music.

That's not to say that its unworthy of being played, but it is up to us as performers to find the art in the music that we play. And sometimes it is worthwhile for us to take on music which we may find difficult to appreciate; to explore it and come to terms with it. The better we understand what makes something a work of art, the better prepared we will be to create art of our own, with whatever raw materials we have available.

1 comment:

  1. Well put! The Ross is a great little history of 20C. music.