As for rock and country, the best of rock easilly surpasses the best of country, although I will concede their mediocrities tend to fall to the same level. (I notice you make your argument by comparing relatively mediocre rockers with the best Country has on offer. Pretty much makes my point.)
This is opinion and preference, nothing more. If you're speaking of the crap that dominates Top 40 country radio today, fine. If not, I can't agree. Hendrix was not "better" than Chet Atkins, though I certainly prefer Hendrix.
Joe Turner was better than Bill Haley. Little Richard was better than Pat Boone (though not better than Esquerita, from whom Little Richard stole his entire act, right down to the pomp and the eyeliner and the pencil moustache).
As for pop and blues, sorry but Barbra Streisand in her prime was just as great a singer as B.B. King in his.
And Fleetwood Mac was not a mediocre rock band, in their first incarnation. No band with Peter Green playing guitar could possibly be mediocre (later on they were more pop than rock, but they were not a mediocre pop band either).
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Elvis didn't like the music for whch he became so famous. Talk about a tortured artist. My understanding is that he wasn't a fan of rock'n'roll except as a kind of goof-off music, although he did admire the soulfulness of Negro singers of his day. I've probably got this a tad off but we can count on sharpshin to correct me.
"But that does not excuse them from understanding that it is a great oration - one of the greatest."
I invite you to examine this closely. Who wants to be granted excuse for their capacity or desire to appreciate whatever they do or don't appreciate? I doubt that many if any people deny that MLK's famous speech is, well, famous, but that doesn't mean that they themselves are somehow wrong if they don't feel the love and power and glory and grandeur expressed in phrases like "I am convinced that we shall overcome because the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice" which, I believe, MLK was sharp enough to lft from some other writer/orator. (Stravinsky said: "Other composers merely borrow the work of others, but I STEAL.")
The difference between my attitude toward art and yours is that if I don't like it, I don't like it, and I don't care how many yahoos revere it. If it stinks to me, it stinks to me. I am perfectly capable of recognizing that millions of people through decades or centuries of time believe that Art Work X is magnificent, and that Art Work X is therefore a Great Work of Art... to them, but if I don't like it, it ain't a Great Work of Art to me. Millions revere Wagner's interminable operas, but I can't wait for the fat lady to sing. (I recall a great work of art, a song by the immortal Homer -- and his friend and colleague, Jethro -- concerning their experience with opera:
"When we say Pagliacci It made us itchy and scratchy. It's gettin' to be tall corn. Let's go and get some popcorn."
There is common agreement that Hitler was a masterful orator, that the pageantry and cinematography designed for his crowd-molding spectacles were Very Great Art that was appreciated by a wide range of many peoples. I am one of those people. Being honest with myswelf, I admit that I regret not being able to experience those Grand Illusions. I can see the immense flags waving in my mind, and I want to Heil! Heil! Heil!
GREAT art. No, I am not trying to score cheap moral digs by this, TC. We are both too intelligent to see it as such. If anything, the example above *supports* your definition of what makes art great.
I would argue that, impressive as was that speech given by King in... what do we call it? the Capitol Plaza? compound?... where Dylan and other notables sang, and people wept, and felt swept up in a birthing of self-derived power and delivery of justice, Hitler's spectacles subjectively gave it a run for its money. I can't honestly say whether I'd rather have been an impressionable 19-year old at King's speech or an impressionable 19-year old heiling in unison chorus with tens of thousands of my fellow ubermensch. In fact, I think I lean toward the latter. The power and effect of that synchronized frenzy is something I would dearly love to experience. But then, the informal descending like a dove of the spirit of love and pride on that huge crowd at King's speech is also somehing I would like to experience.
I think King's art trumps Hitler's by virtue of its theme. But... if I were a German immigrant at King's speech, someone who'd heiled and lost during the Third Reich, and if I just didn't 'get' that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, teling me that a million Elvis fans can't be wrong wouldn't sway me, a sadder but wiser NAZI goose-stepper, that the roaring, sobbing, yearning, beaming approval of thousands or millions made something better thereby. I'd learned better the hard way.
I would point out that, technically, Hitler's art was greater, that it was more coherently conceived, that it's accomplishment was that much greater for the fact that it was based on such a flawed theme. (What makes Brahms' music so great in the eyes of musicologists is how much coherent variety he could coax from a 4-note theme. He composed like DNA creates, making amazing variations that yet possessed rigorour internal integrity. The same is true of the other two of the Three Great B Germans, Beethoven and Bach.)
I would acknowledge the evidence of my senses: King moved the masses. All around me would be people crying, swaying with arms around each other, lfting their heads high in triumph or laying them low as the immense grief of racial injustice finally made its voice heard.
But if I were not myself swayed, so be it.
"Consistent with my definition, you can determine that something is probably great art before it has stood the test of time. The easiest way is to determine the reactions to it of people from wildly diverse cultures and subcultures. A work that communicates to members of a wide range of subcultures is shown thereby to be good art, and is potentially great art."
I'm glad you expanded on your definition a bit. It is a definition whose application in contemporary 'real-time' is just now becoming available. The likes of YouTube and similar forms of nearly instantaneous on-demand broadcastability are making such 'art evaluation focus groups' possible.
So far, this ability has mostly trerrified the ruling purveyors of popularly consumed art. (I will call them 'Britnistas'.) I am curious to see what effect the widespread availability of so much amateurism and dilettantism creates, what form of ad hoc apprentice/journeyman/master levels of recognition or access it forms.
Izss dish not der meister art? Yavol! But look at how this masterpiece was treated (courtesy our friends at wiki):
Before the film's release, the popular band Spike Jones and His City Slickers, noted for their parodies of hot songs of the time, released a version of Oliver Wallace's theme song, "Der Fuehrer's Face" (also known informally as "The Nazi Song"). Unlike the version in the cartoon, some Spike Jones versions contain the rude sound effect of rubber razzers (aka the Bronx Cheer) with each "HEIL!" to show contempt for Hitler. The underlying implication of passing gas in Hitler's face, a very vulgar theme for that time period, illustrates how normal censorship of the public media tends to be relaxed when the subject is an enemy. Jones recorded two versions of the song at the request of RCA Victor Records which released the song on the Bluebird label - one with a trombone note after each "HEIL!" and the other with a razzer called a 'birdaphone'. The birdaphone version was the one released. The success of Jones' record prompted Disney to change the short's title, originally Donald Duck In Nutzi Land, to match the song.
Due to the propagandistic nature of the short, and the depiction of Donald Duck as a Nazi, Disney has kept it out of general circulation since its original release. Der Fuehrer's Face finally received an official U.S. video release in 2004, when it was included in the Walt Disney Treasures limited edition DVD set Walt Disney: On the Front Lines. It also appeared in another Walt Disney Treasures set; The Chronological Donald Volume Two (released in December 2005)."
At last, thourgh the media of internet, great art can become GREAT.
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Now this one, TC, you are welcome to interpret as at least resembling some kind of moral dig, but it's too much fun for us to pass up. I mean, is this Great Art or what?
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Not quite halfway through the 'bodies' video, you will see someone in the crowd who doesn't feel that the art is as Great as does most everyone around her. She is a young woman on the left in a brief sequence where the 'Spirit-Striker' has left the stage and is working the floor (has a slightly different meaning in this context, yes?. She has light-colored hair parted in the middle, with a black stripe running diagonally across her blouse. She seems to think it's Great Art, alright, but comedic not spiritual art.
quote:This is opinion and preference, nothing more. If you're speaking of the crap that dominates Top 40 country radio today, fine. If not, I can't agree. Hendrix was not "better" than Chet Atkins, though I certainly prefer Hendrix.
I'm happy to concede that my assessment may be coloured by the fact that I despise country. However, quite apart from that, Rock has demonstrated an ability to cross subcultural boundaries far more pervasively than has country, so I think my assessment stands. I haven't heard any Chet Atkins, or even of Chet Atkins so I can't comment on the comparison.
quote:Joe Turner was better than Bill Haley.
quote:Little Richard was better than Pat Boone
quote: (though not better than Esquerita, from whom Little Richard stole his entire act, right down to the pomp and the eyeliner and the pencil moustache).
Arguable at best. Influenced by does not mean worse than.
quote:As for pop and blues, sorry but Barbra Streisand in her prime was just as great a singer as B.B. King in his.
I would be willing to conced this, though I would much rather listen to the King than to Streisand. But individual brilliance is not the criteria of genres. If you wish to make a comparison, how many singers have the blues produced of the same calibre of B.B. King; and how many has pop produced of the quality of Streisand? And what are the relative proportions of blues singers to pop singers? Because there are many more pop singers than blues singers, you would expect stastically, there to be more pop singers of the highest artistic quality than blues singers, and for their very best to be better. In fact the reverse is the case. The reason, of course, is that so much of pop does not even rise to the level of being art at all. Therefore, as a Genre, blues is a superior artform to pop.
quote:And Fleetwood Mac was not a mediocre rock band, in their first incarnation. No band with Peter Green playing guitar could possibly be mediocre (later on they were more pop than rock, but they were not a mediocre pop band either).
No, but neither were they inferior to Emylou Harris. And the rest of your rock examples were definitely mediocre. (Not saying I don't enjoy their music, just saying they are not in the top level of exponents of the art), and you were comparing them to the best of country. My point stands.
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"However, quite apart from that, Rock has demonstrated an ability to cross subcultural boundaries far more pervasively than has country, so I think my assessment stands. I haven't heard any Chet Atkins, or even of Chet Atkins so I can't comment on the comparison."
This also poses other questions as well as a challenge or two to itself.
Firstly, it is widely acknowledged that country derived from folk, and that rock derived from country where country met American negro folk music.
Saying rock is better than country because it impacts a broader audience is similar to saying that American Estonians are better than their parents and grandparents for moving to a land of opportunity in a more modern, technologically advanced milieu.
This doesn't necessarily contradict or refute your premise, but it reveals greater dimensions to the premise's premises, capisch? (I love that word
Secondly, it poses quantity over quality without defining the qualities involved. Are songs about jilted lovers, wayward sons in jail, and pride in one's rural roots inherently of greater or lesser quality than songs about doing drugs, having lots of sex with lots of people, and being lonely on the tour circuit?
Two of my very fave 'classic' rock songs are Humble Pie's 30 Days in the Hole and Hot'n'Nasty. I'll let the titles speak for themselves.
When The Judds sang "Tell Me ABout the Good Old Days" (when parents alegedly stayed married for life and similar family values), or The Beatles sand "All You Need Is Love"... there is such a thing as aptness. Lots of folks are never going to enjoy the intricate beauties of Hindu ragas perfomed in the classical manner. But these are agreed upon by virtually all sensitive, sophisticated musicians to be music of the highest order.
Currently, the music that has by far reached the largest global audience is American pop music. American artistic/entertainment culture in general ruled the 20th century.
I think that the ability of a work of art or an art form to vector the largest population not so much until one follows the vectors through time.
Count Basie and Duke Ellington are viewed with increasing renown as their era fades. With them distance lends enchantment; they can be seen brightly from afar, their light becoming even more poignant for their receding historical distance.
This fella, Esquerita, that Little Richard emulated is claimed by many to be the greater of the artists. But somehow the masses passed him by, and Little Richard is the icon of rock'n'roll's primogenital energy, the Big Bang on which the Babies Boomered.
As for genres, I think your evaliuation on that matter is void. For example, you dismiss techno. Brilliant things have been and will be accomplished by techno. It relates to an audience that is not us, much like rap to the average Baby Bomer, and much like Elvis/The Beatles to the average Jazz Age person. My father would NEVER find artistic worth in PInk Floyd except perhaps that jazzy thing they did about the sunlight in St. Tropez from Meddle.
"And the rest of your rock examples were definitely mediocre."
One of the intractable issues in evaluating art is its tendency to produce objectively worthless statements like this. Subjectively, the statement is soid gold,m of course, but objectively, it is raw chauvinism of opinion. One can devise all the metric frameworks by which to dress up what are ultimately one's personal whims, but they will never completely cover with their attempted objectivity the naked subjectivity of one's feelings about art.
I am a cultural elitist: I think I have superior tastes than most people.
I also know that's just my opnion. I like it so I keep it even though I know it is objectively untenable. I kow it is 'wrong'... but being wrong doesn;t apply to art. Flatted fifths, fauvism, overwrought or painfully terse prose... we all know these aren't wrong of themselves. But there were plenty, in their day, who emphatically insisted otherwise.
There is an art to being an artistic snob. While there are idiot savants who plasy great music or compose magnificent chess problems without any idea that they're doing anything other than passing their time, almost all artists have to acknowledge the fact of being an artist in order to get on with it.
The same is true of the artistry of artistic snobbery.
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art (n.) Look up art at Dictionary.com c.1225, "skill as a result of learning or practice," from O.Fr. art, from L. artem, (nom. ars) "art, skill, craft," from PIE *ar-ti- (cf. Skt. rtih "manner, mode;" Gk. arti "just," artios "complete;" Armenian arnam "make," Ger. art "manner, mode"), from base *ar- "fit together, join" (see arm (1)). In M.E. usually with sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c.1305), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts (divided into the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- and the quadrivium --arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from 1386. Sense of "cunning and trickery" first attested c.1600. Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1620; esp. of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1668. Broader sense of the word remains in artless (1589). As an adj. meaning "produced with conscious artistry (as opposed to popular or folk) it is attested from 1890, possibly from infl. of Ger. kunstlied "art song" (cf. art film, 1960; art rock, c.1970). Fine arts, "those which appeal to the mind and the imagination" first recorded 1767. Art brut "art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.," is 1955, from Fr., lit. "raw art." Artsy "pretentiously artistic" is from 1902. Expression art for art's sake (1836) translates Fr. l'art pour l'art. First record of art critic is from 1865. Arts and crafts "decorative design and handcraft" first attested in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London, 1888.
"Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead." [William Butler Yeats]
Art is anything one does with a mind to achieving a certain effect.
entertain Look up entertain at Dictionary.com 1475, "to keep up, maintain," from M.Fr. entretenir, from O.Fr. entretenir "hold together, support," from entre- "among" (from L. inter) + tenir "to hold" (from L. tenere; see tenet). Sense of "have a guest" is 1490; that of "amuse" is 1626. Entertainer "public performer" is from c.1535.
Entertainment, while it typically involves art, is primarily a method to keep people in their seats (figuratively speaking). A captive audience. When Richard Feyman called tv programming 'chewing gum' for the mind, he nailed it as entertainment. Yet it incorporates art.
Likewise, good art must be adequately entertaining. It must hold your attention long enough to work its effect on you. What holds our attention varies but some things are more reliable in doing this than others. Thus Dick Clark's American Bandstand guests repeatedly admired most music with a good beat that was easy to dance to.
With this in mind, I entertain TC's formula for judging art objectively by reducing it to a simpler ratio: it's ability to beguile one into paying attention long enough to experience the quality of its effect. Except for fat lady jokes and The Ride of the Valkyries made famous by Elmer Fudd and F.F. Coppola, Wagner's proclaimed greatness will remain a proclamation rather than an experience for most people. Greensleeves, on the other hand, is so perfect a work of art that, half a millennium after its introduction into our culture, it is still one of the most universally recognized and enjoyed tunes of our time. When it rises over the fading horizon of The Beatles' 'All YOu Need Is Love', few don't recognize it even if they can't name it or sing the words. It only takes one listen to 'get' Greensleeves. (I note here that another way for a work of art to hold our attention long enough to get it is through the 'vaunted reputation' method. Nothing succeeds like success. Throw Beethoven snippets at folks long enough, and tell them over and over that he is one of the Greatsand a fair number of them take the bait.)
If we are to judge art at least in part by how many people are impacted by it, we encounter the Big Time venue factor. The Beatles in The Cavern were one thing; The Beatles on Ed Sullivan were very much another. Lucky breaks do and don't happen. Truly great artistry does tend to endure and expand over time. For example, Lord Buckley's legend is at least not failing and appears to be slowly but steadily growing. This is because his fans revere and enjoy him so, and those to whom he is introduced are often incined to share this enthusiasm. But many other comedians surpassed his sphere of influence, created more laughs and more chuckles and aroused more depth of thought than His Lordship. All because of a lucky break.
Had Constantine been unwilling to go along to get along with Xtians, Xtianity might have gone the way of the Zoroasters. Had Martin Luther King not already put himself in the center of the cause his famous speech addressed, it almos certainly would not be the famous speech it is today. Had any number of artists not used drugs to get them through the rigors of their career -- especially their fame -- the artistic balance sheet would be different today.
In 1977 I saw Homesick James (slide acoustic guitar) and some overweight white boy (harmonica) play a set that was all I could have hoped for in a duet of Paul Desmond possessed by Debussy and Pes Paul possessed by Robert Johnson. It was extremely great art. But y'all can't evaluate it because you weren't there.
2/3s of those who WERE there didn't get it because they didn't have the ears for it (they were into Da Blooz, man) or were distracted. But a few of us were gathered close and shared in an idyll's secret with two fellas who themselves knew the muse was upon them.
I don't know that every dog has its day, but when one does, it's great, period.
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I have been wanting to comment on this for days, but the computer at my house was being HOGGED by someone here, and now I don't think I will ever get caught up. So without pretending that I've read all the comments that carefully, here's what I wanted to say from the get-go.
Here are some ideas I picked up in my 4 years studying painting. I'm not sure how much I agree with them or think they represent a complete view of what is art, but they were certainly hammered into my head (and held over my head with a threat of failing my senior studio!) enough that I think they're worth considering.
That there is a difference between "art" and "techne", art being the vision communicated in a sensory manner (let us assume visually) and techne being the technical skill that makes the communication possible. In some instances there can be a high degree of technical skill but still no art because the skill is not communicating anything, or anything significant.
That the most important thing about a work of art is that every detail must be consciously decided by the artist. I was absolutely grilled on this... why did I use acrylic paint instead of oil, why did I use grayscale instead of color, why canvas instead of paper or wood... I had to defend my choice of material, scale, method of applying paint, color or lack thereof, subject matter, method of framing, color of frames, etc. My classmates who did work where more was left to chance (think Jackon Pollock) had to defend why they left certain things to chance.
I remember discussing plans for one project with my sculpture prof. I was planning on incorporating some text from the Communist Manifesto into my project. He told me something important, which is that as an artist it is necessary to take into account the most likely emotional response of the viewer and consciously use that too. If the probable response is not what you intended, if it doesn't somehow relate to what you are trying to communicate, then you need to change your art so that it communicates what you want to without those extraneous emotional reactions. In this case he pointed out to me that the Communist Manifesto carries deep, deep emotion, both good and bad, for those whose lives have been affected by communist governments (he was from Zimbabwe) and as such it was inappropriate for me to use it in my sculpture unless I was planning to address that deep emotion in my piece. The piece was not about that deep emotion, so I took out the text.
At the very least this idea has helped me to appreciate more than just a very narrow genre of painting.
My literature professor always used to say that the mark of good literature is a true mimesis, that it truly portrays a movement of the human soul.
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Kenmeer is right about Elvis. His favorite genre was gospel. But gospel is one of the the original roots of both blues and rock & roll (and "rock & roll" was originally just a marketing name to separate white bands who played jump blues from black bands who were already doing it).
The other original root is Appalachian music of Scots and Irish origin, which became "pre country" as in the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, and eventually melded with the blues. Howlin' Wolf's howl, as Chester Burnett himself admitted, was copped from Jimmy Rodger's "blue yodel."
Chuck Berry combined elements of the blues and country & western into his music. Which is, of course, prototypical rock & roll (beyond the earlier marketing name).
But the most obvious synthesis of blues and country is rockabilly, a very short-lived form played mostly by southern white boys and later revived by a white boy from Long Island named Brian Setzer (who in my opinion is the greatest rock & roll, rockabilly and swing guitarist on the planet-- I would kill to have just his tone, nevermind his chops).
And sorry Tom, but anybody who has never heard of Chet Atkins-- whose style, derived mostly from Merle Travis's, was an essential element in rockabilly and a huge influence on countless guitarists in other genres-- just doesn't know much about this music.
The blues influence in jazz was far more prominent in the early days of jazz than it is now. Most contemporary jazz guitarists can't play blues to save their lives. Whereas many contemporary blues guitarists-- Duke Robillard, for example, and J. Geils (yes, J. Geils) can play their asses off on blues based jazz ala Charlie Christian, or jazzy uptown blues ala T-Bone Walker.