Vas ist? A Dissection of Modern Art
It seems that itís an outstanding rule in American culture these days that if people canít understand something, it must be good. Iím talking about all these impressionistic, free-form, avant-garde styles of art and music pervading the scene these days that everyone seems to be swooning over. Musically, Iím referring to groups like the Boredoms, or John Zornís various projects. I sure there are examples of what Iím talking about in the visual arts medium as well, but I canít think of any cuzí Iím not really up on that field. Museums cost so much these days and then you gotta deal with that snooty art crowd. Itís just not worth the hassle. Iím pretty sure the artists Iím thinking of have commie sounding names like Gandinsky or Gabonov. But the point is: these days, if you want to protect yourself from criticism all you gotta do is go into these way out forms of art.
Let me deal with the musical side of things first. Now donít get me wrong. Thereís a lot of this stuff I absolutely love. In fact, both the aforementioned Boredoms and John Zorn are okay in my book. And the late sixties Miles Davis stuff is great. No, you see, I donít want to spend that much time arguing over the art itself, Iím more concerned with the audienceís general reaction to it.
Sometimes, Iíll go and see one of the various local bands that are going for this avant-garde type of thing, and a lot of the time, it just ainít working for me. It sounds like mindless, directionless noise, and Iím thinking, "Whatís the point here?" However, the band always have plenty of admirers saying things like, "Wow, I love the way you transcend genres and arrive at a headspace totally new to my psychic experience."
What amuses me is how much of this nonsense music is called "jazz." If Joe Citizen hears music that confuses him and makes him see bright colors, he assumes itís "jazz." Sometimes I pee my pants with laughter reading an album jacket or group bio that talks about a bandís "jazz" influences (when it usually sounds like their main influence was a ten hour car accident.) Generally their idea of jazz is randomly hitting any note on the guitar and assuming that theyíre the next Charlie Parker. Donít get me wrong, I got nothing against a guy randomly hitting notes on a instrument, just donít assume youíre playing jazz. These guys want the prestige of jazz without the discipline. (I sound like some of my favorite jazz snobs, right there.)
If I can go off on a tangent here, itís worth noting, that in its inception, jazz itself was called mindless noise. The sounds from those crazy Negroes were so new that everyday joes couldnít figure out what there were doing. So, they just assumed it was primal rantings from the forlorn Negro soul. Actually, jazz was and is very structured and intellectual, it just took whitey a while to figure that out. Music critic Leonard Feather has got a book that discusses all this but I canít remember what itís called so I guess thatís no help to you. I suppose you could read all his books and you might come across the one Iím thinking about. Actually, this whole paragraph has been pretty unimportant.
Well, letís put music aside and move on to the visual arts. Iím sure youíve seen this whole spectrum of art that looks like a cat threw up on a canvas. Or these paintings that are just a big green circle on a white background. How do you know if the stuff is good or not? Sometimes people will talk about a piece and say, "An extraordinary example of post-dadaesque refinement of image." Great, but does that make it any good? And why is it that the stuff sells for thousands of dollars? I tell you why. Because no one actually understands it so in order to not look like fools they pretend to like it. Itís "The Emperorís New Clothes" all over again only we (The Public) are the Emperor and all this fruity art are the "New Clothes" and all these artists are the guys that ripped off the Emperor. What a brilliant analogy.
I donít know, the whole thing can be pretty confusing, because thereís a lot of this noise music or vomit art I really do like. But I think a lot of people will hear these chaotic harmonies or see this strange art and feel nothing. And then they figure itís their fault because they arenít intelligent enough or insightful enough to understand it. So they go out and spend thousands of dollars to fill up their house with weird sculptures and invite avant-garde musicians and obscure poets (Boy, I havenít even started on poetry) to their chic cocktail parties. Or at least the rich ones do. The rest of us rabidly spew out the latest arty mumbo-jumbo to prove our worth to guy were stuck sitting next to at the bus stop who has got a major in philosophy and a minor in atonal composition and is acting like heís somehow morally superior even though heís going to be working in a used bookstore for the rest of his life.
Anyway, itís clear these artist types are pulling a scam. And maybe we deserve to be had.
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