Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



in the minds of the musicians

continuing the discussion on john adams and

January 09, 2008

Continuing discussion & comments from a climate of fear

I confess to being a bit perplexed by the comment that “the new music community tucks itself away like church mice!” I certainly don’t mean to discount the problems that new music and those who create and perform it face in our consumer culture, but for a counter-view, have a look at the 2008 season calendar of Carnegie Hall America’s “flagship” concert hall – and an institution that until not so long ago was more or less a bastion of musical conservatism.

This season’s programming features quite a stunning array of performances of works both contemporary and “Modern.” Not only are many major living figures (Thomas Ades, John Adams, Magnus Lindberg, Pierre Boulez, Fredric Rzewski, Philip Glass, Steve Reich) well represented (in some cases multiple times) but there are also healthy doses of deceased “Modern” masters (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Messaien, among others) and a substantial list of composers both American and foreign whose names in some cases are increasingly familiar on the American scene, in other cases whose names are entirely unknown or just beginning to be known. Most exciting to me is seeing Carnegie prominently featuring groups like “Alarm Will Sound”, “Eighth Blackbird” (among others) who devote themselves exclusively to the performance of new music. Many of the world-renowned orchestras being presented by or visiting Carnegie are performing a major new work, rather than a token “curtain-raiser”, or no new music at all, as was so often the case just two decades (or less) ago.

I find Kubilay Uner’s comments exceptionally articulate and immensely interesting, but would nonetheless say that I find Mr. Adams’ assessment of Beethoven’s work to be right on the money.

If one accepts the premise (and it’s not clear to me that this is what Mr. Uner is arguing, so I’m happy to be corrected) that there is in fact no meaningful or useful standard of true greatness or enduring value in music, or for that matter in any art form, and/or that discussions of artistic merit can or should be reduced to “nothing but a series of practical questions and challenges faced by the practitioners of an art and a craft, to be addressed on a case-by-case basis” then I suppose one can dismiss Adams’ (or their imputed underlying assumptions) remarks out of hand as “bunk.”

However, I think Mr. Uner mistakenly may be misreading Adams’ remarks to Kevin’s students as “a credo to these mythical notions of music’s 1. unquestioned historical continuity, 2. elusive ideal state and 3. inherent absolute and unchanging value.” Adams is one of the last composers I’d think of as “chasing some elusive illusion of the eternal importance of [his, or anyone else’s] own musical actions.”

I don’t see the necessity of drawing such a conclusion from a statement about the power of Beethoven’s music that jives with the experience of millions of musicians and music-lovers around the world not just today, but consistently over a period of two centuries.

My own evolution as a musician was for the most part outside “academic concert music indoctrination,” if I’m understanding the implications of that phrase correctly.

Toscanini’s Beethoven Symphonies comfortably shared space on my family’s record shelves with Dixieland, Pete Seeger and music from Africa and the Indian sub-continent. As a kid growing up in LA, I spent as many nights at the Ash Grove hearing the legendary bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee or bluegrass masters Doc and Merle Watson; or at the Troubadour hearing any number of soon-to-be legendary singer/songwriters, as I did at the LA Philharmonic. I was as thrilled to hear Joni Mitchell at Royce Hall as I was hearing Rudolf Serkin play the Beethoven “Hammerklavier” in the same hall, or following the score in awe as his son Peter played the complete “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” of Messiaen from memory (what an unforgettable, life-altering night that was!)....

....and I vividly remember in the late 60’s hearing the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Royce (my first experience of hearing a great European orchestra live) under a forty-year-old Bernard Haitink being booed after opening the concert with the “Symphonies of Wind Instruments” of Stravinsky (who was still alive and composing!) and the frisson of seeing Haitink defiantly brandishing the score at the audience afterwards. (All was forgiven, of course, when they finished the Brahms D major Symphony on the 2nd half.) Times have changed.

I grew up playing rock’n‘roll, blues, folk music as well as classical music. I attended the San Francisco Conservatory in the early 70’s, when it could fairly have been described as being almost an “anti-conservatory.” Students were surrounded by experimental new music (John Adams was in fact the conductor of the Conservatory New Music Ensemble, of which I was a part), electronic music, world music, early music: in fact the dominant (no pun intended) paradigm was anything but academic or doctrinaire. My first participation in a student concert included playing the Brahms 2-Piano Sonata on the first half, and playing guitar and keyboard in a band with fellow students on the 2nd half.

At some point, not because I was indoctrinated by anyone, but rather because my heart and soul were simply drawn in that direction, I found that the music to which I wanted to devote my artistic life was that of the classical tradition. So, I guess I have no problem saying with a straight face (or at least with a smile) that I agree whole-heartedly with John Adams that “perhaps more powerfully than any other music in history…Beethoven’s grabs the audience and doesn’t let it go, it sets up expectations and delivers in ultra-satisfying ways.”

I think that very few composers in history have matched Beethoven (and certainly none that I know of has surpassed him) in terms of his enduring and overwhelming power to reach and move audiences of every stripe.

I have witnessed this while playing the Beethoven piano concerti with our beloved LACO for halls full of kids who come from ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds that dictate that they have never been and most likely never will be indoctrinated, academically or otherwise, about concert music.

There are, I would think, any number of musicians and music-lovers who have no connection with or experience of “academic concert music indoctrination” who would find nothing bloated or grossly oversimplified about Adams’ statement about Beethoven, or the assumptions that allegedly underlie it. (I do, however, take the leap that Adams is talking about the history of Western music, and that he was assuming that his audience would do the same….)

But again, for what it’s worth, nothing Adams is reported to have said suggests to me that he in fact is operating on the underlying assumptions being imputed to him in the previous post.

It occurred to me while mulling this that perhaps it might be useful to look at these questions from the standpoint of another art form. The reason that there are Shakespeare festivals by the hundreds all over the the English-speaking world that continue to attract hundreds of thousands of theatre-lovers; the reason that plays like “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Othello” are performed and studied year after year and decade after decade is that, to be plain, no one has ever written greater plays, nor has any single author had such a profound impact on so many people. In comparison with the total number of plays written in the last five centuries, the number of works by other playwrights that can really be considered as being in the same league in terms of their enduring power to move and delight and transform and provoke us is relatively (!) small.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t other great playwrights, nor that that there aren’t myriads of other fine works of theatre of all sorts (from street theatre to – every once in a while – Broadway musicals) and with all sorts of functions and intentions that are eminently worthy of our attention. But if anyone has ever surpassed Shakespeare in terms of what I can only feebly describe as sheer all-around greatness, I’m not aware of it. (I suppose, by the way, that if I were forced to define greatness, I might have to fall back on Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable dictum about obscenity – “I know it when I see [or hear] it”)

And I think the same thing could be said of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

If you strip away all the unhealthy mythologizing and politicization and the thousands of gallons of ink spilled about Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, you are still left with an indescribable and almost inexplicable miracle, a wonder of the world that in its way is equal to Niagara Falls or a giant Sequoia. However, I don’t believe that one has to jump from that statement to the notion that the 5th Symphony has “inherent absolute and unchanging value,” i.e. for every person in every culture in every time. No one is obliged to be awed by a giant Sequoia tree, but its uniqueness can hardly be questioned.

On a slightly different but related note: I think, frankly, that one of the biggest problems dealing with Beethoven is the fact that orchestras can (and sometimes do) play this music in their sleep. Earlier this season, I conducted both the 5th and 7th Symphonies in successive programs with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Some of my colleagues in the orchestra confessed to me that they (understandably) approached those performances with a feeling of “not THIS again!”

But when we finished rehearsing the 5th I felt moved to say, “You know, there are very good reasons why we play this piece as often as we do.” And some of those same musicians who may have felt resignation (or worse) when they saw it on the schedule ended the week feeling exhilarated and inspired. One violinist, almost apologetically, came up to me and said: “You know, I have to admit, this is actually still my favorite symphony.” Which, coming from someone who has played thousands of hours of symphonic music, is no insignificant statement.

Read the Full discussion:

a climate of fear

re: a climate of fear – a response from jeffrey kahane

on audience perceptions of modern and contemporary music

life changing epiphany

11 comments

I enjoyed reading Kevin Puts' blog and all the thoughtful responses that followed.Composing is hard work and I think most composers want their music to be appreciated and listened to once their work is done.They don't seek to alienate or confuse the audience.They work hard and pour themselves into their work hoping that others will enjoy their creation.But as a composer I have learned that how people react to your music is completely out of your control.And if you find that your style is called "difficult"by critics and the audience(even if it seems natural to you)what do you do in the face of such a reaction?I think that there will always be composers who will try to please the public and the critics with their music and feel that they have failed if their musical creations are not met with instant approval. Other composers continue to follow their heart and write music that might not find favor with an audience but sounds good to them so they persist and create even when the public remains indifferent or even hostile.There are composers that are lauded for their reputations even though their music is rarely played or heard.Other composers seek a retreat to the havens of academia and turn their backs on the general public. .Some composers will seek to change their style(not as easy as it seems) in the hope that it will bring them greater public success but most accept their obscurity and decide to continue on their own path and write the music that they honestly want to write,. Composers can try and follow the Ives model-become a millionaire and write what you want at night and on the weekends and don't let your children starve on your dissonances.Other like Tchaikovsky are lucky to secure a patron who supports them on the condition that they never meet(!)and others die in obscurity only to have their musical compositions resurrected and later lauded as masterpieces.Of course it would be great to be popular and successful but if it does not work out that way you do what you can to survive and follow your muse.
Music history often moves in cycles of complexity and then returns to simplicity.Perhaps John Adams and others in his generation reacted to the complexity of Boulez,Stockhausen,etc by reintroducing tonal harmony,rhytymic groove and repetition. They were lucky to find an audience that perhaps was wearying of the rigors of the academic serial music that many composers felt was the only direction that they could pursue if they wanted to be considered "modern" after World War 2.This music was also being taught in many American universities as the epitome of modernity.The classical music public and musicians were able to relate to the greater accessibility of the music of Adams and still claim to appreciate and support "modern" music.Why listen to the "old fashioned"Schoenberg and Webern when you could listen to the more "up to date" music of Glass,Reich etc.Perhaps John Adams is aware that he has many imitators who might seek to emulate his success and might be gently encouraging Kevin Put's young students at Peabody to explore more complex music from the 20th century. Instead of trying to imitate Adam's successful career ,these students should try to concentrate on developing their own individual music and let that lead where it may.The atmosphere of eclecticism and polystlism that exists today is a more open atmosphere than what existed when to be "modern" meant you had to write atonal music to be taken seriously(as Adorno believed)But I am sure that there will be a countermovement to this eclectic period and we will hear a new generation of composers who will bring a new complexity and unexpected,strange and new directions to music that will surprise and initially offend and then eventually be embraced by the audience.Music progresses in strange and mysterious ways.Fashions change and the way different composers's music is judged and appreciated by succeeding generations is unpredictable.I love Jeff Kahane's story about playing music for the people who could'nt tell the difference between Beethoven and Stravinsky.So you might as well go your own way and create the music that you love and let others judge (or misjudge)you as they please.
In the US, where celebrity is confused with success and there is a general indifference and lack of government and institutional support for classical music,jazz and avant garde art,a composer who creates music for classical ensembles is already on the fringes of the mainstream.But this has never deterred the determined artist.When groups of committed and talented musicians passionately and accurately perform music that was initially considered too difficult to perform,suddenly the audience can understand and accept the new music because it sounds good.It is important to develop ensembles that specialize in such difficult music and understand how to perform with feeling,commitment to the music and precision(Ensemble Modern,the Arditi String Quartet,Speculum Musicae).When record companies seek to record new and exciting music even if it is not deemed commercial they also contribute to the availability of this music.When presenting organizations take risks in presenting new works the audience is introduced to music that they normally would not encounter.When orchestras like LACO invite the general public to contribute to the commissioning of new music through Sound Investment or when new music groups like Bang on a Can involve their audience with the People's Commissioning Project,a relationship develops between an interested audience and a lucky composer.Young ensembles and soloists that devote themselves to playing complex music should be encouraged.And government and institutional support for young artists,composers,ensembles,orchestras,recording etc as well as a good dose of music education from elementary school to introduce young people to music making would'nt hurt either-a government that can spend a trillion dollars waging war can certainly afford to invest in the cultural and musical life of a great nation.
And since Beethoven was mentioned in this blog,is there a greater example of a composer who strove to the utmost to develop his music no matter how far out it might have seemed to the Viennese audiences of the time?Of course Beethoven wrote for a group of patrons that agreed to support him for a time and also wrote music that could be seen as crowd pleasing or "commercial"(Wellington's March,arrangements of Scottish folk music etc--I say that with the greatest respect for Beethoven but even the greatest composers have to eat) .But when one reads Beethoven's Heiligenstadt Testament ,this is an inspiration for every composer to follow the dictates of an inner conscience and articulates the fierce will of the determined individual to create music in the face of the greatest adversity-Hopefully an audience will appreciate the music but if they don't that ok too-the music must be written from a deep and inner conviction.Why else torture yourself sitting in your room working for months or years unless you hope to create the most moving and beautiful music you can imagine and hoping that musicians and music lovers will also enjoy it..But if this is not to be than the composer must stay true to him/herself and write the music that they believe in anyway.

  • —Uri Caine, January 11, 2008 04:35 am

Let's agree, for argument sake, that John Adams opined, for the London Financial Times, that most American composers writing for orchestra today are not very interesting. And, with Jeffrey's rationale, that because "the genuinely great and interesting composers at the turn of the 19th century could be counted on the fingers of two hands (maybe even one)," Adams's opinion can even be accepted as righteous. So with the 2008 season calendar of Carnegie Hall, ”America's "flagship" concert hall, filled with music by Thomas Ades (UK), John Adams, Magnus Lindberg (Finn), Pierre Boulez (French), Fredric Rzewski (ex-pat), and Philip Glass and Steve Reich, each, except for Ades and Lindberg, modern masters now of the age Bernard Holland may have been counting down, Vis-à-vis Michelle's recent essay "reelin' in the years," what of the younger American generation? This is not, of course, to say we aren't (t)here, or that we aren't very interesting. But what then is responsible for that perception? Of course the crop of ensembles such as Eighth Blackbird should be applauded for their dedication to new music, but because for a long time, beginning with the notion that composers were making only hideous noises (does "Who Cares if You Listen" ring any bells?) or treacherously making no noise at all (for 4 minutes and 33 seconds), trends shifted against what was perceived at that time to be forces hostile to music. It should be noted that composers were almost always thought to make hideous noise: The Musical Times of London reported after its 1913 premiere that Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" "baffles verbal description. To say that much of it is hideous as sound is a mild description." At some point, be it a well-meaning imperative or a shifting of the sands, the puns deployed by terminal musicologists to secure a little prestige ironically (by-the-way) maliciously echoed a publisher's fancy of a heart-felt sentiment, "who cares if you listen?," with its inverse backlash. Adding to that irony, much of the music of Babbitt and Wourinen is not only championed by our champion James Levine (as well as by John Zorn), but to today's ears is very listenable to most of us. Wolpe himself could only make a living here teaching harmony to jazz musicians... my first teacher (a Pall Mall redolent club-date musician) plied me with stories about "Stefan." And, by-the-way, doesn't Feldman figure somewhere in here (daily visitor to Wolpe and Varèse)? 1949-almost 60 years ago. But paradoxically, the same enthusiasm for this music that found champions among performers chagrined by its poor audience reception and sought to make more new music accessible, advocated a sweeter variety to attract audiences, and eager composers complied. Now we're here invoking Beethoven, Brahms, and some Stravinsky, to implore that we are communicating through our heart instead of the left side of our brains, a process of segregation still, I confess, beyond my own lowly stage of evolution. The hieratic rhetoric implies "if you're not with us, you're against us!" It seems that the plea to compose from one's heart is more often used here as a code to compose for the audience's heart, which seems more than a little cynical. While there is now a great abundance of new music here and there, composers afraid to overturn the apple cart are quietly (like church mice) churning out well-behaved pieces deserving, perhaps, of Adams's remark. Jeffrey's own observations that audiences can prefer newer music over Bach and Beethoven identifies listening and attention as the problem: music that is complex and demanding of concentration is rejected for the music that is immediately gratifying (human nature). While so much care is afforded to helping audiences appreciate the complexities of Bach-clearly evident through the meticulous work by LACO, much more can still be done for the demands of new music.

  • —Daniel Rothman, January 11, 2008 07:32 am

  • —Kevin Puts, January 11, 2008 10:20 am

  • —Peter Knell, January 18, 2008 12:23 am

Certainly Kevin could not have meant to say music different than that preferred by the average person is crappy, in response to my point concerning difficult music, which, even the results of Jeffrey's listening experiments indicate that some consideration is due; how to make it accessible. For example, while Kevin considers Moby Dick a masterpiece, we can be sure the average reader hasn't read it. It's a difficult book that requires patience and concentration, and there's a strong possibility that the average person wouldn't prefer it to one more accessible. This says nothing about the quality of book the average person prefers to read or music the average person prefers to hear. It also says nothing about what Melville, himself, liked to read, only that he must've been pretty smart and wrote pretty well. I bet the average person hasn't read Gravity's Rainbow, and few who have follow all its references. Making these books accessible does not mean simplifying them or replacing them with simpler books, simply appreciating them with readings and discussions.

As composers here seem to be saying that communicating with the audience is important to them, they will write music that is accessible to the audience; this, most agree, is no compromise to their artistic goals so long as the music is heart-felt. Who should argue that music shouldn't be heart-felt? The problem arises when composers feel coerced into composing music not heart-felt. And fortunately few seem to think they are, unlike the bad old days when crappy music was de rigueur. What makes music crappy? And who decides? The average person? The average composer? Using intelligence does not preclude artistic or musical or literary or culinary achievement. And it's not impossible for music that is difficult to be interesting and sound well; Gérard Grisey and Claude Vivier come to mind, but the list is thankfully long and diverse.

Our appreciation for musical pluralism, however, betrays its schizophrenia (or double standard) through weird notions of "heart-felt," "crappy," "left side of the brain [music]," "academic," "communicative," and all of the other terminology which separates music that "relates" from music that doesn't. Who can say that these notions don't feedback into those prejudices that stifles our imagination and denies our audiences the places theirs can go? It's not our audiences' limitations we should be concerned about but our own. We can be heart-felt by more generously satisfying our collective curiosity rather than continuously reaffirming our own beliefs. If this makes me guilty of heresy then I've nothing really at stake.

  • —Daniel Rothman, January 18, 2008 02:54 pm

Uggh...I'm sorry I brought the ugly word "crappy" into this discussion. It was really offensive.

I think we are getting into an interesting area, where we can discuss the very different responses we have to music, and the kind of responses we prefer when we listen to music.

For example, I think when someone says, "I love the second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto K. 488" he or she is talking about a very different kind of love than someone who says, "I love Boulez' Second Piano Sonata." I think it's possible that someone might weep when hearing the former; I think it's unlikely one would do so when listening to the latter. So it's really impossible to compare either experience, to qualify or rank either one, so say one is better or more communicative than the other. What we composers decide to write, what we decide to pursue as artists has I guess to do with which kind of response we feel more strongly about. It makes me wonder about the dangerous subject of emotion and intellect, one I am very hesitant to touch here! Yes, this left-brain/right-brain stuff can get very limiting and ridiculously reductive.

But who out there doesn't feel there are some who can't/won't feel something powerful when listening to certain types of music, like the first kind I mentioned? Where does this inability come from? Does it mean I am total sap that I would rather listen to the former than the latter, or that I am devoid of intellect? As a student, I became interested in Berio's piano sequenzas, Stockhausen's piano pieces and also some works by Xenakis. I tried to follow these examples in my own work for awhile until I had the very clear and unmistakable feeling that my interest in them was not as deep and powerful as the enthusiasm I had in the works I was playing for my piano lessons (Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov). I have been struggling with this "problem" ever since, the problem that (in GENERAL, not exclusively) I feel more strongly about works of the past than more recent ones. Where does this leave me as someone who has chosen to be a composer, who wants to create things which are fresh and new but also draw inspiration from the work that is most inspiring to me?

  • —Kevin Puts, January 19, 2008 10:22 am

I second Kevin's post above.

Personal preference seems increasingly relevant in qualifying music in this century, as stylistic diversity has had a sort of Cambrian Explosion in variety.

Sure, there are probably some quantifiable judgments to be made about the construction or effectiveness of a piece of music, but even then you could only apply it to your specific and detailed knowledge of its sort.

A classical-kid with little experience of Boulez's music and the tradition that surrounds it will be about as likely to get the Second Piano Sonata as a suburban soccer-mom will get Spank Rock.

There's just nothing to back-up that knowledge, so they can't even begin to know what to say or how to qualify it. She might say, "I doesn't make me cry like Britney Spears does!", but I don't think Boulez is trying to make people cry.

The benefit of this wide world of music is that its nearly limitless.

The scary thing of this wide world of music is that for composers, we read about a time when everyone agreed about what was great (us) and went on wearing their white wigs, giggling about how much money they have.

(also, crap and stuff)

"an impression of ironic contrast, to receive the force of the contrast. The reader has only to see and hear" were notes written by Irène Némirovsky while writing her quietly arresting "Suite française," before she, herself, was a victim of the French deportation that ended her life in Auschwitz in 1942. While her horrific fate was not itself any ironic reflection on her unfinished aspirations, she was obviously aware of how a story's perspective, told plainly, are imbued with the implacability of its relationships. "Think about as well," she noted "the famous 'impersonality' of Flaubert and his kind only in the greater fact with which they express their feelings-dramatizing them, embodying them in living form, instead of stating them directly?" Although Boulez's music, whose Second Sonata (for example) was a product of the same post war years as his cool but sensual "le marteau sans maître," (composed to the poems of resistance poet Rene Char) may not bring a listener to the same tears as Mozart's music does, it would still be more of the listener's deficiency to dismiss Boulez's music as existing in the emotional void of their own-the listener's, that is-historical vacuum. What kind of music should flow from the pen of a composer whose face was carved by a knife as revolutionary in Greece? Xenakis clearly summoned more than his knowledge of math and science to a music that tears at the soul of the human condition. Of course it is nice to make music based on the musical models we like to hear, but that brings us back to the question originally raised: are we, then, puppies? This is not at all to say we should emulate Adams, Ashley, Boulez, Glass or Xenakis (all of whom took great risks); but while we do not of course have to feel obliged to History-to actually know any better than our predecessors what music is required of us-we also might not be so willing to cover our own traces with it.

  • —Daniel Rothman, January 29, 2008 07:22 am

  • —Joel McNeely, February 13, 2008 09:43 am

Oops. Meant to mention that quote from Debussy came to me from Alex Ross' blog, The Rest is Noise.

  • —Joel McNeely, February 13, 2008 09:48 am

With a strong feeling of trepidation, since I am 99% ignorant about music and so much else, I'd like to ask something of you composers. Please bear with the lead-up to the questions.

I'm a "visual artist", a painter, and much of this discussion has a parallel in the visual arts.

I strongly believe that art is about communication in the following way (paraphrasing a socio-linguist friend, Deborah Tannen): when we understand and are understood we have a sense of coherence in the world; when we do not understand and are not understood we feel like we are going crazy. An example of this dynamic (also from Tannen) is an argument with a loved one wherein each person either doesn't listen to or doesn't understand the other, and it escalates with mounting frustration into a futile shouting match, leaving each person shaken and lonely, not to say alienated and feeling crazy.

When I hear music (or see a painting) that "speaks" to me, whether it seems to be about delight or misery, wonder or horror, no matter if it breaks my heart, I feel a sense of coherence. Life is coherent. I've experienced something that tells me I'm not alone, not crazy. Maybe you would argue that I'm just getting a cheap "fix" which allows me to feel good about myself and go on ignoring injustice and tragedy. But I would argue back that this sense of coherence is necessary for life to exist, and that it needs to be reaffirmed repeatedly, continuously. It's how we navigate through life.

That's why, I guess, it's so difficult to continue creating stuff that doesn't find an audience. If an audience is left cold by your work, chances are that both you and the audience are going to feel a little crazy, or scornful, or wounded, or angry, or at least insecure. Certainly you and the audience are not going to feel close to each other. And who wants to repeat such experiences? But how do you distinguish between work that is rejected because it is inauthentic, and work that is rejected because it is too painfully authentic? After all, we often hate people whose shortcomings are very like our own.

And, are audiences left cold by certain works because they are hard to hear? Or is it because the hearer is left without a solution, and therefore left hopeless? I'm thinking of "ugly" or "inaccessible" compositions. Is beauty merely palliative? Or does it offer the possibility of going on, despite everything?

One famous painter who was fascinated by the tragic was Francis Bacon. He made beauty of the most dire, violent, inhumane subjects. His work is convulsively beautiful. Another painter whose work was sometimes in the same "hemisphere", if not the same "city" as Bacon's was deKooning, particularly in his "Woman" series. Personally, I find many, though not all, of this series by deKooning ugly. "True" perhaps, somehow or another, but ugly. And so I'm left with that feeling of hopelessness. It's not that there aren't beautiful passages, or innovative formal solutions, interesting for a painter. It's just that, finally, there's little reward in looking, for me as "audience", as human being.

Does any of this have anything to do with your discussion?

  • —Dan Read, February 22, 2008 01:23 pm

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