It’s been a contemplative month, and the July/August issue of The Atlantic has made significant contributions to all that pondering. The annual “Ideas Issue” is still available at some newsstands and at libraries, or you can check out the articles online.
One article, “What is Art?” by Matthew Hutson, was bound to capture my attention, and it explores, if briefly, several questions critical for all artists, by citing references to several studies about how audiences relate to modern visual art. But as usual, the same issues abound in the music world, and particularly where we run into the kind of creative programming the List promotes at unSUNg. (Yes, we’re biased.) Do read the whole article here. But here are a few thoughts on the points that really jumped out:
The way a piece is described (whether verbally or in printed notes) has an essential influence on whether audiences can relate to an abstract or otherwise “challenging” work. This includes the title. This has proven true with our concerts, and poses a special challenge to performers and composers who have trouble getting the message across. If it’s all in your head, maybe it should stay there — it needs to matter to us, too!
Tell a story
Not all music is programmatic, but it shouldn’t be entirely vague, either. Plumb and reveal the eccentricities of the creator, or the story that brought the work or the performance into being. It’s not a crutch — sharing these details humanizes the piece, and makes it more real to listeners.
Repetition Repetition Repetition
If your work isn’t an immediate hit, don’t give up. It may take several experiences for people to get a handle on it, and may take several performances for the performers to lock into it. In an age of one-shot concerts and few exposure opportunities for the not-yet-popular, we forget that our “class” repertoire often had several, even many, hearings before it gained a foothold in the public’s imagination, or even in the artistic community. Enjoy, learn, then schedule the next out. Repeat.
Caveat: If your “art” is closer to schlock, hearing or seeing it again won’t help — I couldn’t help but giggle at the reference to Thomas Kincade’s ubiquitous “kitschy cottage porn.” The truth is that if “cute” is all you have, sans deeper meaning, it’ll get old quickly.
“Taste” is real
The big reveal in this little article is this: “casual viewers with high taste-bud density don’t enjoy disturbing or provocative art as much as others do.” Who knew? Should we explore programming that caters specifically to foodies? Survey arts patrons on their favorite foods, beers or wines? Hmmm… Let’s not take this one too far.