Monday, November 5, 2007

The Age of Music

I spent the day watching documentaries about calssic masterpieces of visual art. At some moment bewtween movies it occured to me that
the visual arts (painting, sculture, and argualbly architecture. others?) seemed to have a certain pervasive influence that they don't seem to have today. Maybe the documentarians exaggerated the cultural influence artists of old had on culture at large. In any case the fact is that in today's world the visual arts play second fiddle to music (no pun intended). Think about it. If you ask the average person to name 5 painters living or dead it's a struggle to get more than Picasso and Rembrandt. however, if you ask someone to name 10 dead musicians that they hear on a regular basis it'd be like turning on a faucet. Ho

How did this come to be? I think Music always had a couple of advantages over visual art. One, you can dance to it. No matter how powerful a masterpiece you can muster, you could never make one that would instantaneously make a crowd of people staart bouncing their bodies. Two, it's always been easier to distribute. Even before sheet music it was faster to teach someone a sng than to make a reproduction of a drawing. It'd very unlikely that everyone in a whole culture would have seen the same painting, sculpture or building but it's very likely for most of a population to know a whole cache of the same songs.

However, the visual arts had a few advantages of their own. One is the permanence of the original piece. With almost any work of art you can point to it and say. "look at that. He mad ethat with his own hands." And almost feel the artists' physical presence. Of course we have on paper every note of great composers of the past but it doesn't ahve the direct tangibility. It's even worse for musicians. The "performances" of master painters and sculptures last for centuries but the legacy of a musician never lasted past the generation of people who could actually hear the performance. But of course that all changed with Edison.

Once the phonograph and later the moving picture came about , specific performances could be viewed by millions of people and replayed for generations after. Now music has all the cards stacked in its favor. It has the permanence and the directness to the creator that was once exclusive to art plus it's more distributable and dancey than ever. A fan could listen to evey breath of a perfornce bya musician that died 50 years before she was born. And notes and noises of studio albums regularly contain all the intricate, meticulous, and loving detail of a van Eyck oil painting.

Music is King. Movies, suposedly the king o visual arts are gradually becoming nothing more than elaborate music videos for the soundtrack. Despite Napsterization the music industry it does billions in sales. And who the heck tries to illegally download a painting anyway? Musicians consistently sell out arena events. Most people know who picasso is but how many of them have actually seen his work? Meanwhile, everyone hears britey Spears whether we want to or not.

Cartoons i think might be the only art o have the potential to usurp music, but that's for another post.