Thursday, February 5, 2009

Concerning Christ and Jazz

For those who don't know, I am completely and utterly without the capacity to "do" music and, as a corollary, the ability to "appreciate" music. So I don't offer this so much to make a statement or even imply that I agree. Rather, I'm just poking a few people in the eye with it because deep down inside, I'm really immature.

Here's a quote from How Christianity Changed The World:

Richard Weaver, in his Ideas Have Consequences, saw this revolt even in the music of jazz., which, he said, gave the fullest freedom to the individual to "express himself as an egotist. Playing now becomes personal; the musician seizes a theme and improvises as he goes; he develops perhaps a personal idiom, for which he is admired. Instead of that strictness of form which had made the musician like the celebrant of a ceremony, we now have individualization.” Jazz, he argued, “has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity. By dissolving forms, it has left man free to move without reference, expressing dithyrambically whatever surges up from below. It is music not of dreams- certainly not of our metaphysical dream- but of drunkenness.” He further stated that the chief devotees of jazz are “the young, and those persons, fairly numerous, it would seem, who take pleasure in the thought of bringing down our civilization.”


Percussivity said...

Nice... Jazz I would say is on par in terms of artistic expression with impressionism in painting. It is not as strict in terms of rules and structure as older forms (but then who is to say classical music wouldn't sound just as chaotic as jazz is being accused of sounding to a 3rd century European?) yet it is not complete abstraction either. Yes it is to a degree 'about the soloist' when speaking of improvisation, but to say even as a general statement that Jazz is without form or rules merely reveals his complete ignorance of modern music.

But really the bottom line is that the majority of music throughout history is secular, including the majority of classical music (and even that which would be considered Christian was in fact written as a Mass or for some other non-Biblical application). You think Mozart was not expressing himself as an egotist? To take it a step further, why would one born again expect any different from a lost man? Why would I expect a lost man to desire to give God glory? It is secular! This gentleman might as well have written the article we discussed yesterday regarding the 'evils' of rock and roll. Anything done without faith is sin, and musical style is not by default correlated with a specific heart attitude. How many believers over the years have stood up in front of their church to 'glorify God' with their gifted solo voice when in fact they are merely glorying in themselves? Obviously I am not presuming to condemn everyone who sings in church, but merely to make the point.

Consider me poked in the eye.

The Angry Coder said...

I like the analogy to impressionism. My old gaffer would have a thing or two to say about that as well:

Forty years ago, Hans Sedlmayr, an art historian, informed the artistic worlds that much modern art in Western societies was giving "visible form to the irrational." Similar is the observation of D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, who say, "Much art started to become irrational as the West began to move away from God and His divine revelation." (How Christianity Changed The World, Schmidt, p 307)

One of the axioms of this book is that even lost men have been elevated in the conduct of their works, when they are party to a society or culture that is more focused on Christ. Such would be the case with Mozart: but even then Schmidt builds a case for the notion that Mozart was a sincere Christian. Bach did not see any difference between writing religious or secular music, for all was to be to the glory of God. According to Schmidt:

Before he (Bach) began writing his musical compositions he commonly wrote the initials "J.J." (Jesu Juva: Help me, Jesus) or "I.N.J." (In Nomine Jesu: In the Name of Jesus). At the end of the manuscript he would write "S.D.G" (Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone All Glory), a concept that goes back at least to Johannes Tinctoris (1435-1511). (How Christianity Changed The World, Schmidt, p 324)

So maybe the division between "religious" and "secular" for a true believer is really a false divergence. If all is to the glory of God, then it doesn't matter what labels men put on it. Jack Handy, eat your heart out!

Word Verification: cestive??? Is this the condition of celebrating filth?

Percussivity said...

Well I wasn't there, but as I understand it, the driving force that moved artists into the impressionistic style was the invention of the camera. Hey if technology can just produce a perfect picture of the world why should I spend precious hours doing what can be done in a second. Why not make something creative/artistic that represents reality rather than duplicates it.

The Pilgrim can correct me if I'm wrong.

Percussivity said...

And ironically, most of the stained glass windows in churches would be considered impressionistic in style. I also would heartily disagree that impressionism is in any way giving visible form to irrationality.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

I really like this discussion and in the end agree with Angry's last point.

An example of this is that I consider myself a postmodern artist yet I do not subscribe to the majority of the philosophical and social implications of pure relativism.

Many of the themes of post-modernism can be applied to the deconstruction of secular norms. In very simple terms I apply postmodern concepts as a way to redefine and struggle with what I see to be evil & arrogant about modern thought, worldly hierarchical systems and intellectual elitism.

Post-modernism thought can be dangerous to self and society but as and approach to the visual, I believe it can be interpreted as a way to make a personal statement about God and point to things outside of man.

Also, if I could relate jazz to an art movement it would have to be cubism.

The Angry Coder said...

Making the correlation between the statement about irrational art and impressionism was of my own making. The author never directly mentioned the impressionist style. I would say, however, that I see it as consistent with the pattern of decline. Impressionist painting takes considerably less skill than classic, uber-realistic painting. It still takes some skill, but it's not as elevated. I think the same could be said about classical pieces verses jazz. I can't do either so clearly that take some measure of skill: but classical performers, you have said, must put in much more work to perfect their art than jazzicians.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

Well, early art in general, cave paintings for instance, were and interpretation of man as a spiritual being. If you study ancient art you can see that the artists saw man outside of his natural surrounding.

Another example is illuminated scriptures interpretation of 2Pe 1:21. These images sometimes depicted men in an almost transfigured state. Essentially an aesthetic was applied that was an interpretation of what could not really be defined by the natural world.

Or, in a pagan society, if you look at the ancient Greeks & Romans, sculptures erected depicted their leaders as mythical creatures. What we consider realism in Roman sculpture is far from it when you look closely at the body proportions, hair etc etc. Man was seen as a spiritual being.

These aesthetics can be used both for evil and for righteous thought.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

i consider myself a strong realist artist but yet choose to work in an abstract aesthetic.

Skill has nothing to do with the chosen approach but struggle, concept and interpretation does.

I agree with you about the decline of man in general and how it is reflected in art but to say that a particular aesthetic "style" says anything about a person's skill is a very subjective thought that is unfair to the process of the artist.

Anonymous said...

The problem I have with people claiming a specific style of art (music, literature, or visual) is Biblically wrong or brings down a society is that they never explicitly state which art style they consider Godly. Has jazz corrupted the morals of kids and sent them on a path of debauchery and drunkenness? I'm sure there are a few examples of this. Has rock music been the cause of suicides and murders? I'm sure a case could be made to prove the assertion. Problem is, people have used the Bible to do those very things as well. Except for extreme cases, like pornography or songs that encourage murder and killing or paintings that depict rape and rampage, I doubt God really cares about the style of the art. I know I'm not in the majority (and that is partly because what is currently available contradicts me), but even 'metal' music can glorify God. Christians just can't accept that because of the negative events that surround the genre. I personally think these type of continual debates among the main stream Christian circles is just another tactic by Satan to distract people from the purpose of teaching, preaching, and baptizing.

Specifically related to jazz music, I would disagree with the claim jazz is designed for an egotistical soloist. I'm sure there have been a few in the genre, but the soloist had better have a clue what all the other musicians are doing at the time of his solo. If s/he doesn't, it's going to sound like crap, and one thing I know for sure about musicians is they have zero problem telling other musicians when something sounds like crap. They usually say it loudly by the thump of their feet as they leave the show.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

This is all about beating the 40+ comment record on my blog, isn't it? Thought as much!

The following I would say is making an illogical presumption:

"It still takes some skill, but it's not as elevated. I think the same could be said about classical pieces verses jazz. I can't do either so clearly that take some measure of skill: but classical performers, you have said, must put in much more work to perfect their art than jazzicians."

I took a jazz improv class at UMKC that was full of music ed majors that probably won all sorts of state contests playing sheet-music based classical music, probably quite well, and Good Lord those poor people were incapable of getting their mind into the simplest, blandest kinds of jazz improv. So its a total apples/oranges is not as if classical music requires a higher level of skill, it just requires different skills.

The Angry Coder said...

In a sidebar conversation, Percussivity had made a comment about the amount of dedication it takes to play the classics. Perhaps I misunderstood, and in my limited knowledge of all things musical, I do belive that it takes more work and more precision to play the classics than does jazz. That statement in itself is not a condemnation of jazz, just an observation. The same could be said about impressionist paintings verses classical in both regards: it is apples to oranges but still requires less skill. At least in the area of visual arts, I can say that I believe I could produce an impressionist piece that would at least not out-right suck but I know it would take much more work than I'm willing to put into it to even make a lame classical (realistic) piece.

This reminds me, when will Percussivity ever finish the Sea Turtle?! It's very nice piece. And there is a long way to go to beat 40. I don't think that will ever happen by design- it will require the coincidence of the right off-handed comment at the right time, with enough people having the free time to really engage whatever useless topic is at hand!

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Oh I'm not minimizing the quantity of skill that is requisite for symphonies and the like. It takes more of one type of skill to play symphonic music than jazz, but the same goes both ways. It takes skills, experience, and hard work to play jazz (well), and those skills can be completely or very nearly absent in even top-level symphonic musicians. It would be sort of like comparing a fiction writer with a non-fiction technical writer. Their skills are very, very different. You can be a symphonic musician and practice 8 hours a day and not have a creative or improvisational bone in your body. Not making that generalization of such players, just saying that it is possible...again, because the two areas of musical performance require very, very different skills, beyond physical practicalities like dexterity, tone, and good handling of the instrument. The premise that a symphony musician needs more skill than a jazz musician is sort of like saying a nonfiction author requires more writing skills than a fiction writer...they require more of some skills, less of other skills.

Personally, I am closer to your line of reasoning with regards to physical art (painting/sculpture). Certain genres you and I could probably fake some skill at, but other genres, notably realist painting, we couldn't even begin to mimic. Well, I guess there is always photography + Photoshop filters.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

"The same could be said about impressionist paintings verses classical in both regards: it is apples to oranges but still requires less skill. At least in the area of visual arts, I can say that I believe I could produce an impressionist piece that would at least not out-right suck but I know it would take much more work than I'm willing to put into it to even make a lame classical (realistic) piece."

untrue. just because a painting is done with a looser brush stroke doesn't make it easier to paint. your notion about what is required in art is skewed for the same reason the classical vs. jazz notion is skewed.

now your opinion about what style you prefer is completely legit. everyone is entitled to their opinion of what is most pleasing to their own eyes but to say that any given approach is easier or better than another based on its style is a very base statement.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

I guess if I could draw an analogy it would be as if it took you 20 hours to write a program that did a simple function and you spent 5 hours writing one that cured cancer. Is the first better than the other because it required more time or "skill", of course not. Perhaps that is a poor analogy and I may have just set myself up for a twist on that analogy but none the less, in the simplest form you understand my point.

Neuf, i completely understand the fact that your closeness to music allows you to speak clearly about that aspect of this topic but the argument is the same in the fine arts as well. Abstraction still carries many of the same technical theory as realism yet the result is much more organic/experimental.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

On the art thing, perhaps it is because some genres have much looser some forms of art, as long as I justified it, I could do a lot of things and submit it as serious art. For instance, I could buy a porcelain urinal, smash it to bits with a hammer, and display the shattered remains under the title "Cain and Abel", alternate title "Pinoncelli and Duchamp". I could fake depth where there may in fact be none.

However, because the walls and boundaries are much more rigid surrounding realism, and realism in painting, I could not buy a canvas, an easel, and a selection of paints and brushes and successfully paint anything anyone would buy for any purpose higher than kindling.

You could very possibly argue that the more abstract, less defined genres require a different sort of skill, a rawer, more primal creative skill, simply one of conception...but I will agree, realism requires more physical skill. Impressionism I think also requires great physical skill, though, too...I would contrast realism with later, extremely abstract forms of art to make a contrast regarding physical skill.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

i see what you are saying and I guess this is an unfair conversation to have (unfair to art that is) because we are speaking about abstraction so loosely.

Conceptual art, particularly that of DaDaism had tendencies to be very extreme simplistic at times in order to make a point about a social, political or artistic issue. Your mention of Duchamp's "Urinal" is a great example of that. But if you were to study the body of work that the Dadaist created you would see a great deal of technical skill was required coupled with great philosophical concepts (concepts that require the skill of thought which is equally legitimate in any genre).

Yet, today you may find many types of abstraction that require great technical skill more so than many of the photo realists.

One of these artists would be Matthew Ritchie. I could list more examples of this but I will spare you the time.

My point is that before you can say that "realism requires more physical skill" you must understand where a statement like that exists with in the historical and contemporary context of art.

Percussivity said...

I like jazz and I like classical so I won't pit one against the other. Classical music is more rigid and requires greater precision as a rule, but then it also asks much less from the performer in terms of creativity. Both forms of music from a purely technical perspective can vary from extremely simple and easy to incredibly complex and I'd say there is most definitely NOT (when comparing professionals in each area) a majority of better musicians in one group or the other... but I will stick to my comment about the egos being larger generally among 'legit' players (as classical musicians often refer to themselves... infering that other forms of music are NOT legit).

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

+1 on that. I had a great classical music guitar teacher in college...Mike, I think you remembered him as I recall. Ohh, the look of outright disdain that crossed his face, like I had just said rude things about his family's heritage or his mother's respectability, when I asked him had what he thought of Steve Howe (who was the chief source of inspiration for me on nylon-string guitar at that time).

Whereas at the same school, my jazz instructor, he was a born anti-snob. I remember suggesting (in my naivete) the combo could do some Steely Dan, and instead of turning up his nose at this non-jazz he spoke with huge praise of Fagen's The Nightfly.

Classical music places a huge chasm between creative art and performance art, at least more than other genres. The composer is often (not always) quite separate from the performer. Think of the Chinese Olympic opening ceremony. Whose artwork is it...the author and designer of the show, or the man running across the field in sync with 2000 other men? I guess you could say both.

Indian classical music has great parallels to both jazz and European classical music. A written raga can be fluidly and very creatively interpreted by the performer, in the same way that a jazz standard scrawled down in a one page chart can be interpreted into 1000 unique songs by 1000 unique bands or combos.

Shanker and Menuhin on "West Meets East", fantastic performances that share attributes of jazz, and of Western and Indian classical music.

The Angry Coder said...

I think I still disagree on the technical merits of realism vs. impressionist, etc. An impressionist has room to 'fudge' their strokes and colors. They are, after all, only trying to convey the sense of something, not minutely document in detail. An impressionist piece has to be viewed at distance with a wide eye and is not intended to be scrutinized up close; but you can do both with a realistic painting. (At least for a layman).

You said:

concepts that require the skill of thought which is equally legitimate in any genre

This is probably where we diverge. I am a technical person by training an practice, so I put great weight and emphasis on technical merits: precision in particular to graphic arts. To me, "art" is excellence in a craft; so when something seems to lack excellence I consider it to be something other than artful. I do not estimate the intent or message of the artist in figuring the quality of something called art. That may be shortsighted by how you view it but by the same token, I would say considering an artists intention or message as part of a piece is improper.

Agree to disagree... when in Rome!

Gina said...

I think that classical and jazz are separate but equal genres of music. They each require their own types of skill, such as the rigidity in the ability to hone in on the exact sound needed in a classical piece, or the ability to improvise in jazz.

But, I must say when it comes to art, I can in no way appreciate a piece that looks like a child did it (barring very talented children's pieces). That shows me that they have no skill. I also see no skill in throwing paint at a canvas rather than making intentional strokes; with the skill to know how it will land on the canvas to look as you envision it. I still see impressionist paintings as requiring skill and even a little improvisation (i.e. jazz), but still with intentional strokes.

That's my take on it...take it or leave it. :)

The Angry Coder said...

Separate but equal was overturned in 1954 via the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling. So they can be separate, but not equal. I think that's what that means.

Percussivity said...

When I look at these works of Monet's I see as much technical skill involved as anything done by the well known classical painters. It takes a great deal of skill to paint something that gives a true impression of a thing, as much as to copy verbatim (so to speak) what you see with your eyes. Now I think where we agree is concerning art that really does NOT immediately give you an impression of something until the artist tells you what it is supposed to be and your mind flatters itself by suddenly 'seeing' the artist's intention.

Debtoneufer said...

I'm glad Percussivity brought up Monet, because he's my favorite artist! You need to take a look at the Monet at the Nelson. It boggles my mind that someone could take a real image, make it look surreal but still real enough that we know what he was seeing, and then blow it up in scale to where when you stand next to it you don't see the picture, but across the room you do. Personally, I think that takes a whole lot of skill. Maybe different skill, maybe not. Pilgrim could answer that one!

As a former band nerd, I can say that playing jazz would be much much harder and require much more skill for me than just playing sheet music. I could conquer most classical pieces given enough time and instruction, I lack the innate skills needed for jazz.

Impressionism is probably so exciting to me because I lack imagination. So when someone takes something real and makes it dreamlike, I love it. I could never do that in a million years. Same with jazz - I am highly impressed by jazz musicians because they have something that I don't believe I could ever learn.

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

I think Percuss and Debtoneufer bothe have a great perspective. to understand art within its historical context is very important. If you aren't willing to do that that you aren't really willing to look at art at all. Maybe thats the case here.

People don't like what they don't understand.

Gina said...

Well, actually, I may understand the piece, the motivation behind it, and even why they enjoy producing their particular genre. That doesn't change the fact that one person is skilled and another is not very skilled. I just think too many things are called art; just about anything is accepted if you choose to label it so. I think alot of people enjoy making what they call art as a release for them, an expression of how they are feeling or their thoughts. That's great for them. I may enjoy banging on my drum, but that doesn't mean that I am skilled at it or could call myself a drummer. There has to be some kind of skill involved to call something art or to call yourself an artist, in my opinion, or it loses all value. You can call something that is pleasing to the eye a decoration, but I wouldn't necessarily call it art. You can't go by aesthetics alone, because the piece may not be pleasing to my eye, but I would still consider it art if it is done skillfully. I don't think half of what we see in art galleries would sell even 50 years ago. Maybe this is indicitive of where our society is going. After all, men are doing what is right in their own eyes and that is becoming acceptable. Is there any kind of standard for defining art?

The Angry Coder said...

We may be getting a bit off topic here, but re:

People don't like what they don't understand.

I don't believe this to be true. Consider this chart:

Like Dislike

Where U= Understand and NU=Do Not Understand.

Some examples:

Many people do not like algebra/geometry/calculus because they don't understand the subject.

Yet, many people enjoy driving but they do not understand their vehicle. Others enjoy using a computer but they don't understand how it works, etc.

You may understand how to dig a hole (and all it's experiential glory) but not enjoy doing the same. I understand baseball, yet I detest the sport.

Then of course is the last possibility: that you understand something and you like it. Typically we do enjoy things we are good at and are good at things we understand.

This is all a bit anectodal, but I hope you see that it is possible but presumptuous to think someone does not like something because they do not understand it.

On a personal note, I never said (and I don't believe anyone did) that I didn't like impressionism, or really any other form of art or music. I would consider my tastes really to be pretty low-brow: and I'm good with that.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Tarl, I think that almost mathematical breakdown could be distilled into some sort of weapon, a Weapon of Mass Modernism, and if you sent it over to the pomos on and other such emergie sites, their minds would simultaneously explode from Modernism overload. High five!

A Pilgrim's Porridge said...

i apologize for the investment that you made in producing this well built logic based on my simple comment intended to "clean my hands" of dialog of stubborn minds.

My point was simple. People who don't understand the context of Dadaism will have a difficult time enjoying Dadaist art. Need I say duh!

You know damn well that people tend to make fun or ignore the things that they don't understand.

Whether you agree with me or not, it doesn't really matter, but my opinion is that you have no interest in understanding art work that doesn't fit your model of what "good art" is. So it's hardly worth talking about.

Gina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Angry Coder said...

I think we have misunderstood each other. I didn't realize your comment about lack of understanding was specific to Dadaism. We had been discussing impressionism and the more general idea that the 'modern' arts require less skill which is indicitive of the overall decline of man, and the West, as we have departed from Christ.

But you are right, I'm not very interested in obtaining more understanding. Like Kolsto says all the time, "People know what they like". I do, actually, like most impressionist works- I never said otherwise! My favorite pieces seem to be neoclassicals and traditional Chinese/Japanese watercolors or inks. I do not enjoy what I have seen of that which is considered Dadaism and neither do those pieces illicit any curiosity in me. So to that end, you are absolutely correct! We can agree to disagree. I will be a barbarian to you, and you an art snob to me.

You know, in a sense, I am actually excercising Dadaist thought in my preferences. Dadaism was a reaction to what the art "establishment" said good art was. Now Dadaism is, itself, enshrined in the establishment and I am rejecting it. Logic and reality are the new anti-art, and I am a Dadaist.

This whole discourse has been really enlightening for me, especially reading a bit about the different types of art. I now feel I have a much clearer picture of what post-modernism is, what it looks like in every day life and how it fits into history. I would make "modernism" analagous to spiritual legalism- trying to define the heart and soul through outward forms. "Post-modernism" is the backlash to this which, in the spiritual realm is just rebellion. As a youth, I reached a point where I despised church and Christians and prided myself on rebellion. That was a post-modernist mindset. What God wants is in the inward parts, so external forms alone are not enough but rejecting any form is also not good. That type of analogy can be applied to music, art, literature, science, government and so many other things. In the end, I think the author of How Christianity Changed the World is correct in his macroscopic conclusions, though I don't agree with every detail (ie- Jass is 'evil').

Percussivity said...

I think art can (and obviously does) have multiple definitions. Some see art as self expression and that is fine if that is your definition. My problem with art as mere expression is that this must then include ALL expression and as we know the state of man's heart as it is defined in Jer 17:9 we should not be surprised when we see a man pissing in a jar with a crucifix and calling it art.

On the other hand there is art as something skillfully done and this is also a valid way to look at art. Yet this definition also has limitations. If I skillfully render a painting with the utmost realism of a puddle of dog diareah would you call it art? I guess you might, but would it be good art? AHHH! I think that is the crux of this entire conversation: good art vs bad art. Since such designations lie strictly with the individual observer there is really no way to successfully end the argument. One can express his or herself very poorly or brilliantly and one can skillfully produce something that is still appaling to look at or they can produce a masterpiece that touches the heart... whether done with skill or without, with clever personal insight expressed or with no obvious meaning whatsoever... art is just one of those things that different people will never agree on.

If you like it then hang it on your wall; go to a gallery and admire it. If not then don't. As for my own personal taste as if anyone asked, I think the best artwork is that which tries to imitate the beauty of creation, but then a lot of artists would call my landscapes hotel art. that's cool with me because I make a living working with computers.

Anonymous said...

Based upon the number of comments to the post, art (in any form) has accomplished its goal: to spark conversation. In this regard, art is similar to the personal application of the Bible. On a personal level, the same passage that holds me accountable to not doing drugs might just be a reminder of the consequences of an immoral life to someone else. This is not the topic of this discussion, but I enjoy the fact a single piece of art can speak to or mean something to me and something different to someone else.