Let's Have A Partita!

Get the respite you deserve another time.

Location: Cantonment, Florida, United States

Well, uh, hmm...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Expect nothing from me. NOTHING!

I am going on vacation for a couple weeks. I hope you all can find things to do with yourselves until I get back. I trust you can keep out of... Hey, you! Yes, you in the back! Settle down, or I'll get the hose. I mean it!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

New Posts

Well, typing is rather unpleasant for my hands, and I have much work to do. I will try to make future posts require little typing and will try to rely heavily on things already prepared. So, for now, I leave you with this very odd picture. It is the side of Holy Trinity Church. This is, or was, a viewing window. Yes, this church used to be the country's first drive through mortuary. Enjoy.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Actors are NOT necessarily Voice Actors.

There is a great and growing problem these days, and it should interest you a lot. In fact, it had better interest you if you know what's good for you. Capisce?

So, what is the problem, you say? Why it's the greatest threat to the burgeoning young voice actor today:

Celebrities getting hired for voice over parts.

This is an especially heinous crime in light of the fact that most screen actors are very poor voice actors. Now, before I get into too many details, let me preface this a little with some history.

In the early days of animation, voice over parts were done by whoever happened to be handy. Popeye was originally voiced by his lead animator, and at one point Woody Woodpecker was voiced by creator Ben Hardaway's wife. However, people such as Mel Blanc and Daws Butler became very talented in the area of acting with their voices, and eventually studios began to hire specific people to do the voices on their cartoons. This was much better for the end product, of course, as the performance was much more believable and deliveries could be made by people with comedic timing, good acting ability, and the ability to perform in many different types of voices. For example, Mel Blanc was the voice of Bugs Bunny, Secret Squirrel, Barney Rubble, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, and pretty much all the Looney Toons. Daws Butler voiced Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Elroy Jetson, and is pretty much the Hanna Barbera equivalent of Mel Blanc.

The voice over business is not just cartoons, either. With the advances in technology over the past eighty years, areas for those who can perform with their voices have exploded. Commercials for television and radio, computer software, even the voice for telephone answering services and airport trains provide areas for people to make a buck using their voices.

However, in the seventies, something started happening. Celebrities started doing voice overs. Now, at first it wasn't really an issue. Perhaps the celebrity had a distinct voice and didn't come with a too high a price tag, such as Jim Backus of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island fame. But, slowly but surely, bigger names started appearing in voice over roles.

The problem really took off in the nineties, as we suddenly had people like Mel Gibson doing Pocahontas, and Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury in Beauty and the Beast, not to mention John Cusack and Meg Ryan in Anastasia. Eventually we started seeing cartoons that featured celebrities, such as Christopher Lloyd in the edutainment cartoon, Cyberchase. Now we have Gene Hackman doing commercials for Oppenheimer Funds.

So, what's the problem, you ask? Isn't it a good idea to get big names to draw in crowds to a movie?

Well, let me dispel that little myth with some good examples. These are a few of the many, and I could easily go on for an hour about Disney alone, but I'll narrow it down to four.

1. Dilbert: A show with very clever writing and mediocre voice acting. Many jokes that could have been funnier were given a poor delivery by the voice actor. The frustrating thing is, there were some very good voice actors in there, but they were generally secondary or tertiary characters. The best line from the entire series was from an episode that featured Dilbert going to Elbonia to inspect one of their manufacturing plants. At the factory he found babies, the elderly, animals, and even dead people working there. The hilarious line was given by the dictatorish foreman, as he cracks his whip, saying, "Get back to work, you lazy corpse!" The line is pretty funny, but he said it with such authority, as if this were a chronic problem that is solved by a whip crack. Daniel Stern, the voice of Dilbert, delivered his lines pretty much the same way every time; whinily. He sounded like he was merely annoyed with everything, even things that pleased him. I just pictured Daniel Stern sitting at a mic, saying after the session was over, "Well, I said my lines. Can I get lunch? Can I go do something else?" Equally wasted was the smug and irritated sounding Dogbert voiced by Chris Elliot. Jason Alexander as Catbert also gave a monotone and one dimensional performance. Kathy Griffin, Larry Miller, and the rest of the supporting cast were a bit better, but Maurice Lamarche (of Pinky and The Brain fame) playing the Garbage man was probably the best, due to his familiarity with being behind a microphone, though he wasn't given many lines, and the lines he got were OK at best. The problem was that the material given to the cast wasn't served as well as it should have been. They were screen actors and comedians that were put into somewhat unfamiliar territory, and it showed. Larry Miller was also on Buzz Lightyear as the wise cracking robot, but since that was a one-dimensional character for the most part, and one that required good joke delivery, it was a better fit for him. The material was good, it just needed a more experienced cast of voice actors.

2. Sinbad, Legend of the Seven Seas: Dreamworks animation decided that cartoons simply couldn't survive without celebrities and computer effects, so they threw a buttload of both into this turkey. Brad Pitt gave what I consider the worst voice over job I've ever heard in this movie as the largely uninteresting Sinbad. Michelle Pfeiffer tried to sound sexy as the evil seductress/goddess, Eris. She sounded instead like she was deeply committed to the ways of half-hearted sarcasm and unconvincing smugness. Catherine Zeta Jones fared well, but didn't do any better than any Candi Milo or Kath Soucie could do. Joseph Fiennes was the best of the lot, but had about 12 minutes of screen time and probably ten lines. It was an example of poor voice talent getting a lot of screen time, and good voice talent getting none. I believe voice over legend Jim Cummings had about one line. He should have been Sinbad, darnit.

3. Over the Hedge: ATTENTION DREAMWORKS: Bruce Willis is a terrible voice actor, don't make up for it by giving R.J. over the top facial expressions. Also, microphones and cameras should fill out a restraining order on Steve Carell. I think that he had a lot of voice coaching like, "No, way too understated, give it MORE." And he did, but perhaps they shouldn't have kept saying that to him after every take. And why on earth did you have Avril Lavigne? Did anyone care that it was her? I think the most well informed casting decision was William Shatner. How often does someone say that? I mean, the man's great with his voice, and I don't think he comes with a high price tag. I wish I could say that about the other cast members.

4. Osmosis Jones: Chris Rock I understand. Even David Hyde Pierce to a certain extent. But Lawrence Fishburne? I mean, why? Did he give a vocal performance that someone half his price tag couldn't deliver? Or is it because "and also starring Lawrence Fishburne from The Matrix" sounded good on press statements?

So, there are my examples of poor voice acting from otherwise mostly OK screen actors. But, there's another problem than the hit or miss performance given, and it's one I've mentioned a couple times:


Tom Hanks got paid $5,000,000 for doing Toy Story 2. Christine Cavanaugh got paid less than $40,000 for doing the voice of Babe. Do the math.
You can get almost a guaranteed better voice over performance with someone like Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Jim Cummings, Grey Delisle, Cree Summer, Charlie Adler, Richard Horvitz (my favorite living voice actor, mostly for his work as Invader Zim), or perhaps voice over legend June Foray, voice of Rocky the Squirrel, Warner Brothers' Granny and Witch Hazel, and a slew of others. And you could hire them all for the price of one Robert Redford or Tim Robbins. And they would give a much better performance. So, why would you do anything else?

Also, celebrities taking all the voice over spots makes it that much harder for prospective voice over artists to get work. With all the established voice actors being forced into doing more low paying gigs, how are those who want to break into the biz supposed to get any gigs themselves? I mean, how strapped for cash are these celebrities that they need to do voice overs? And why do production companies not yet understand that hiring a big name actor doesn't mean you'll get a good performance, especially if their schedule doesn't allow them to perform with their fellow actors, but have to bounce lines off of the director or, worse yet, just remember where they are in the script. An experienced voice actor can do that. I doubt that Ewan McGregor can do that without it sounding jerky, or taking forever to get a good take.

So, why on earth don't you get voice actors to do these roles? I don't care who's in a dang cartoon, as long as they turn in a good performance!

So, for those of you who are interested in voice over work, I recommend that you visit the Voicestarz link on my Links section. It's a voice over coaching class done online, and it's owned by the very versatile and talented Tara Strong of Powerpuff Girls fame. Also, head over to Amazon.com and purchase the excellent book, The Art of Voice Acting by James Alburger.

For those interested, here's a list of screen actors that are allowed to be in cartoons, they've earned it with all the voice work they've done. It also helps that they not only do good voice acting, but that voice over jobs probably make up as much work for them as on screen acting does.

1. Mark Hamill
2. Wayne Knight
3. Clancy Brown
4. Brad Garrett
5. Kevin McDonald
6. Katey Sagal
7. William Shatner
8. Charlton Heston
9. Danny Cooksey

And here are posthumous mentions, and deservedly on this list:

1. Peter Ustinov
2. John Ritter
3. Phil Hartman
4. Orson Welles
5. Terry Thomas
6. Jim Backus
7. Long John Baldrey
8. Elizabeth Hartman (No relation to Phil Hartman, was Mrs. Brisby in The Secret of Nimh.)
9. Roddy McDowall

And no voice over list would be complete without the five most influential voice actors of all time, creating the golden era of voice over work:
1. Mel Blanc
2. Daws Butler
3. June Foray (still alive, and almost 90!)
4. Paul Frees
5. Don Messick

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Read me! Read me now!

Well, I was making a rather long post about the fact that celebrities are terrible voice actors, but the post got lost without having been saved. I'll still do it, but it will just be a while.

Instead, I'd like to share this opportunity to share with you all something very valuable I just learned.

I am not perfect.

Yes, you read that right. For those of you who don't know me, hello, how are you? What's your name? A pleasure to meet you. Also, I must tell you, that I think very highly of my knowledge in various areas, especially in music. I'd like to think I know a fair amount about both music itself and music history. The problem is, there's a lot I don't know.

And I hate that.

The second thing:
I get very annoyed with people and don't share it. Such as when people pick arguments with me. I hate that. I want to tell them to shut up and go away. I want to tell them they are idiots, don't know what they're talking about, and I want to slap them around a little. It's partly my desire to get along with everyone that I hate arguments, but it's also my ego. I like being right. So, how do I not share it? I try to be tactful with the people who argue with me. I try to be nice and share my thoughts. I don't tell them that I'm tired of arguing, I just go on and do it. I try to be fair, but that's really sucking.
Here's the problem:
When someone is dead wrong, I want them to know it. When I am dead wrong, I want to make sure that the other person knows that I didn't hear them correctly/misunderstood the question/that I was in fact agreeing with them but phrasing it differently/didn't know they were talking about that particular thing or else I would have conceded the point. The point is, I like looking good.

Another thing is that I have no idea many times how to deal with people. I am quite tired of being nice to people who aren't nice to me, and I'm tired of feeling like I have to be nice. I'm tired of seeing milquetoast men on TV and in my daily life. I'm tired of having to constantly battle the temptation to cave in to peoples' desires simply because they are willing to argue longer. For once I just want to tell someone to shut the heck up.

That being said, I also want to be able to completely forgive. I don't like walking around with the bitterness of niceness and the mask of tactfulness. I want to be able to forgive someone when they wrong me, to deal with it well rather than give some bland, "oh, it's ok, I didn't even notice." No, I want to acknowledge when someone has hurt me. Even more, I want to acknowledge when I have hurt someone else. Few things suck more than 1.Apologizing for something I didn't do, and 2.Not knowing when to ask forgiveness and the person I've hurt just stews because they won't say anything. Of course, the first one is on us. We need to let go of what doesn't matter, and as with number two, expect people to tell us when something is bothering them. If we want to be able to tell someone that something they did hurt us, we must expect the same of other people. I must realize I am not responsible when someone won't tell me something I did hurt them, and they just internalize it and act nice towards me (I hate it especially when I do it). However, I want to do my best to make sure that I am as straight with others as I can be, but I can only control my end of it.

So, if I have offended anyone out there, please forgive me. I'm sorry, I have no excuses, and I just plain apologize.

As for those that have hurt me:

Cram it.

Kidding, of course. What I mean to say is, I forgive you. I love you very much, even though I'm bad at showing it. I don't feel like continuing to rationalize my behavior and beat myself up, so there it is. Now get off my back.


I really want to be not so concerned with spiritual checklists and be focused on Jesus. Instead of making sure that I've given tracts to five people today, I'd rather focus on Christ and let Him shine through me wherever I am. I'm really tired of putting Him in a box and making Him in my image. It's supposed to be the other way around, I hear. After all, He's very good at shattering my expectations.

After all, He set us free. Totally and completely free. 100%.

Now, before this post goes off in another direction, as I'm getting tired and it's late, I'd like to nip something in the bud. "Surely," you say, "You don't mean totally free. You mean free to do the right thing." Well, yes, we are now free to do the right things that before we were incapable of doing. But we are free to do bad stuff, too. It's the age old problem we face: true freedom means we'll be free to screw the heck up. It's the only way we'll ever get real love. Robots are free to obey their programming, but nothing else. We, however, are not robots. We are free to obey God's commands, and free to break them. The difference is, that when we see God, and we look up to him the same way we looked up to our fathers when we were little, with that combination of reverance, awe, and respect, we want to do anything to please Him. It becomes our joy. We're in his family when we trust Him. We see that, when we become part of His family, we never get kicked out. We may get sent to our room, and even disciplined, but never shunned. In fact, it seems, the more we screw up, the more we get loved. Hmm. Man, that's pretty different from how I've thought about God. I really wish I'd known that sooner. Of course, being that I'm human and always will be, I'd still have made the mistakes I've made. It just would have helped me live a little while I was making them.

Friday, June 09, 2006

How should we then live?

That's the Question that Francis Schaeffer uses as the title to his landmark book on the history of philosophical thought, and the role of Christianity in today's society. I make Question capitalized because I believe that it is the question that all other questions eventually point to. Usually it takes an interrupt in the flow of life, but at some point we will all ask the world, "ok, that's well and good, but what's really expected of me? What do I have to do?"
An interesting question, indeed. It immediately assumes that there is something to which we must conform, or rebel as the case may be, and that life does indeed matter to someone other than ourselves. As selfish as that question may be in some peoples' mouths, it still assumes that there is something else pushing in asking something of us. We scarcely ask the question expecting to hear that we should keep doing what we are doing. So, then, how on earth should we then live?
One of the questions that leads up to this question, of course, is "why are we here?" But, that inevitably forces us to act on our answer to that question, because we must live out the answer, wherever it takes us. We do it unconsciously. Everyone is striving for purpose, and we are all acting out on whatever purpose we think it may be. Again, the main Question remains, "how do I live?"
Well, there comes another question, which again, leads to the above question. That is, "what is morally right and wrong, and should I care?" We don't wonder how we are to live if there is nothing we think we must live by. Some purpose that not only builds up ourselves, but those around us, and even the community at large, one we feel we must serve, subvert, or try to create or join another.
This question is not merely a surface question, ie. something we can ignore as a result of someone being down in the dumps for a while. No, this is at the heart of every human. Even the most vile person on some level rationalizes their behavior, having believed they've answered this question correctly, though they may have to continually convine themselves they've answered it, or their conscience has been dulled. The most "moral" person asks it because they want to know whether they are going in the "right" direction. It is not a question invented by religious types trying to get everybody to "conform, man." It is asked by everyone, even those who would deny its validity. We cannot help but feel that there is something outside ourselves, something to which we must conform.
It is a question that we ask from deep within ourselves when we see evil and when we see good, and when our version of reality is challenged. After all, if it is the pinnacle of all the other questions, it has little do with rebellion for the sake of rebellion, or conformity for the sake of conformity. It was a question asked by very few in Nazi Germany, though it was asked. Nearly everyone was under the power of Hitler. An insane man leading throngs of desperate people. If simply observed from within, the entire system of people was completely degenerate. It showed that mankind cannot be the center and progenator of morality, since everyone can become deceived and debase. It takes revelation, from outside, to break through that wall. Mankind cannot be the only arbiter over mankind. Moral law, of course, means nothing without things to govern. It also cannot spring from that which it governs, as it could then be changed whenever the whims of the makers would change. Man, as has been amply proved, is not perfect. So, who were those people, you ask, who defied Nazi Germany in a time when everything was corrupt? Those who understood the transcendental quality of morality. Those who understood that though the Nazi's seemed like they were actually improving the economy, that they had a chance of winning the war, and that they were certainly in control of peoples' destinies, they actually were built on an idea that they were simply cogs in an ever progressing machine, a machine that had no purpose for anything other than the gratification and advancement of those who are most fit. Those that defied the Nazi machine saw that all human life mattered, that though the Nazi's promised a superior race, it was built on hatred, corruption, and a shifting morality. They were morally bankrupt because they had denied that there was anything greater than themselves. Only when we can look outside of ourselves will we see anything worth living for.
So, how should we then live? We must look to the lawgiver, the one that cannot shift, that cannot be bribed, that cannot become treacherous. God, as He has revealed Himself to His creation in Jesus Christ (God with skin on), must be the One to whom we look. Not a very popular idea in Western culture as it (ironically) adopts Eastern philosophy.
It's easy for we who have never had to face evil to claim that whatever someone wants to believe is ok. How many in the military believe that it's ok to believe what you feel? They are battling a people right now that have an ideology that says anyone unlike them must die. If what someone believes is harmful to themselves and/or others, than it must be done away with. Agreed? Even those who claim to be into pluralism and a doctrine of "whatever" can agree with that. Well, then, where does that moral law come from? If it's an absolute to which we must adhere, who says? I know who says, and not because I found Him, but because He found me. I did nothing to seek God, but He still sought me. He cares for His fallen creation. He sees the pain in this world. He understands our inability to live how we should. He understands that people die, and rather tragically. He sees that.
We must live as those who believe that we are under moral law, not above it. We must love how God loves: that we would do what's best for others even if they don't like it at first. We must care for the poor, the unloved, the unlovely. We must be passionate about what we do, no matter how mundane it seems. We must fight vehemently for what is right, even at personal cost. In short, must be like Christ. It is hard, and I'm not saying I'm perfect at it, far from it. It's much easier to write it on this page than do it. However, Jesus said that he would not leave this world without leaving us a Helper. The Holy Spirit guides us, enables us, and reminds us about where we must go and what we must do. All we have to do is ask, and He'll show us what we need. It's not always in the time or in the way we'd like or expect, but it's always exactly what we need. We need Him to be warriors in this world, active not passive.
That is how we should then live.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bach Bow: Bonafide or Bogus?

There has been much debate in the twentieth century regarding the so called "Bach Bow." People on both sides of the debate feel that the issue is resolved, and that it's strange that people in the other camp don't agree with their own. Here I am going to try to present both sides as best I can, with the info available to me.

There are very good arguments on both sides, which is probably why the debate continues. However, it should be noted that the believers in the Bach Bow are decidedly in the minority. Now, what is the Bach Bow, you ask? The Bach Bow, or curved bow, is a violin bow that is curved outwardly so that the hair of the bow can touch all four strings at once, allowing the player to perform true four note chords. To see such a device, the ones made by Michael Bach (no relation to J.S.), are available at Bach.Bogen. Interesting thing about the Bach.Bogen is that even though there is much on the site about Baroque and Classical repertoire that was supposedly written for the curved bow, Michael Bach, in a master class with Janos Starker, admits that he invented it for the performing of modern music. He even seems a bit surprised that Starker suggest it for the use of J.S. Bach's cello suites. There are other modern curved bows, such as the Vega/Bach bow made for violinist Emil Telmanyi, but it is not commercially sold, to my knowledge.

It is called the Bach Bow because the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, as well as the solo Cello Suites, contain four note chords that are possible to perform two ways: one, with a curved bow, playing all the notes at once, or two, broken up by playing the notes separately, which is how one does it with a modern bow. I'll get more into the details of the debate later, but suffice to say, the supporters of the curved bow use anecdotal evidence, period paintings and engravings from Germany that show curved bows, as well as Bach's violin music to argue for their curved bow. The argument actually has two flavors, one that says that Bach had to conceive of a bow for his music, or that it was standard in Germany during Bach's time to use curved bows that required thumb pressure to keep the bow hair taut, but that it was unpopular outside of that relatively small region during that era. More on this later.

The modern French and Italian bows we use are curved inward towards the hair and are much more useful for fast playing, as they wouldn't bounce as much as a curved bow would, though they don't allow for the playing of more then two notes at a time. This means that whenever a violinist sees a chord in the music, he must arpeggiate it, whether he likes it or not.

So, who's right? Let's take a look at the evidence.

1. Bach's music.
Supporters: The music contains four note chords. At points in the original scores, Bach writes "arpeggiate" and at other places does not. This means that he intends for some chords to be broken and others played as normal chords, which is only possible with a curved bow. Therefore, there must have been a curved bow at the time capable of playing four strings at once.
Detractors: There are places in the music where he wrote beams and barlines that would be idiomatic of writing for a player using normal violin technique. He was thinking linearly, not harmonically, so there's no reason to think those chords are block chords. The curved bow, therefore, is not a necessity.

Well, in this argument, which is correct? Well, yes, the score does say "arpeggiate" in certain places. However, does that mean that he intended all other chords to be block chords? Not necessarily. After all, Bach could have meant for the chords to be played as groups of two notes, with the bottom two notes (or top, as the case may be, depending on where the melody goes) played first, then the other two. This is normally how a violin player plays a chord. Now, with the passage marked arpeggiate, he could have meant that the chord was to have each note played individually, such as one would do on a guitar or keyboard. It's an entirely different effect from the standard way a violinist would play a chord. So, it's not necessarily indicative of writing for the curved bow.

2. Interpretations with the two bows.
Supporters: Hearing broken chords is not what Bach would have wanted. He was a musician who enjoyed cleanliness of performance, demanded the most of his performers, wrote what the ideals he heard in his head, and found whatever he needed to make his ideas reality. He would not have put up with the non-polyphonic bows, but would have sought out or made a bow that would have fulfilled his vision. Therefore, modern interpretations with modern bows do not hold to his vision, creating an inferior musical experience.
Detractors: Bach understood very well the idioms of his time, bound himself to them and yet always made the most out of them, and always made sure that what he actually expected out of performers was possible. He would have understood what the violin was capable of, himself being a violinist, and would have accepted the sounds it afforded him. The renditions by Rudolf Gaehler illustrate this clearly, as he plays unsubtley, vulgarizing the music by playing jarring four note chords, then switching back to single note lines, and keeps dissonant notes sustained that were meant to fade into nothingness. Modern violinists with their modern bows are much more able to create subtlety, with their focus on the linear line rather than the harmonic implications of every chord.

Well, what we have here is two arguments in one: What type of composer Bach was and how this impacted what he composed, and the interpretations as a result. As for the first argument, yes, Bach did have great ideals in his head. He wrote beautiful, long, flowing lines that would make a singer or wind player pass out if they tried to play them as written. He simply didn't care that they had to breathe. However, he always conceded and edited his music or allowed for breath marks for the sake of the performer. We have no record of him making a wind instrument capable of his melodies, he always settled for what was at hand, making the most of it. His music was difficult, yes, and was very interested in the logical limits of what a given instrument could do (he wrote trumpet parts going into the 21st partial, which is insanely difficult for any brass player), but always conceded to reality. We have records of only one instrument that Bach made because he couldn't get the sound he wanted out of any other instrument; the Lute-Harpsichord. It was a harpsichord with a bowl back, gut strings, and no dampers on the strings. It sounded very much like a lute, and the lute repertoire could easily be performed in it. However, we have records of this instrument existing, and Bach having it built, though there are no surviving examples of one. We do not have any evidence that Bach ever had a curved bow built for him, and as far as I know, never wrote about a curved bow. If it was so important to the performance of his solo violin music, why would he not write of it?
The second argument is that the interpretations with the curved bows are lousy. I have never heard Telmanyi's interpretation, but I have heard a bit of Gaehler's. The problem is not in the bow, but the fact that Gaehler is just an ok violinist. He's not Heifetz, he's not Perlman, and he's not Stern. He's not bad, by any means, he's just not great. His interpretation lacks subtlety because he's just not as top notch as they are. If Itzhak Perlman were handed a curved bow, I'm sure he could do wonders with it. I would love to hear Telmanyi's interpretation and stack it up next to Gaehler's, but I have yet to get a copy (it's about $40, which I don't feel like spending right now). So, in short, one cannot dispense with the idea of a curved bow based on the interpretations at hand. There are two that I know of. We'll need to wait until someone like Joshua Bell decides to experiment with a curved bow to really be able to tell whether the Sonatas and Partitas by Bach are better with or without a curved bow.

We also have to remember that we can't always guess what Bach would have wanted with his music. Human beings are complex and things that composers are quite ardent about in one area they may be lax about in others. Bach's intentions, since he did not write them down, are unknown to us. Did he like or dislike broken chords? I don't know. I doubt anyone does.

3. The paintings
Supporters: Period paintings from Germany clearly show curved bows being used by string players. So, 1. It was normal to have bows capable of playing chords, but almost no music demanded it, thanks to the largely contrapuntal writing of the time which did not demand individual players be able to play complex chords on their own, though some did take advantage of the capabilities of such a bow, or 2. The bows were arched to keep tension of the hair, much like a bow for a bow and arrow, and was simply a precursor to the more modern Tourte bow. Though, if one desired, he could simply slacken the hair, and use it for chordal playing, which is what Bach probably intended.
Detractors: The paintings rarely show bows arched enough for the type of chordal playing necessary for four string chords. And even then, they also show rather inaccurate instruments, being very cartoonish and unrealistic. The notion that these bows were meant to play polyphonic music comes from a rather literal interpretation of these paintings.

Well, here we run into an interesting issue, and possibly the strongest evidence for the supporters of the polyphonic curved bow. There were indeed bows at the time that were arched. Waidler makes rebec bows, and arched bows up to 71 centimeters, which is about 27 inches. That is plenty long enough to use as a violin bow, and from the picture that I've seen, it leaves a good four inches of space between bow and hair. It's possible that Bach could have used such a bow for his sonatas and partitas. However, no surviving evidence shows this to be the case. Also, Waidler's bows are Renaissance copies, not Baroque, and also, I don't believe that they are copies of German design. From what I know, Bach never wrote about any kind of special bow for his music. Also, all surviving bows from Baroque Germany are not as arched as they appear in the pictures, and are not curved enough for polyphonic playing were not intended for use on violins. As for those highly curved rebec bows, it was undesirable and indeed bad technique to push hard enough to play on three strings at once. So, unless Bach had been presented with or sought out an old very large rebec bow, and never wrote about it or told anyone who kept diaries, it's looking like this is not the solution.
It's possible, however, that there are no surviving bows due to the complete abandonment in the Classical of all Baroque idioms. It could have been that German string players, not wanting to appear behind the times, abandoned their arched bows, and went with more modern Italian and French bows. After all, if no one cared about these bows, and they were confined to a relatively small region to begin with, then it's conceivable that they existed but disappeared. After all, early brass instruments are quite rare, with only a handful still existing from the prized Nurnburg artists of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. And there are no surviving examples of Bach's lute-harpsichord, which has much evidence supporting its existence. Still, direct evidence supporting a bow capable of, and intended for, four note chords doesn't exist. There are accounts, such as that of Georg Muffat's, that Baroque German violinists kept tension of the hair with their thumb. However, this does not prove that they were capable of chords, but simply that the hair was kept tight with the thumb. It is possible that an author, not knowing what is essential to report, would report something so curious as that. However, I think he would have been more keen on reporting that the violins were making a strange sound, that of four note chords. But that report does not, to my knowledge, exist.

So, who's right? Well, the case isn't looking very good for the curved bow. I want it to have existed very badly myself, but the evidence is pointing in the other direction. To sum up:
1. Bach made a big deal about inventing new instruments or using them for that which they weren't normally intended. He didn't write about any curved bows, or at least no such documents exist.
2. No surviving polyphonic bows exist, and there is no contemporary literature that I know of that speaks of four note chord playing.
3. The paintings are accurate in showing arched bows, but they just aren't as arched as they appear in real life.

So, while it would take a lot of extremely delicate circumstances for the Bach Bow to be a reality, it seems that it probably did not exist. Oh well, it's still interesting, anyway.

If you're interested in the early days of the Bach Bow speculation, you should check out Albert Schweitzer's fantastic biography on Bach, specifically volume one. He was an ardent supporter of the Bach Bow, but his ideas have since been rejected by most of the musicological community. A shame, though, that more people don't at least give the curved bow a chance, even though it's a 20th century invention. It would certainly make for an interesting alternative for a lot of violinists.

Of course, as a guitarist, I think that the sonatas and partitas work best on a guitar, with its expanded range and ability to play six note chords. But, then, I am biased.


Yes, I will update soon, I promise. I have been having wrist and hand issues that make it unpleasant to type (pray it gets better, all one or two of my readers), and also I have been uploading my music library onto my new iPod! That takes a ludicrously long time, especially with how many cd's I have. I have a big essay on the "Bach Bow" brewing right now, as well as some scripts that need modifying, and, most important of all, a great theological essay coming soon!

So, sit back, and hold tight, cause I'm back!

Course, I never really went anywhere.

How long does it take for someone to be gone before they can say they're back? Or is it that they went somewh...

[At this point the administrator decided to nip this impending rant in the bud.
Be thankful.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Debate of the Ages! Ok, not really, but it was fun.

Ok, I had a lot of reaction to my Wha' Happen'd post (one email), so in the fine tradition of my forebears, I argued my butt off. However, it's always fun to debate with someone who actually argues back with good arguments. A rarity these days. Also, considering that he put me on his blog, I decided to return the favor. So, here is what is likely to be the longest post ever; the unedited email debate of the past week. Ok, so I edited for line breaks and a little spelling, but the important stuff is all here.
By the by, for anyone wondering, I have been debating Ted Stoltzfus, an old friend from Pennsylvania and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Art and Design. Check out his own Not a Blog , and enjoy. I hope you've enjoyed the debate, and it may be picked up in the future.

By the way, It works well if you picture us as a pair of elderly British men sitting before a fireplace in a Victorian home, each with a glass of brandy and huge mutton chops.

Hey, I read your latest blog entry and I typed an entire comment in the little box before I realized that blogger doesn't allow for anonymous comments. So I'm emailing it to you instead. Comment was: "Mixed media" is not an art movement, it's a medium. Specifically, a medium that uses multiple media. Neither "Fountain" nor the works of Pollock are mixed media, while there are other works that you would probably not consider to be representative of "anything goes" which *are* mixed media. Some Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell come to mind. If you want to criticize certain artists or even entire movements, that's fine, but try to get the terms right. That's like me saying, "man, atonal music is lousy. Especially the kind with notes."

Fair enough, and your point is valid. I should have clarified that when I mentioned mixed media, I was naming a medium I dislike, a medium I see as a representative of a philosophy I don't like. The same as saying that serialism is a form of composition I don't like as it represents the larger movement which was atonality. Mixed media is to avante garde what serialism is to atonal. A form versus a concept. I did not state that, so I will certainly have to go back and edit that. (And so I did)

Here's kind of where the anaology between music and art breaks down. Mixed media is used fairly often, and it's quite simple to make an aesthetically pleasing piece of art with more than one medium. It happens all the time. Contrairiwise, I don't think it would be easy to make a serialized piece of music sound good, because you're required, by definition, to use all the notes in the scale. I don't think there's an artistic equivelent to something this restrictive.

I think rather than "mixed media", what you really thinking about is collage. Collage is a form of mixed media, and it's a lot more difficult to pull off because you're using found images, rather than making your own. Still, that's not to say you can't make pretty pictures with it.

>>Mixed media is to avant garde what serialism is to atonal.

I'll admit: I tried to figure this out, but this sentence doesn't make any sense to me. Mixed media is a medium. Avant garde is a temporal distinction, not limited to visual art. Serialism is a method. Atonality is a musical quality.

Mixed media isn't a form or a method; it's just more than one kind of "stuff" on the canvas. Ink and watercolor: mixed media. Pencil and ink: mixed media. Colored lithographs: mixed media.

I'm willing to bet that you have nothing against mixed media itself. Maybe you're thinking of collage?

It sounds to me like you're against modern art in general, although you have to be careful with this because I highly doubt you consider *all* modern art garbage. I mean, I don't consider all modern music garbage, even if it did spawn some garbage-esque things such as atonality. I guess you'd want to critisize certain movements in modern art, like minimalism.

But Dadism: come on! It's hilarious! The point was to offend people's sensibilities as to what art was back in the 1920's. The fact that you're *still* offended eighty years later... well. It's working, right?


Atonality is far more than a musical quality, it is indeed seen as an entity and a philosophy on its own. It encompasses (to me at the very least) an attitude toward music, a way of looking at the history of music, and indeed an idea of what music is. Atonality questions what can be construed as valid music in the same way that Avant Garde questions what art is, and indeed requires that things be new and different. I use the term Atonality perhaps a bit too loosely here, but every time the subject of atonality comes up, it always comes up as a distinction from traditional musical idioms. It discards many (if not all) of the basics of harmony that musicians took for granted since the advent of true harmony in the late Renaissance, and melody is almost incedental. It is so emcompassing to say that something is "atonal" that it cannot be used to simply as a designation for a particular medium to work in, like it would be to say that I am writing a French Baroque Opera, or even a Sonata, or that I am writing in a Romantic or Classical idiom. Atonality represents utter chaos and a questioning of what music is so much so that there are many subcategories within the idea of atonality. When one writes an opera, the basics of form go back to Monteverdi in the early 1600's, though it has grown more complex since then. However, someone can write an Atonal symphony, sonata, partita, opera, or whatever. And people talk about atonality like it's all the rage and that we are finally loosed from the bonds of the tonal world that we had to exist in for centuries because we hadn't progressed enough yet. This I see as being very similar to people in the art world moving away from traditional methods and mediums. Painting is out, painted sculpture is in. I unfortunately am ensconsed in crap art when I go into the art building over at school. One student took a McDonalds poster, tore it up, and folded it over itself. It was hanging in the stairwell. It was replaced by what appears to be pink foam insulation (these were unfortunate attempts at installation pieces). The students are urged to move away from from doing paintings, and instead working in the freedom of mixed media. I am not making this up, nor am I paraphrasing. I have no problem with well executed mixed media, as Picasso and Matisse have done. I also have no problem with well executed Atonal music, Verklarte Nacht by Schoenberg being a wonderful piece of music. But these men were geniuses of the form, and probably would have excelled whatever direction they would have gone in whatever era the found themselves in. The definitions of Mixed Media and Atonality are perhaps too broad for the arguments I am making and this is where you are certainly right. Collage is a better object of my dislike (though there are occasional collages I like). However, these things end up being havens for the untalented and unimaginative, as well as dumbing down the truly creative. Minimalism has this tendency. It is very easy to make crap minimalism, but very hard to make good minimalism. I think about 90% of Philip Glass's works are fairly boring (I love his Dracula soundtrack, however). As for Dada, I am not offended by it, just profoundly bored by it. It's not provacative to me, it just makes me want to go to sleep. The more someone says, wringing their hands, "Ho ho, look at these paraplegic people having sex with cow corpses over an American flag with the words 'no nukes' written on it! Hah! And I'm gay! And Republicans are evil!" the more I want to shrug my shoulders and go to Hardees for a thickburger. I don't go pasty, mouth agape. I expect that kind of stuff. Now, if an artist drew a landscape with children laughing and holding hands, then I would worry. What I want to expect are profound statements that catch me by surprise, make me think, and dig into my soul. When I go in to a museum and see a page torn out of a Playboy with the words "racism is wrong" written on the butt of the centerfold, I shudder to think that it's probably worth more than my car, and then I blink, sniff a few times, and move on to the next gallery. As for Avante Garde that I like, I love Salvador Dali. I love Surrealism. However, Salvador Dali's paintings impress me on a technical level as well as being wacked out. They aren't that engaging to me on an intellectual level (except his pseudo religious stuff, which very strangely gets used on the covers of a a lot of Christian books as those paintings were not from a traditional Christian viewpoint. But, I digress), but I love the detail in them, and his optical ollusions are awesome. Oh, and yes, making interesting 12 tone music is super hard. Frank Zappa tried and quit. Aaron Copland eventually left it. If you want to hear an interesting spin on 12 tone music, check out Ron Jarzombek's compositions. His website is ronjarzombek.com. He's also probably one of the best living guitarists.


That's all fine and good, but you understand about mixed media, right? Again, the two "art" pieces you cite *aren't mixed media* (well, the pink one might have been).

Because mixed media is used very frequently by a lot of people, I have to disagree with you that it's a haven for the untalented. That's like saying America is a haven for liberals. Just because there are a lot of liberals in America doesn't mean there's a direct relationship there. Likewise, just because mixed media attracts its share of bad artists doesn't mean it caters to their uncreative-ness. The reason so many things (good and bad) get classified as mixed media is because as soon as you use more than one medium in a composition, it becomes mixed.

The term "mixed media" is wholly independent of style, intent, compositional format, dimensionality, theme, even the media itself.

Also, use paragraph breaks!


No, I know they aren't mixed media, they are installation pieces (Actually, the McDonald's poster was mixed media, it was painted by the person as well as torn up and hung. It was just hard to tell it was painted because the paint she used was nearly identical to the colors already on the poster). The mixed media that annoys me is people making a simplistic sculpture, slapping on some different paints, and then calling it "painted sculpture." The reason I firmly believe that it is indeed a haven for th un-talented is because there are so many areas and mediums that are difficult to work in and get any result, let alone a bad one. Take writing in the Palestrina style for example. To write a late renaissance vocal piece in the idioms of Palestrina takes lots of work and requires a good imagination to make something that follows the rules. It gets even more difficult when one tries to write in more than two voices, let alone 6 or more like Palestrina and others would sometimes do. Hardly anyone even tries to write like that anymore, not just because it's gone out of style, but because it's incredibly hard to get any results out of it, let alone good results (Randall Thompson could, and I recommend his Alleluia, even though it's not entirely in the idioms of Palestrina, it comes as close as most modern composers are willing to get).
And time after time, the only people I see who say they are working in "mixed media," "found art," "installation pieces," are doing horribley conceived and unimaginative crap. You are correct in saying they are rather broad areas, and I imagine even a Giotto fresco could be considered an installation piece. However, just as in "chance music," "serialism," "quotation collage," or other modern types composing, they don't end up (99% of the time) giving more freedom to the genius, they give a forum where the unimaginative can say, "Hey, writing fugues and symphonies are hard. But, I could do a quotation collage!" It is almost always as such when anything is possible. The person who works in the given medium does not exploit all that is available to him, but instead does what is easiest. Geniuses like Charles Ives can do a quotation collage and have it come out as something quasi-interesting. But, most people who do one realize that it means less work. Just like someone who will do an atonal sonata. They don't have to adhere to music theory rules, so they can write a piece in five minutes. Again, there are geniuses in the field, such as Copland, Schoenberg, and Berg, but they are quite the exception rather than the rule.
The reason Bach's music is so transcendental is because he would work in one of the most limiting and challenging forms available to him, to see if he could make musical what was not inherently musical: the canon. It's hard to write a good canon, especially with all the rules one must adhere to, but Bach could write incredibly emotional and moving canons, even making it harder on himself by imposing restrictions such as diminution, agmentation, retrograde, follower at another interval than an octave, inversion, etc. It gave his genius room to flourish. He had to think about everything he was doing.
It's the same as in math class when we must solve very difficult equations with many restrictions and rules. We must use all our brainpower within the restrictions given to come up with a result. There's never a "free math" day, when we are given a pile of numbers and told to arrange them in any pattern we see fit. There would certainly be a genius or two who would make something great out of it, but the average person would flounder, not knowing where to go next. This is my problem with many of the modern mediums, those who teach and practice them simply don't make the most of them, but take the easy way out. It's the same as with the teachers where I am. They don't do difficult, challenging things that require thought, they do the easiest things possible and urge their students to do the same. This really annoys me because while those teachers might have gotten training in traditional disciplines, most of them are not giving that to their students. Instead, they urge them to do things like the afformentioned installation pieces, and things like painted scultpure (which again, in and of itself is fine, but is bastardized so much). There are only a couple of teachers at my school who do work in traditional painting methods, and they are always being sabotaged by the rest of the department, who recently employed a 27 woman with horrendous education and no talent simply because she is a young woman. The students hate it because they want to be challenged by their teachers and they just aren't. And when the students stand there to have their paintings critiqued, they are criticized for working in painting, which to the teachers is a dead medium. The painting teachers put up with this stuff a lot. They get criticized for being dinosaurs and narrow minded, when the most incredibley vicious and narrow minded crap spews out of the mouth of these modern teachers (I mean vicious, the young woman teacher mentioned above called a student's painting incestuous, simply because it was a painting). They don't allow anyone to have a traditional view of the mediums, calling things what they are, or allowing there to be definitional boundaries so people can tell what's what. They call painted sculpture, "paintings." Painting takes a two-dimensional flat surface and creates the illusion of depth, another world, a window that we can look through. Even the most abstract painting (which I do like, if well executed) is about this. But, the teachers here blur the lines so they don't have to think. Again, I understand what you're saying, and you're right that I shouldn't be so hard on *good* mixed media, *good* avante garde, or *good* installation art. But, even though some can do genius punk music (The Clash), it is still a haven for the untalented. So I see it with mixed media, found art, and other mediums of the sort. I hope it's different in other parts of the country. But, what I've seen here, the more broad the working area, the dumber the results.
You are an intelligent fellow, and artistically inclined, so I imagine you can work well with such freedom. But, as you also know, there plenty of hacks who gravititate towards this stuff because it's harder to tell what's crap and what's good. The average person can see what the difference is between a good oil-painted portrait and a bad one. It's hard even for experienced people to tell what good found art is and what bad found art is.

Here're a couple of things I disagree with.

1. You can't compare math and art. Period. Don't even try. A "free mathday"--while funny in an absurd kind of way--is just plain nonsensical. Math is defined by its rules. Eliminate them, and it's not math anymore. But art is *not* defined by its rules. If it were, we'd still be creatingthe canonical art whose purpose it to tell a story as seen during themiddle ages or roman times, or even ancient Egypt or Greece. There hasbeen no advancement in art without rule breaking. This is opposed to mathwhere new rules are invented (or discovered, if you will) while the old rules still apply. Naturally the old rules still "apply" in art--if your intent is to do something in the style where certain rules are required and you follow them. But that's not the only way of doing things. Analogies between math and art don't work.

2. In many cases, you equate "difficult" with "good". People are taking the easy way out, not working to their potential; their art is crap. Geniuses of the craft are looking for restrictions, challenging themselves to do the best they can; their art is fantastic. Why is something better art if it's hard to do? I agree that often, difficult art is better, but just because something is easy to do, does this make it bad?

3. You said:

>>Painting takes a two-dimensional flat surface and creates the illusion of depth, another world, a window that we can look through. Even the most abstract painting (which I do like, if well executed) is about this.

This is NOT what painting is about. Some painting is, but not all. Not even close. You can't generalize as much as you are in this discussion. If you want to talk about a particular type of painting as being about this, fine, define your terms. But this statement is just flat-out wrong.

4. Finally, I'm curious: why do you even care? In a previous email, you said something like bad art is something you just yawn at and move on.

>From Hamlet: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

Despite this (and, no, I'm not calling you a lady, just taking a quote to illustrate a point), you go out of you way to write these very long, in-depth essays about the downfall of traditional art in modern society. Why?

Frankly, when I see bad art in galleries, I don't care. I don't feel threatened. This is opposed to seeing bad writing get published. When that happens I very much feel threatened and annoyed, as evidenced by the number and strength of Not A BlogT entries I've written on bad science fiction and fantasy.

But when you get right down to it, most bad avant garde art exists in its own universe, seperated by opinion, not to mention location, from ordinary people. (This is why bad writing annoys me--it is popular with a great number of ordinary people whom, I believe, should know better.) But bad art is no threat to me because, as long as it is sufficiently bad, no one will take it seriously (as they shouldn't), and the artist will forever be trapped in a lackluster existence of producing just enough bad art to survive, if that. The worst of them get government grants, but that's a different topic.

The point is: art that is bad hangs around with other art that is bad, out of the limelight. Sure it might be worth something, but even if one person buys a piece of art for thousands of dollars, it doesn't mean that's what it's worth. The first purchasers might be the only ones willing to pay that much.

Finally, I'm willing to bet that a vast majority of the art at your school is worth precisely zero, including the faculty pieces on display. Just because it's in a gallery doesn't mean it's worth anything whatsoever. In fact, many times art is in a gallery just *because* it's not worth anything. If it were worth something, it would be hanging in someone's living room. This is especially true for art schools. If you want to see real art, go to a real art gallery.

I would contend that math and art can be compared. So much of art is based in mathematical principles, whether one talks about the visual arts or music. Case in point, for visual arts, Botticelli made amazing paintings that relied on geometrical figures, which is central to its beauty. A fugue by Bach (ok, a fugue by anyone, really) reveals much of the mathematical mind of the person who wrote it: the symmetry of form, the balance, the interval relationships. The most obvious comparison is in the music of Schoenberg, where the music appears to have been produced by a giant calculator, especially Serialism (which, much as I don't like Serialism, it is still music, though it's getting close to the boundary). Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky is patterned after a cathedral's architecture, relying on geometrical form for its construction. As you say, remove the rules and it's not math anymore. Completely correct. Same with art. Yes, within the specific mediums there is so much subjective freedom, the same way there is more than one way to solve a given math problem, or to arrive at a proof. But, blur the lines, destroy the unique and special properties of given mediums, and they become meaningless and lose their timeless value. The rules are there to show what can be done, not simply what can't. Heck, there are mathemeticians that spend their lives analyzing sound frequiencies, trying to figure out why certain things are pleasing to the ear, trying to find a perfect tuning system, or what bracing will make a guitar soundboard resonate better. Advancements have been made, or simply changes? Aesthetics have been around for thousands of years, so while styles may change, such as Baroque giving way to Classical, what's beautiful and daring pretty much stayed the same. Bach used chromaticism long before it was in vogue, and is just as disturbing to the unjaded ear as it was then. Chromaticism has always suggested the same things, it's just that people use it more now. Plato wrote on what different types of sounds in music would do to a person's mood. The tools have not changed, really, and while rule breaking (necessary as it is in many cases) really just leads to a change of style which is based on a culture's own preferences. Beethoven used parallel fifths, which were against the rules of composing according to the Baroque ideals. However, it is precisely because of their effect, which had been known of since, and even used during, the Medieval. Heck, Bach, the quintessential Baroque composer used parallel fifths when it suited him. Was he still firmly in the Baroque idioms? Yes. He did nothing in a Classical style, yet he broke that rule. Debussy broke many rules for his pieces. Yet, he himself said that one need training to know how to break them effectively. The rules are always there to show what certain things will do, and are not a list of thou shalt nots. I am trying right now to learn to compose in the Palestrina style, which requires hard work as it has many rules. I am going to learn them, and then learn how to break them. Palestrina occasionally broke some of the rules, but not many, because he wanted a certain sound, a sound that his era considered good. Then, in the Baroque, they tried to go back to the Palestrina style, but did so with their culture's ears, and it ended up sounding Baroque. So, it was actually worse, in that sense. It was merely different music from a different era, and couldn't really be mixed with theirs. Was the Baroque music better? Only if one liked it more. Was it more complex? In many cases, no. Some of the most difficult keyboard and lute music ever written comes from the late Renaissance, from composers such as William Byrd and John Dowland. It wasn't an advancement, it was a shift in what was valued about certain note patterns. What sounded good to the Renaissance ear, did not necessarily to the Baroque ear. The idioms that the Baroque composers used already existed for the most part, the Renaissance composers just didn't like them. Once composers grew tired of the Renaissance idioms, they latched onto new ones. Or at least, unused ones. The idea that the music was getting better is actually a large reason why we don't have much of an idea as to Baroque performance practice. The Classicists thought they were the pinnacle of musical evolution and completely forgot and did away with Baroque performance idioms. It's a shame that so much unpublished Baroque music was lost during the Classical because the performers of the time gave little to no credence as to their worth. I apologize for making it sound like I equate difficult with good. I do enjoy virtuosity, but that's not all that exists in the musical world. Much of the world's most beautiful music are simple folk tunes, study pieces, or slow Adagios. It all depends on what's difficult about a given piece of art. Someone can take hours of painstaking work and composing to create a piece that a child could play. Case in point, Bach's Minuet in G. It is a very easy piece that anybody who's taken a year of piano can play. But, it belies wonderful craftsmanship that is the product of many hours of intense training. It takes, in my opinion, such training to make something simple that's worth anything. Conversely, a five year old could write something that the greatest virtuosos in the world could not play, simply because it requires things the player may not have, such as twelve fingers, inexhaustible lung capacity, etc. John Cage wrote a piece called One8. It is a Cello piece that only cellists with a bow that can play four strings at once and fingers big enough for the stretches can play. It is, unfortunately, typical John Cage: boring, long, easy to make, much of it left to the discretion of the performer. So much so, that he almost didn't write it. Everything is concept without depth. Ideas without execution to match are just that: ideas. However, it seems that the more someone is into a given field, the more complex things they will enjoy within that medium. Easyness must have context. If everything someone does is easy to produce, then what are they doing? Generally things that are easy to produce have little to no thought behind them and are not provocative or interesting. Pieces such as "Fountain" are not timeless and transcendant because of this. Clever as it is, that's all that is. Duchamp did that stuff, from his own admission, because he couldn't paint. He even laughed at his own followers that took it so seriously. "Fountain" makes a comment on something very much of the time and does it in an easy and obvious way. But, people still emulate it.
Goya's painting of the Napoleanic War was time specific, but he portrayed it in a way that represented the timelessness of the man's inhumanity to man. It required great skill and was (and is) a masterpiece. Now, he has some very simple drawings, but they belie the fact that he is capable of incredibly complex things, as evidenced by the technique involved in them. So, in that sense, they have context. The problem is that most of the works I see are very temporal, making comments on things that are going on today in a way that's easy for the viewer, regardless of training or cultural background, to comprehend. Now, this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Most people can probably glean the message of Goya's above mentioned work. However, the comment is expansive and subtle, drawing the viewer in to a moment in history that has universal ramifications. Today's art doesn't do that. It pokes fun, makes a wry comment, but the joke is over as soon as its told. Much of this also has to do with a denial of indivudual meduim's unique and special properties.
Painting for example. When mixed with other media, it loses it's uniquness. When a 3 dimensional object is introduced in a painting, it ceases to be a painting and becomes something else. The metaphorical is lost and literal is introduced, thereby eliminating the need to think. Because if a painting is not about its plasticity, then what is it about? Of course, plasticity is a painting's ability to bounce the viewer between two realities; his own, and the painter's. Even an abstract painting, if done with cool colors gives the illusion of distance. Parchment the illusion of age. Warmer colors give the illusion of life and closeness. The paint becomes transubstantiated in the hand of the artist, it becomes blood, or rock, or water. This is medium specific, and destroyed when mixed with other media. If someone wants to mix the media, fine, they may do so. They may do as much found art as they like. The problem is, most of the country (except New York, where painting is coming back), does take this stuff seriously, especially the art students who areinterested in being a part of a community and sharing feelings and beliefs, not about making transcendental art. Therapy art holds no interest for me. Neither does issue art. They don't last, and they never will. Even Picasso's Blue Period paintings, born out of misery, were not simply therapy for him, and weren't even about him and his struggles. He was more interested in timeless truths, conditions, eternal struggles. Today's art is based on opinions, which are fleeting. It is born out of peoples' desire to change rather than add to. Rather than building on the past, they scoff at it. To sum up, (I know I've taken a lot ink... uh, paper... um, ones and zeros), I am bothered that most of the country's art departments take stuff that is supposed to be whimsical seriously, force their opinions on those that want to build upon and contribute to the traditions of the past, and obliterate definitions designed to help, enlighten, and guide. The problem is that most of them think they are being independent and tolerant, though those that don't follow their "new" way are considered dinosaurs and old hat. This is changing a little bit with the authentic music scene, and painting coming back in large cities, but the rest of country needs change. If people want to do John Cage and Marcel Duchamp type stuff, they have all the right in the world to do so. I just don't want them calling it art, telling me I need to change, and telling me that their chance compositions are as musically valid as the Goldberg Variations.

I'm giving Ted the last word this time, mostly because I don't feel like typing anymore.
There is something we disagree on completely and I don't think we're going to resolve it with discussion or a thousand more. But it's good because at least it'll make us think about what art *is*, which isn't something I've done much of.

First of all, certainly math and art can be *compared*--anything can be compared to anything else. What I meant was that art and math are not analogous in the way that you tried to make a comparison two emails ago. Art has mathematical elements, of course, even if these elements are subconscious. This is the basis of aesthetics which says that certain proportions are more beautiful or pleasing to the mind than others. But this fact alone does not mean they can be compared in the sence of rules, right and wrong, etc.

The rules of art are not just in place to improve aesthetics. As you said, some rules exist to define a style. This is true even when the rules serve to hamper the aesthetics of the finshed work. The "rules" of aesthetics--what makes something look pretty or not pretty--have not changed in thousands of years and, arguably, are hard wired into our brains. The rules of art have changed, often leading to new things which may or may not be aesthetically pleasing. No one can argue that a painting with correct perspective is more beautiful than, say, a medieval manuscript with no perspective, even though the latter breaks the rules of perspective. Likewise, you also cannot argue that a picture done today which breaks the rules of perspective is less beautiful or valid artistically than one with correct perspective, even though the rules of perspective are now clearly understood, whereas in the medieval times they hadn't been discovered yet.

But here is what I think is the real crux of the whole debate. We have two different definitions of what constitutes art. From our writings so far, I've gathered:

You believe that it is the craftsmanship and aesthetics that define a piece of work as art. You believe that great art is independent of context and is universally recognized as being art.

I believe that it is the ideas and context which defines a piece of art. I also believe that pleasing aesthetics, while enhancing a piece, are not necessary as to whether or not something is art.

>From both of us, I can come up with examples which support this. Let's take our favorite piece that we love to debate (and love to hate), Cage's 4'33".

Taken out of context, it is, literally, nothing. There aren't any notes. You can't play it for someone. Because of this, you argue, it's not music. It's not aesthetically pleasing because it doesn't have any aesthetics at all. There is no craftsmanship involved. As soon as Cage thought of the idea, the piece was done. No skill to play; no skill to write. Nothing. Not music.

On the other hand, I'm looking at the idea behind it. Taken out of context, no, it's not music. But the context of 4'33" is that you're sitting in a concert hall, there's a piano on stage, and a pianist comes out and sits in front of it. Any person would expect tones to be generated by the pianist via the piano, shortly. But it never comes, because the point is to hear the silence of the music hall: scuffles, polite coughs reverberating through the venue, the uncomfortable squeak of
a chair. I consider it music because it is the logical conclusion of writing a piece with nothing but rests, with the intent to highlight something other than the music iteslf.

Is it aesthetically evocative? No, not really. It's not really anything.

But the *concept* behind it and the *context* in which it's presented make
it music to me.

Let's do another. Duchamp's fountain.

This one you haven't come out yet and actually said "this is not art". Maybe you're thinking it, but that's moot, anyway. You've compared it to other pieces that are undeniably art, asking "what has happened to our art?"

Boiling this down to its very basics (at the risk of gross oversimplification) we get the following:

Paul's standpoint:
Craftsmanship: None. Duchamp didn't make it.
Aesthetics: Very Little. It's a toilet, for cryin' out loud. I don't
want to look at that.
Conclusion: Not art, or only art because it's so well known now, not
because it's any good.

Ted's standpoint:
Concept: High. A reaction against established art "stuffiness". Funny.
Context: Art Gallery.
Conclusion: Art, whether you like it or not.

This is an intellectual view, of course. Intellect vs. emotion.
Emotionally, the previous two examples aren't really art. They shock and annoy. Intellectually, many things not typically considered art must be considered as art, not to mention the idea that comes into play that one cannot truly appreciate the art unless you know its background, history, and context.

Neither of these views is right or wrong, but I think mine is more defensible. It certainly makes it easier to dismiss "art" which appears, for all practical purposes, to be actual art.

For example, I read an article a while ago about an elephant painting. The paintings weren't *bad*. Abstract, but nothing that you couldn't find something similar to in the MoMA. The article went on about how "art isn't just a human thing, we have to revise our definitions of what makes us human, blah blah blah." Gut reaction: not art.

If you're looking at it in a gallery, it does look like art. You'd have no idea. Bad, rather stupid art. "My 5 year old could do this" kind of art. But art nonetheless.

But if you know the history, it's easy to say from an intellectual point of view, "this is not art". Context: art gallery. Okay, that's a start. But the idea behind the art? The reason, the motivation? There isn't one because it was done by an elephant. Or perhaps there is one, but since we can't know the mind of the elephant, we can't really know. On this point, I can say definitively, not art. At least not until we know more about pachyderms.

The problem with trying to define art as stying within certain rules or by having certain physical qualities, is that you'll always have pieces that just straddle the edge.

I know you're not saying this, but just as an example: if someone said "John Cage's 4'33" isn't music because it doesn't have notes." Someone else can say, "okay, if he wrote another peice called "A flat" which consisted of the pianist playing a single A flat for two seconds, then it is music because it has a note." (I don't know if he did something like this or not; I'm just making it up.) Anyway, I think you would think that it is also not music, or at least very much stretching the definition.

So, there it is, folks, a debate about what constitutes art! Form you're own opinions! As long as they're good!