I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the Arts, and how there is a similar feel to most of them these days. what I am going to say might just make some people say ‘Well, what do you expect from an old person,’ and that’s fine.
First let’s think about Music.
I grew up in a musical family. Although she did not play any instruments herself, my grandmother made sure her daughters learned the piano. She was a bit old-fashioned, I suppose, because her sons did not learn to play any instruments.
Her eldest daughter had a beautiful singing voice. She was a contralto and she had proper training. Her voice had been likened to that of Kathleen Ferrier, a very famous contralto of the time.
She told the tale of being on holiday with her husband and another couple, lifelong friends. They were in a group, on a boat, I think, and the group started singing. A distinguished white-haired man came up to her and gave her his card. He said ‘You have a beautiful voice, my dear. Come to my hotel tomorrow and I can help you get a career in music.’
She said no way was she going to go to the hotel of an unknown man. Who he was she never found out, but her voice was outstanding enough for her to be picked out. She could also play the piano by ear.
My youngest aunt had a music degree and taught the piano as well as music in schools. She played the organ, too. A famous tenor, who sang at the local performance of Handel’s Messiah, said she was one of the best accompanists he’d sung with.
My mother, although she could play the piano and enjoyed singing in a choir, was not exceptional, musically.
When we had family get-togethers, there was always music. We children were encouraged to sing or play and when we did something as a family, it was always in harmony. Everyone, it seemed could harmonise.
I myself learned to play the piano and the violin (or vile din, as my mother called it), and have been in several choirs.
I tell you all this so you can know something of my musical background.
I was listening–no, it came on while I was in the car–to a piece of modern music by Stephen Crowe. It began with a trumpet. the sounds from the trumpet were unmusical to say the least. If it were a child learning to play it would have been unacceptable, but no, this was supposed to be music. I didn’t hear much more because my husband changed the channels.
Much of the modern music of today (and here I’m talking classical) is discordant and atonal. It is not beautiful. To me it grates on my ears. Sometimes it sounds as if the orchestra is just tuning up.
I once heard an interview with a conductor, many years ago, when he was asked if he would be able to tell if a player made a mistake. He said he wouldn’t.
Now the visual arts. I’ve visited galleries of modern art and been singularly unimpressed. I have some minor talent with painting and drawing, and I know how difficult it is to produce a masterpiece. I’ve gazed in awe at the work and talent of the Great Masters.
I sat for a long time in Firenze, looking at Michelangelo’s David, and in the Vatican at his Pieta. Beautiful works, and it took an immense talent to realise them.
Tracey Emin’s unmade bed? The pile of bricks that was in the Tate at one time? A pickled calf, by Damien Hirst?
Speaking of Damien Hirst. Why was a large anatomical model of a human, just like a big version of the ones we had in school, a work of art? The parts weren’t painstakingly carved by Mr Hirst unlike the wonderful marble sculptures I’ve seen, and the bronzes, too.
Paintings of black and white stripes, or a square on a background, whatever the colour are not difficult to do. Similarly the very simple, ‘flat’, childlike paintings many artists do are not greatly difficult. That’s why they are ‘childlike’, of course.
Poetry has gone the same way. Modern ‘poems’ are just prose divided into lines. Yes, they might have ‘poetical language,’ but they have no rhythm. I heard one being read on the radio the other day. I forget the poet, but he might just as well have been reading a bit of prose, because that’s what it sounded like. Poetry MUST have at least rhythm. That’s the most important thing. Rhyme, yes, but I’ll allow for blank verse. I’ve written blank verse myself, but they did have rhythm.
So what am I saying in all this?
It seems to me that art is reflecting life. Music is chaotic and so is the world today. People don’t want to spend large amounts of time doing anything. We are in a world where everything is a rush, so an artist won’t spend years completing a work of art.
Modern cathedrals are stark in comparison to the ones built in the middle ages. We think we don’t have the ‘time’ to spend years and decades building them (except for the Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, of course).
Listen to some Bach and then some modern composer. One is sublime, the other–not.
Look at a painting by Titian or Rembrant. The work and talent that has gone into it is tremendous. Unlike the painting of black and white stripes I saw many years ago in the Fitzwilliam museum, Cambridge.
We have become lazy in our art as in much else in life these days. So much, I think, that much art the majority of people could do. I could put random notes down on a manuscript and say it’s a piece of music, or record random noises for the same thing.
Anyone can paint squares, on a canvas, or drop a pile of bricks, or leave their bed unmade, or cast sheets into a stream. (Yes, I read someone had got a grant to do this very thing.)
Anyone can string words together and call it a poem.
There’s no skill in that. The skill comes in being able to convince everyone else that it’s art. That’s the true art with these people, not in their works.