or: A Musician Grumbles About the State of the Avant Garde and Radio
What does it mean to have an avant garde which expects to receive grants to produce their art? If they submit to the approval of committees or administrators how can they be avant garde? It used to be that an avant garde artist expected to have a day job to support their art. They knew that their art was not going to be a financial success and that it wouldn’t be supported by foundations or the government. They produced their art for many reasons. Expecting to become rich was a pipedream of many of them but it obviously wasn’t their first motive or they’d have gone into finance.
As a musician, I’ll point out that non-support is taken as a given by us in most circumstances. Arnold Schoenberg’s great opera Moses Und Aron* exists without its final act because he couldn’t get a grant to give him the ‘leisure’ to finish it. And he was one of the most famous composers in the world at the time. Funding situations have changed and it is more common for composers to get some kind of grant support but it is far from the typical method of a composer earning their living. It never has and almost certainly never will be the major source of support for most musicians’ work. No one pays us to practice.
Visual artists who produce a thing that can be owned, shown off easily and sold at a profit have a much higher status than their equivalent in music. I’m talking about non-commercial music, mind, what the late and wonderful Arthur Berger puckishly referred to as “unpopular music”, when asked what kind of music he wrote. So visual artists get a lot more attention from the media and, at least in part as a result, from funding sources.
I will mention one of the more absurd consequences of this. NPR in the form of Susan Stramburg** constantly has pieces on about high status visual art, even about art which the average LISTENER probably has no chance of knowing or seeing . This RADIO network does this while ignoring composers of enormous ability and stature. From NPR’s*** work you would never know that the past sixty years in the United States has been a period of one masterwork after another produced by a series of great composers. Even composers of lesser stature are producing work of the highest quality. I would hazard the judgement that never in the history of music has the secondary composer been better. Yet it is only if there is some non-musical reason to pay attention, a Pulitzer, a MacArthur, an anniversary, etc. does National Public RADIO pay attention to an art that it can convey with remarkable fidelity. Susan, I hate to break it to you, yet again, but you cannot string together enough cliches to give people an idea of what something they’ve never seen really LOOKS like. Your attempts are bound to be misleading, you should stop it if the art itself is your subject.
Ok, back on topic.
Really, can you have an avant garde approved by the establishment? The government, for the love of Mike. It isn’t a sin to not be in the avant garde but art needs to have radical artists whose work is box office poison and who know that they’re not working with a net. Isn’t there enough of a smug intelligentsia anymore which wants to be ahead of the critical and commercial curve? Do we have an intelligentsia without any sense of daring? That would explain a lot.
*I am going to be posting a review of a recent recording but dealing with a piece this important and this huge is going to take many listening. This is Schoenberg’s spelling, he had a fear of the number thirteen.
** See my point?
*** Sadly, you can see the same thing in the nyt corp owned Boston Globe these days. You could read a months’ worth of Globes and not realize that Boston was one of the great musical cities of the world. The nyt corp fascination with fashion takes up much more space than serious music coverage since they purged its long term employees. The Globe spends many times more column space on the product of Hollywood than it does its local musicians.
Revised from a post on olvlzl, Monday, September 04, 2006