Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Deconstructing Towers

So I'm currently in Vienna, Austria, a grand old city whose walls and capitalistic monoliths (read: buildings) have centuries of history embedded in them.Of course, I am gathering about some high rolling Vienna life experience, namely, going to very nice and very old art galleries. Imagine a four story palace, filled with paintings. This building no doubt contains art from all eons, but the section I was examining one, fine, cold Austrian morning, contained almost exclusively 16th and 17th century paintings. The level of technical ability present in the paintings was extremely high. The  attention to detail, contrast, depth and general craftsmanship was all very impressive. These paintings had a life like quality.

We're talking about 16th and 17th  century paintings reach a technical peak. I'm sure painting, in terms of pure skill, hasn't reached it's ultimate limit yet, but it seems that by the 17th century art was at a high level of technical excellence. So what happens if the only place to go is down? Well, it may have taken a few centuries, and perhaps several other important factors, but it seems like a big motivator in the more abstract and unusual artistic styles that dominated the early 20th century's artistic landscape. Cubism, expressionism and abstract art all began to be on the rise. In this movement, their appears to be a shift away from pure technical ability towards more abstract and more intellectual focuses. Art that used to focus on depiction of events evolved to be concerned with ideas and meaning (or lack thereof). Indeed, many people who remain skeptical of say, Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko can often be heard retorting "but I could have done that", these people have utterly and completely missed the point. Art here, by which I mostly mean paintings, became about expression or evocation, emotional or intellectual. While it would be naive and dangerous of me to say that art in 16th and 17th century did not also have similar aims, by stripping away the aesthetic virtue of something, by making it not conform to standard ideas of beauty and pleasantness, we can engage with ideas more directly, and more purely. We ask "this is unpleasant. Why?", or if we find these distilled and abstract objects enticing, we once again are forced to ask questions.

With music, it reached its apex around a similar time. Sure shredding didn't really become a thing until the 70s, but there are many pieces from 16th and 17th century that require dexterity, grace and the fastest Jazz Hands the planet has ever seen. And most of them were compose a few hundred years ago. At some point, also around the start of the 20th century, music was slowly picked apart. John Cage's 4'33" is actually not music in a strict sense, yet in some ways it is completely music (this depends on audience engagement with the piece). A similar counterpoint happened in contemporary music around the 80s. A lot of music in the 70s had at least some technical focus, the rise of progressive bands like Genesis and Yes, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the origins of Shred music all are distinctly 70s thing. One decade later noise, musical deconstruction at its purest, was becoming a distinct aspect of music. Bands like Fugazi, Big Black, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr all incorporated noise (elements of feedback, and so on) into thier songs and definitely their live sets. By the 90s, noise was a widely accepted aspect of popular music, provided it didn't interfere with our standard song structure. Nirvana had some very noisy songs, and nosier live sets and thier influence on modern music, in all aspects is tremendous (you'll be surprised how many bands are working on their cover of Tourette's, right now).

Of course, total noise 'music' still exists on the fringe, but the presence of musical deconstruction has touched most elements of modern music. Likewise, elements of 20th century abstract art has had a definitive influence  on the course of 'modern art'. It would be naive to attribute changes in any social system to a singular cause, but it seems like part of the technical decline of 'art' would have something to do with the high levels of skill reached at certain epochs, and this deconstruction and shift of focus away from talent has become an important part of the modern world. 

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