This blog is a stream of thoughts to understand how I could set criteria to improve my work. I will write about my philosophy from a personal viewpoint. I am not a philosopher, but I have always known what I want to compose and why.
Let’s go back in time and review these remarks:
“Every good composer has a philosophy” ….T. Trachsel (2018)
“How do you know your composition is finished?”Co-student (2019)
I have always had this ‘vision’ what to write and what not to write. Visions, philosophies, can help people set goals and find paths, but they can also become an incarcerating dogmas that limit creative freedom. So, be careful about philosophies, but also brutally honest: The only way to become a better composer.
I started composing out of personal frustration that ‘my musical world’ had been taken over by mathematicians. I do not want to play dissociative, formless and emotionless music, distorted like the women painted by Picasso. It’s very painful to be ‘objectified’ for women, as well as for music. And I am not the only one thinking this: Despite all the efforts in avandgardic music, there are no crowds for it.
My most important criterium: Do I want to bring my mother?
What is my philosophy? New Kitsch?
When I met people judging my music and forming opinions about it, I discovered that the current ‘modern art’ philosophy doesn’t work with my own vision. My music consists of old fashioned story-lines, emotions, drama, catharsis. I made the worst choice ever: I am composing Kitsch. And I consciously chose that. From the start.
Worst critique today: “You make Kitsch! “
So, yes I need a personal philosophy, to be able to be very clear about what I make and why to myself. So I can set criteria important to me to judge and improve my work. And be very clear to critics later on.
Thanks to the World Wide Kitsch Movement, I got some pretty good ideas how to form standards that help me judging my own music for further improvement. World Wide Kitsch is a group of figurative painters who try to hold up to the standards of the ‘old masters’, like Rembrandt.
It seems, I am not the only one trying to figure out, how we got into this ‘modern art’ movement, where craft is not really appreciated, where ‘status’ is maybe more important than ‘honest craftsmanship’?
Be it music, pantings, sculptures … when you want to make something that appeals to the feeling, irrational heart rather than the rational, calculating brain…you are screwed!
But let’s be honest, let’s look at this painting and ask ourselves: what is ‘wrong‘ with this painting that even the artist decided to call it, but proudly so, ‘Kitsch’? And how do we know this is not ‘modern art’? What to judge? Why judge? Judging has always to do with ‘good’ and ‘bad’, does that work in art? (I think not, read more about ‘there is only music‘)
Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel introduced the following ideas which have been maxims for artists and art-historians since the late 19th century. Thinking about these ideas will make us aware of the pitfalls we fell into, when we decided to go along with this view on art.
Let’s explore the idea’s by which we judge art today, and make some remarks along the way:
- Art is a subjective experience: This means that we cannot judge the quality of a work of art in a group discussion. There will never be a general consent on art possible by definition. Only individuals can judge for themselves. Yet, there is consensus about certain paintings being art ‘for sure’. Like those of Rembrandt. This doesn’t add up.
- Great Art has a general quality: Is there a definition of ‘general quality’? Can one subjective person judge the general quality of the artwork? If so, who? The art-critic? The artist? The artists mother? Can we produce a definition of ‘general quality’ when we have only millions of subjective truths for everybody individually? Point 1 and 2 don’t add up.
- Great Art is made by a Genius: Remember all that great white male composers? Ill, frustrated, unpopular, turned down lovers? Would they not be looking for recognition and fame? Writing, performing, even assigning all these alarmingly great, monstrous works with huge orchestras for which we had to build special theatre’s? Were that geniuses at work? Were they in honest struggle to compose real music? Or were they looking for ‘status’? Also: who decides who is a genius? The subjective individual? The audience applauding the general quality? The paying-the-bills-person?
- The quality of great Art is independent from the form it presents: Yes, when all art-forms are equal. (No, when the internal form of the artwork is meant. Without FORM, there is no great composition. It cannot be done, there is no way for the brain to follow the music when it has no FORM. I have explained that in my blog on music as a memory-game)
- Great Art cannot be taught: This is because a ‘Genius’ wrote this philosophical statement and ‘Geniuses’ can’t teach very well. Geniuses use their ‘talent’, they don’t have to explain music to themselves to understand it and make it better. The best composers, let’s think about John Williams, are not the best teachers. They are bad teachers, because of their talent.
- Great Art is original: Due to the wiring of the brain, this cannot be true. The brain needs previously consumed cultural ideas to put art into perspective, to process and understand it. So, there is always a cultural history involved in the (especially the subjective) viewer/listener experiencing art. This is why modern art often has explaining texts about the idea behind it, the brain cannot pick up this idea by itself from the artifact. (More about anchors helping the brain process music.) I don’t think original art exists by definition.
- Great Art shows us something new: First: Yes AND it should stay understandable in the context of the history of the art-form. I think that music can add new elements, but still we have to keep the listeners with us, make them feel comfortable. Atonal music does not do that on its own. (See 6) Second: In the end, people relate only to the honest struggle of the artist. And they can only relate to that when they experienced something like that themselves. They like the ‘known, not new element’ in music best. (More about this in my blog about Drag Queens)
- Great Art must not be too sensuous: Haha! No!? Really?? No Nymphs??? Ok, let’s have fun and walk the female route here: Let’s say that in those times women weren’t considered mature adults. But we were dangerous, girls! Seducing all those married men! As pictures! That .. men ordered for their ‘cigar-rooms’, who are we fooling here?
- Great Art is great regardless of what it represents: I like this idea, but it could lead to the question whether you should make political art or not. I don’t know the answer to that. I think the art you make will always reflect, who you are, rather than the opinion you have.
- Great Art is great because it has soul/spirit: In regard to music, in the end, people only hear the honest struggle of the composer. For me, this explains why I hear the composer when I listen to music: I hear the honest struggle of the soul. It doesn’t really matter if you know everything about counterpoint. You could know it all, and still not write real music that people can relate to. People like playing ‘Willem de Zwijger’, but it is one of my first compositions, it’s technically not my best work. Still, it is one of the most honest works I wrote. The downside of this notion is, again, who decides whether it has soul? (Point 1)
- The development is a continuous line of pre-determent ideas: This means that, impressionism was destined to succeed naturalism and expressionism was destined to follow after that. In this mindset, creating something so called “Old fashioned” in the 21th century is outrages, it is not right – it is not the time for that now – it is kitsch. I think that music like the ‘Mattheus Passion’ by J.S. Bach shows that great art is timeless. The honest struggle of people, what they love, that they get ill, that there is an end to it all, is the same since the beginning of times. I think that music that represents the honest struggle of the artist will always meet with passion from the audience, because people will understand it, relate to it, feel it and share the emotion that the music makes.
The important things in life are the same for all people of all times.
How do you know the work is finished?
I like working in a more scientific way, setting learning goals every composition, writing lessons learned after the project is finished and setting new goals for my next work. So this idea of setting some criteria for judging my own work and think about how to strive for improvements is a good idea. (Read more about science and art.)
There are objective standards for improvement. This is the important message of my philosophy: New Kitsch.
You have to learn from the masters, before improving the art itself. There must be ‘technique’ and ‘projection of the intention, the feeling, the goal in the artifact’.
Being able to do that best, means you first learn from the masters: the craft is important and objective criteria can be set according to their experience. The artist can take it from there and improve. For my personal life, this means that studying ‘partimenti’ is a good way to learn the craft from the masters.
I always ‘know’ when a composition is finished, but how? Am I a genius? No. Is it naive? Yes. And without improvement, the work of the artist ends… when? Is it already perfect the first take? No.
How do I know that this is my best possible version of this work knowing what I know today?
Maybe I can always improve my work, not stopping when I feel it is finished, but judge it by some well chosen criteria? So I can learn from this composition, that I feel is finished, and improve my next one by studying it?
For example, I started conducting my own music to ‘feel’ where it can be improved and found tons of opportunities for improvement. These works were ‘finished’ and still, there was room for improvement.
But we have to remember the experiment with the vases: It is better to make the most vases than the best. Quantity production teaches you the most. Improving 1 composition your whole life is not the way to improve you skill, craft and experience.
In art there is always room for improvement.
In order to improve fast, you have to produce.
A personal drive to improve your project, doesn’t mean you are egoistic per se. You are that, when you improve towards the wishes of accepted art to be applauded by bystanders: when you stop composing ‘Nymphs’, because they are ‘sensuous’.
Remember: The composer is all the way down, initiating all the hard work done by others. The composer has to respect the musicians, and carefully think about the notes written down, because hours and hours of practice are going into the composition by a lot of people. And listeners spend hours of their life on your music. Respect them, respect music.
Count the ‘fun-hours’ you created as a composer and you will be fine.