Saturday, October 5, 2013


Here is how connoisseur is defined:


a person who is especially competent to pass critical judgments in an artparticularly one of the fine arts, or in matters of taste: a connoisseur of modern art.
a discerning judge of the best in any field: a connoisseur of horses.

We accept the concept in a number of areas, though we may not use this exact word. Someone who really knows about sheets, things like what "300 thread count" means; someone who really knows about baseball and can tell you everything there is to know about the knuckleball; someone who knows the difference between the New York bagel recipe and the Montréal bagel recipe; someone who can tell the difference between a St-Estèphe and a Pauillac and which are the best recent vintages--and on and on. In most areas of life that have a material foundation connoisseurship is recognized.

Robert Parker makes a very good living selling his wine newsletter which is based entirely on his expertise with wine. There are art dealers who do the same with modern art. And I don't think that when we rely on the advice of someone who writes about computer security or stock trends or kitchen design that it is so entirely different. The idea of competence and discernment and judgement is a common one and we normally don't question that competence can exist.

Now here is the odd thing: in recent decades the idea of judgment in aesthetic areas has come under considerable attack: all taste is subjective, we are told; everyone's taste is equally valid; there is no disputing in matters of taste and so on. Music is an area where it seems the battle has long been lost. In a world where all the important news in music seems to center around how many hundreds of millions of dollars Jay-Z is worth or the latest regarding Miley Cyrus, it seems that things are in a bad way!

But why is it that when it comes to anything material, from sheets to kitchens to wine to car design, we readily accept competence and discernment but when it comes to music we refuse to admit that they are even possible? Isn't it passing strange that aesthetic evaluation of a new BMW is perfectly ok, but aesthetic evaluation of music is taboo? Is this just another unintended consequence of the 1960s? Shouldn't we be a bit ashamed that in the 1700s, in those dark days before the French Revolution, music was designed to be subtle, inventive and moving, but now, the most prominent music seems to be designed only to be twerked to?

What do I think? I think that Haydn, in any one of his symphonies, showed more musical quality and discernment than was exhibited in a whole MTV Video Awards show.

What do you think?


Rickard Dahl said...

I don't need to watch the MTV Video Awards show to know that it doesn't have any real musical value. They (whoever is involved in making this sort of music) don't care about its' aesthetic value. If they did care they maybe would get something decent. It's all about image, especially negative image.

Bryan Townsend said...

And sales, don't forget them!