Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Should Art Make You Uncomfortable?

I read Ann Althouse's blog on a regular basis, largely because she talks about a wide range of things, nearly all of which I don't talk about. She also has a good comment section. Very occasionally she writes about music. This recent post is an example: "This is the definition of art that has always most excited me: the feeling of being taken to the boundary of the universe, then beyond that boundary..."

Go read the whole post. The quote is from this article in The Atlantic. Here is the whole paragraph:
This is the definition of art that has always most excited me: the feeling of being taken to the boundary of the universe, then beyond that boundary into the surrounding darkness, and you’re the first person to ever be there. It’s not an experience that happens very often, but I’m willing to wait. I’ve never been someone who’s enjoyed music in general, or contemporary fiction in general, or films in general, or theater in general. I feel I’m standing on the runway waiting for the next big one to come in, carrying some of that outer darkness with it.
That is something that resonates with my understanding. It also echoes some comments Jordan Peterson has made about art, that artists are those people who go out into the darkness (the chaos) surrounding the comfortable fire of society and discover/gather new things and ideas to inspire artworks. In case you don't know it, here is the first track from the album Bitches Brew released in 1970. I think I bought it on vinyl the year it came out.

This was certainly an influential album and quite an experimental one. Ann brings in the fields of comedy, religion and politics, asking if they should also make you uncomfortable. I guess my view is that some art (comedy, religion and politics) certainly should make you uncomfortable, but not all. A lot of people listen to music, not to be made uncomfortable, but to be soothed. Similarly with religion and politics. Comedy I am less sure of. I'm not sure if uncomfortable is the right word for what I look for in music. Again, different musics provide different kinds of experiences. I think what I look for is music that takes us somewhere, on a journey, perhaps. It doesn't have to take us to an uncomfortable place, just a different one. If that place is interesting and unusual and unfamiliar, then the journey was particularly successful. But the experience of most people with most music is probably that of comfort and familiarity! That is often what we look for. And when we get bored with it, then we look for the new and unusual and will tolerate some discomfort. It is always a bit uncomfortable to stretch yourself, but usually a very healthy thing to do.

Here are three pieces of music that may make different listeners a bit uncomfortable. The first one is "All of the Lights" by Kanye West that is very likely to make classical listeners very uncomfortable:

Next is something that would apparently drive away "loiterers" from outside 7-Elevens, Concerto No. 3 from L'Estro Armonico by Antonio Vivaldi:

And finally something that would make most listeners uncomfortable unless they are in that small group that seeks out this kind of thing: Eight Songs for a Mad King, by Peter Maxwell Davies:

1 comment:

Will Wilkin said...

Some years I like Bitches Brew more than others, it depends on my musical state of mind. That jazz fusion stuff offered a lot of interesting explorations of where virtuosic players could take rock and jazz beyond the riffs of straight rock. I have dozens of Miles Davis albums, but don't play them much these last few years.