View Poll Results: Do you believe in total subjectivity concerning the evaluation of music's merits?

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    16 19.51%
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Thread: Do you believe in total subjectivity concerning the evaluation of music's merits?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Allerius's Avatar
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    Default Do you believe in total subjectivity concerning the evaluation of music's merits?

    This is a sister poll to the "do you believe in greatness in music?" one. I decided to rephrase the main question because some members were complaining about a supposed lack of cohesion between what I seemed to intend with that poll's question and what I wrote in it's first post, and this could be used to refute the representativity of the results of that poll in the future.

    So, now making it clear: vote "yes" if you believe that "greatness" in music is purely subjective and, thus, totally relative, depending only on each person's individual response to the process of listening, and vote "no" if you believe that there's more to "greatness" in music than just individual taste, even if you think that artistic value may not be completely objective, and that this value may be difficult or impossible to be measured.
    Last edited by Allerius; Dec-01-2020 at 02:34.
    “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” - Ludwig van Beethoven.

  2. #2
    Senior Member NoCoPilot's Avatar
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    I vote "it depends." Some people think hip-hop is the best music ever put out, and I can't tell 'em they're wrong. But objectively, it's not the most complex or intellectually challenging music out there. Personal taste depends a lot on what you've been exposed to.

  3. #3
    Senior Member JAS's Avatar
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    Again, we have the question as to what greatness would mean. I am never going to override my personal reaction to music based on what someone else says. On the other hand, I am willing to pursue music that I am not familiar with, based on reasonable recommendations from sources that have a track record of making recommendations that my own experience at least roughly agrees with.

    In other words, I don't particularly care if a composer I like or dislike is considered, in a broader sense, to be "great." Ultimately, my own actual response always wins over the recommendation of others, no matter who they are. My goal is to find music that I enjoy, not to pick the next composer who will be famous for a century or more.

    The only advantage to me of following a composer who is broadly considered "great" is that I have a decent chance of finding recordings or performances, and perhaps a range of recommendations within that pool. There are plenty of all-Beethoven concerts, and even festivals, sustained by his general reputation. I am not going to find that for a far more minor composer, like Kalinnikov, no matter how much I may enjoy his fairly small body of orchestral work. (Fortunately for me, I like Beethoven too, and lots of other composers. I am not suffering for want of material.)

    When I first bought a set of symphonies by Glazunov, there was only one set available, which, fortunately, was pretty well done (by Neemi Jarvi, on Orfeo). Typically, I have found recommendations of more modern composers to be disappointing, at best, and I have accordingly grown hesitant in pursuing others. Lots of people think of Shostakovich as one of the "great" composers. I have never warmed to most of his output, so I am comfortable knowing that he just doesn't work for me. I have the same reaction to Stravinsky. I am fortunate to live in the age of terrific recordings that span a broad range of more obscure works that are closer to what I like. (And "newness" has never been an element that I particularly crave. Too often, being entirely new is just a demonstration of why no one ever did it that way before, and probably should not do so that way again.)
    Last edited by JAS; Dec-01-2020 at 00:44.

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  5. #4
    Senior Member Ethereality's Avatar
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    Objective measures tell you what art you might enjoy; for instance, how historically successful compositions are, how influential they were, the sheer availability of them. But once actually exploring art, only subjective measures will tell you if it's any good. You either enjoy it or you don't, and you can gain others' subjective perspectives on works to change your own perspective.

    Unfortunately, many people don't understand the definition of subjective.

    I can't evaluate art or music 'objectively', for there's no objective measure for art. There are some common artistic values amongst people you can tap into and rely on, but that does not make these values objective, for not everyone shares them or can possibly share them: Entropy, the basis for existence, biological diversity, the continual evolution and change of standards, entropy, our ability to think and do anything in the first place, ensures that each human being will never agree or be the same. 'More people' by popularity appreciating something does not indicate any objectivity. Something objective must always be so in the circumstance of its parameters.

    Instead, music serves a temporary purpose. To entertain our biology, our development and metabolism in all its subjective circumstances. There are only objective measures for finding the art and music that more people tend to respond to, but 'more people' having certain similarities cannot make something objective. Each human psyche has been evolved biologically differently and won't ever 'catch up' with the rest, never summing up any objective law of art that goes beyond our perception of what some people have thought at some point in time, nor fully wrapping one's mind around a composer's thought process to be able to know if was great. Entropy is always changing reality away from absolutes. Objectivity in art is a wholly idealistic and not possible scenario. It doesn't even compute into a rational structure of an argument.

    We can only appreciate all the subjective perspectives of others, and when they are similar, it's by symbiological design, a reason for humanity getting along and sharing our similarities.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Dec-01-2020 at 05:49.

  6. #5
    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Woodduck: "I don't see how anyone could see any opposition or incompatibility between "one's chosen, personal assessment of 'greatness'--one's criteria for same--and one's concurrently held conviction of the primacy and validity and authenticity of one's choices and tastes." Doesn't the former assume the latter?

    If your position is misunderstood, it may be because you yourself have proposed that appraisals of art are equivalent to tastes in food."
    "As we recall from many previous iterations of this discussion, that is exactly my position. Ice cream. Fine (or otherwise) wines. I thank you for recalling and invoking for this thread my views linking inextricably the identical-twin concepts of the esthetics of music and art, and the evaluation, grading, judgement of foods, wines, and other comestibles. The parallels are obvious, but the resistance to this similarity among those involved in the specific esthetics of the arts is formidable but understandable, given human nature. It is key to be observed as a knowing and confirming connoisseur of music and the arts."

    This from my most recent post on the other thread.
    Last edited by Strange Magic; Dec-01-2020 at 01:42.

  7. #6
    Senior Member JAS's Avatar
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    Perhaps the wine metaphor is apt. (I don't actually drink wine, so this may not be entirely accurate.) If someone says that a particular wine has a strongly fruity taste, or is very sweet, those are descriptive elements that have a reasonably agreed upon meaning. (It might start to get more dubious if you say that it has notes of nutmeg, although people at least know what nutmeg tastes like, and notes suggests that it is a mild impression.) There are reasonably objective descriptions that can be made about music. The piece is loud, or soft, or parts and loud and parts are soft. It is fast, or slow, or parts are fast and others are slow. It features one or a few instruments very heavily, or it doesn't. We start to push it a bit to say that the music is calming or invigorating, although one might get wide agreement on such points. The real problem is when we get into words like melodic, lovely, beautiful, inspiring, moving, spiritual, most of which have some general sense of a common meaning but have been used (or abused) to cover all kinds of music that ultimately does not live up to the description. This is why it is often a good approach to say that if you like composer-A, you might also like composer-B, who is not necessarily a clone but lives in something like the same world. But ultimately, the work speaks for itself.
    Last edited by JAS; Dec-01-2020 at 02:00.

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  9. #7
    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Let's not forget the polling/voting/mutual affirmation aspects of consensus-building among key audiences to "establish" the objective greatness of works of art. I salute, JAS, your reminding us that there are myriad qualities and quantities of artworks that can be very accurately measured, stated, and agreed-upon. Greatness is, in my view, not one of them.

  10. #8
    Senior Member JAS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    Let's not forget the polling/voting/mutual affirmation aspects of consensus-building among key audiences to "establish" the objective greatness of works of art. I salute, JAS, your reminding us that there are myriad qualities and quantities of artworks that can be very accurately measured, stated, and agreed-upon. Greatness is, in my view, not one of them.
    I think, overall, that the word "great," in whatever form, is just too big (and flexible) a concept to throw out in anything other than a casual sense or a personal response that is extremely favorable. Whenever I hear someone say that something is great, I usually presume that the words "I think" are at least implied.
    Last edited by JAS; Dec-01-2020 at 02:03.

  11. #9
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    "Greatness" can be an "anti-concept" that corrupts thought unless the context is clear. In discussions here, it tends to obscure the complexity of the question of artistic merit or excellence and how that, if it's a real thing, is determined or measured. An assessment of artistic value always entails both intrinsic factors which are permanent parts of the artwork and extrinsic factors which reside in the consciousness of the work's audience.

    Since art is intended to be experienced, humanity's experience of it is a datum that must be considered in forming an adequate view of a work's merits. A work's ability to affect people, over time and across cultural lines, tells us something important about it. But art is also appraised on intrinsic factors such as subject matter, design, inventiveness, originality, and coherence. A work's intrinsic features mainly determine its long-term reception (short-term reception being frequently influenced by other cultural factors), and so, not coincidentally, works seen as having great internal merit tend to be especially well-regarded and enjoyed - and, conversely, works which have given much pleasure to people and inspired critical acclaim over time tend to be recognizably meritorious judged on internal factors.

    The answer to the OP is "no."

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  13. #10
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange Magic View Post
    "As we recall from many previous iterations of this discussion, that is exactly my position. Ice cream. Fine (or otherwise) wines. I thank you for recalling and invoking for this thread my views linking inextricably the identical-twin concepts of the esthetics of music and art, and the evaluation, grading, judgement of foods, wines, and other comestibles. The parallels are obvious, but the resistance to this similarity among those involved in the specific esthetics of the arts is formidable but understandable, given human nature. It is key to be observed as a knowing and confirming connoisseur of music and the arts."
    The resistance to comparing art appreciation to gourmandism resides not only in human nature but in the nature of art. Food is not about anything. Art is, and the means by which it goes about being about something are subject to evaluations having no parallel in the enjoyment of comestibles.

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  15. #11
    Senior Member JAS's Avatar
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    The deal-breaker may be the word "total" in the description since absolutes tend to invalidate a position.

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    Well, as they used to say in ancient Rome "De gustibus non est disputandum ".

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  19. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The resistance to comparing art appreciation to gourmandism resides not only in human nature but in the nature of art. Food is not about anything. Art is, and the means by which it goes about being about something are subject to evaluations having no parallel in the enjoyment of comestibles.
    Yes the appreciation of art isn't really like the appreciation of food or a glass of wine. There are many types of pleasure: pure sensory pleasure, as in when you sink into a hot bath at the end of a long day. But it doesn't tell you anything about the world, its not based on any kind of thinking. We also have intellectual pleasures; the pleasure of following an argument or solving a puzzle. Then there are what might be called intentional pleasures; pleasures that are directed outwards on the world. For example the pleasure you take in giving someone a present, or of watching your child participate in and win a competition. It's a pleasure about, or at something.

    Aesthetic pleasure is of this last kind, it is pleasure at something. It's not like pleasures of taste. When you eat a bowl of strawberry ice cream and take pleasure in it, it's because of a pleasant sensation in your mouth. When you experience a profound work of art and are moved by it, that's not a pleasant sensation anywhere in you. You're pleased at this thing you are experiencing, maybe pleased by it and about what it is saying. But taking pleasure in reading a book for example is very different from taking pleasure in a glass of wine. Reading a book is not a sensory pleasure at all. It's a pleasure of the mind, the pleasure of following a narrative, of admiring word play and language and so on.

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  21. #14
    Senior Member Ethereality's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JAS View Post
    The deal-breaker may be the word "total" in the description since absolutes tend to invalidate a position.
    It was just demonstrated that something being objective is absolute, therefore subjectivity is absolute, because the two are entirely different measures. In analytics we can evaluate things on a purely objective level, their characteristics. "Greatness" however is not an objective parameter to measure things, it's a personal one.

    We can measure for instance, characteristics of music that people tend to like, but we're not measuring their "greatness." We're measuring the aspects themselves in response to x peoples' preferences. For instance, I can give my own preferences, and then proceed to objectively measure the characteristics of them. That doesn't mean they will match with others'. Objectivity is not a word for 'lots of people agreeing,' or 'everyone agreeing.' It's simply the literal, factual dimension of measurement, but you have to define what you're measuring.

    Therefore you can't proceed from 'everyone likes A', to 'A is objectively great.' You can proceed from 'everyone likes A' to 'A is subjectively great', or, to the objective claim 'lots of people like A.' That won't tell you anything about A's greatness, unless you redefine the word great into an objective meaning with objective parameters. Then you will be using a new word fully detached from your original intention.
    Last edited by Ethereality; Dec-01-2020 at 08:38.

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  23. #15
    Senior Member Strange Magic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The resistance to comparing art appreciation to gourmandism resides not only in human nature but in the nature of art. Food is not about anything. Art is, and the means by which it goes about being about something are subject to evaluations having no parallel in the enjoyment of comestibles.
    My interest aroused by the idea that, unlike art, food (in this case wine) was not about anything, I looked up on Amazon the number of books on wine they offered for sale. They purport to have over 10,000 different titles available. I also found this nugget:

    "A 73-year-old bottle of French Burgundy became the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction, fetching $558,000. The bottle of 1945 Romanee-Conti sold at Sotheby for more than 17 times its original estimate of $32,000. Another bottle of the same wine and vintage went for $496,000 moments later. Oct 15, 2018"

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