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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
There has been some discussion which I think deserves a dedicated thread. I will quote some forum texts as a starting point.

Because this habit of yours sometimes feels like you are trying to either diminish what other people are saying, or on purpose interpreting the sayings of others in a negative way, or you are trying to control what others can say. I am sure that is not your intention so I am interested in where this attitude of yours grows from, so that I can understand it better. Thanks. :)

I would find it much more constructive if we encouraged each other to give arguments and define the basis of our thinking -- rather than repeating that everything is just opinions and nothing more. In this instance it could have been asked, on what basis is the concept formed that Tchaikovsky symphonies 1-3 would not be masterpieces and that symphonies 4-6 would be masterpieces. There must be some reasoning and musical value structures (represented by scholars and the classical music canon, perhaps) behind that kind of statements, right?

My point though was to bring up a thought that repeating "that is just your opinion, this is just an opinion, that is not a fact" all over again is not constructive and not good for the discussion or the atmosphere on the forum. Quite the opposite. It is completely unnecessary and even somewhat irritating.

After all we all know this is not a laboratory where we run systematic tests in order to gain undisputed data of repeatable phenomenon of the natural world.

Instead we should talk more analytically about the establishment, the literature, the abundance of different theories and aesthetics, the reality of the musical life and concerts, the canons and the community and it´s values and how they are represented in our minds and the way we hear and appreciate music and perceive the musical field with all it´s agents.

It is not just "an opinion" to consider the 9th Symphony by Beethoven the objectively greater work of art when compared to "A Pentatonic Improvisation on the Black Keys of the Piano on a Sunday afternoon by a 5 year old".


^^^^@Waehnen: Two points. I have enjoyed TC a lot for two reasons--A) exposure to different opinions and different ways of expressing them, and B) the opportunity to actually argue/discuss important topics, as I enjoy often arguing with people about certain fundamental issues in esthetics. One of my pet enthusiasms is the conviction--shared with others--that all evaluation in music and the arts is opinion and just opinion, pure and simple, Individual opinions or clusters of opinions. One can therefore hold that Beethoven's 9th (it's always Beethoven and his 9th) is better than your Improvisation counterexample, or the opposite (bizarre as that may seem), and it is still an opinion either way--a large cluster of opinions versus a small, a very small cluster of one (or two).

Each of us individually has opinions on just about everything--what art objects I think great are likely to not be entirely the set of things you think are great. It is fine and good to discuss what we hold is good or bad in the arts, but not accurate to ascribe the art objects themselves with inherent goodness or badness--which of the elements on the periodic table are good, and why? Which bad? We can only assess such in terms of human experience though we can know a vast amount of verifiable information about each element.

Same with art objects--they just are and we bring to them our own personal (or shared) net of expectations and reactions, and thus ascribe value to them. It really is all about opinion, though we can assert with confidence many facts about art objects--their color, weight, size, shape, duration (if applicable), when created and by whom, odor (if applicable), temperature, etc. But not if they are great (not in the sense of size but of intrinsic value). This position in no way threatens our ability to find enormous pleasure in the arts, and individual or group-shared opinions/values. But it frees us from holding the awkward notion that--objectively--things in the arts are inherently endowed with value properties that are independent of the perceiver. In that sense, it is indeed all a matter of opinion.

I would suggest that it would not be a game of just 2 opposites (subjective opinions vs hard scientific facts) but there would be some shades of gray as well in between. I believe it would result in better conversations if all forum texts were accepted and appreciated without comments like "that is just a mere opinion" and posters could themselves link their comment to for example some of the categories below, ranging from pure subjective opinions to hard facts.

From the top of my hat on a Saturday Night but you get the idea:

1. Pure opinions: subjective artistic experience and preferences
2. Values of the immediate surrounding musical community + music education
3. Sociology and study of reception
4. Music history + canons
5. Objective analysis of compositional techniques
6. Musical theories, aesthetics and semiotic dimensions
7. Psychology of music
8. Neurology of music
9. Pure facts: Historic facts, physical and concrete facts regarding the instruments, acoustics etc.

Any suggestions, enhancements or defining comments for the list? Let’s evolve it together.
 

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^^^^:
I will only address the issue of opinion versus quantifiable facts, and again point out that the greatness of any art object or its creator is couched entirely upon opinion–other than quantifiable, repeatable observation and measurement. Whether or not an art object (AO) best approaches the criteria set for its evaluation–is “great” or “better” or “not great” evaluates the AO against said criteria that have been established by A) the global population, B) a select population, or C) a population of “Experts”. If or when the Experts (“X”) offer quantifiable measures such as duration, degree of complexity (not necessarily easy to assess–must be an agreed-upon datum), creator, number of units moved, popularity, etc. then all is well and we can say that, among the X cluster, Beethoven’s 9th is Great because it is the majority view of X that these criteria are met or exceeded. We can then disregard the opinions polled among either the global population or any other select populations that differ–”We all say so, so it must be true!”

But AO are experienced individually, and, unless we choose to submit to the judgements of X, each individual will have their own gradation or ranking of AO as to “quality”. I have made a god of my own tastes and am certain of their validity and authenticity, of my self-worth as an assessor of AO, Esthetics can thus be perfectly legitimate if it concerns itself with the degree to whether the criteria of a defined population are met, or to how well the AO comports with the shared neurology/psychology/life experience of that defined population. The tautology is that lovers of Beethoven or of CM itself form a cluster of those who love Beethoven or CM, and all agree within the group that, since they all say so, it must be true.

As I have stated ad infinitum, greatness does not therefore reside as a Platonic ideal within an AO, but rather is imbued with its “greatness” by the application of the opinions, individual or shared, of its perceivers. As someone who eats his own cooking, I can and must affirm that if someone feels that The Turtles’ Happy Together is a greater work than Beethoven’s 9th, they are both entitled to their opinion (though I might disagree), and that, for them, it is a valid and authentic position though a large CM cluster will not share that opinion. If any of this is not well understood, I will be happy to expand upon the topic. It really is all opinion.
 

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Those who are about to die, we salute you.

Music, especially INSTRUMENTAL music, is untethered from reality. WHO wrote it, WHY they wrote it, WHEN they wrote it, WHAT they were thinking about when they wrote, WHO they wrote it for... none of this matters a solitary whit in instrumental music. Therefore ∴ ergo to wit it's all subjective. You like it, or you don't. QED.
 

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I had understood that since Strange Magic had agreed that there was objectivity in the judgment of classical works and composers, this subject was closed. :)
I asserted that the fact that there are consensuses is certainly true..It is a demonstrable consensus among Beethoven fans that LVB is best or whatever they say it is. And see my post above. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
^^^^:
I will only address the issue of opinion versus quantifiable facts, and again point out that the greatness of any art object or its creator is couched entirely upon opinion–other than quantifiable, repeatable observation and measurement. Whether or not an art object (AO) best approaches the criteria set for its evaluation–is “great” or “better” or “not great” evaluates the AO against said criteria that have been established by A) the global population, B) a select population, or C) a population of “Experts”. If or when the Experts (“X”) offer quantifiable measures such as duration, degree of complexity (not necessarily easy to assess–must be an agreed-upon datum), creator, number of units moved, popularity, etc. then all is well and we can say that, among the X cluster, Beethoven’s 9th is Great because it is the majority view of X that these criteria are met or exceeded. We can then disregard the opinions polled among either the global population or any other select populations that differ–”We all say so, so it must be true!”

But AO are experienced individually, and, unless we choose to submit to the judgements of X, each individual will have their own gradation or ranking of AO as to “quality”. I have made a god of my own tastes and am certain of their validity and authenticity, of my self-worth as an assessor of AO, Esthetics can thus be perfectly legitimate if it concerns itself with the degree to whether the criteria of a defined population are met, or to how well the AO comports with the shared neurology/psychology/life experience of that defined population. The tautology is that lovers of Beethoven or of CM itself form a cluster of those who love Beethoven or CM, and all agree within the group that, since they all say so, it must be true.

As I have stated ad infinitum, greatness does not therefore reside as a Platonic ideal within an AO, but rather is imbued with its “greatness” by the application of the opinions, individual or shared, of its perceivers. As someone who eats his own cooking, I can and must affirm that if someone feels that The Turtles’ Happy Together is a greater work than Beethoven’s 9th, they are both entitled to their opinion (though I might disagree), and that, for them, it is a valid and authentic position though a large CM cluster will not share that opinion. If any of this is not well understood, I will be happy to expand upon the topic. It really is all opinion.
My logic is that the more appropriate, exact and definite the communication, the better. That would mean that for each phenomenon in the world, we should aim at trying to find the most suitable way of communication on the matter at hand, even if the appropriate way of communication requires more and is more taxing than a simplification. I cannot deny that this "everything is just opinions" attitude is a rather bold and unnecessary simplification of the reality and communication.

For starters I will give you just one very simple example. So let´s picture two pieces of music:


Song A
  • traditional tonal melody using a widely used scale
  • no great interval jumps
  • no frequent sudden changes in the dynamics
  • stable rhythmic structures

Song B
  • an atonal melody using a lot of chromatism
  • frequent great jumps preferring dissonant intervals
  • frequent sudden changes in the dynamics
  • unstable and unpredictable rhythmic structures


My premise is that the positive reception of the Song A in the large musical community would be significantly wider even to the extent it can be considered a statistical fact and the results can be considered to be further suggesting links to other factual phenomenon. Underneath I will sketch just a few points using my simple matrix from last night.


1. Pure opinions: subjective artistic experience and preferences
  • An individual might prefer Song A or Song B due to their unique cognitive, psychological, neurological and artistic status at the given time of the performance.
  • Like Immanuel Kant once wrote, nobody can force someone else to artistically like or dislike a piece of art
  • Subjective artistic opinions and preferences should be appreciated for there is objectively no "right or wrong"
  • Opinions can still be researched and communicated statistically


2. Values of the immediate surrounding musical community + music education
  • The features of Song A are much more represented in most people´s immediate musical surroundings and music education.
  • The immediate musical surroundings will support the cognitive structures that recognize and appreciate the features of Song A over the features of Song B.
  • Both points above can be considered facts that can be verified by statistical research used by other human sciences


3. Sociology and study of reception
  • Music that has more common features with Song A than Song B is more established and thoroughly represented in the sociological layers or reception (even just the quantity of tonal concert performances over atonal concert performances indicates this)
  • The point above can be considered a fact that can be verified by research methods used by other human sciences


4. Music history + canons
  • Music that has more common features with Song A than Song B is more established and thoroughly represented in the canons of musical history
  • The point above can be considered a fact that can be verified by research methods used by other human sciences



5. Objective analysis of compositional techniques
  • Both Song A and Song B can be objectively analyzed although there is more analytical methods applicaple to Song A than Song B.
  • The point above can be considered a fact that can be verified by research methods used by other human sciences



6. Musical theories, aesthetics and semiotic dimensions
  • Both Song A and Song B can be objectively analyzed although there is more theoretical, aesthetical and semiotic approaches relevant to the Song A than Song B.
  • The point above can be considered a fact that can be verified by research methods used by other human sciences



7. Psychology of music
  • There is no doubt that the features of common musical language in the Song A make it more appealing to the majority of the human race.
  • The long history of music more strongly resembling the features of Song A is represented in the collective receptive and experiencing musical mind of the human race
  • The points above can be considered facts that can be verified by research methods used by psychology


8. Neurology of music
  • There is no doubt that Song A and Song B will have reactions in the neurological structures of both the performers and the listeners that will differ from each other in a statistically significant way.
  • The melodic features of Song A are much easier and more natural for the vocal cords, human neurology, cognitive performance and muscle memory to produce
  • The points above can be considered facts that can be verified by research methods used by medicine and neurological sciences


9. Pure facts: Historic, physical and concrete facts regarding the instruments, acoustics etc.
  • The melodic features of Song A are much easier and more natural for even most instruments to which big interval jumps are also more difficult than smaller intervals: woodwinds, valved brass instruments, keyboard instruments, string instruments, pitched percussion etc.
  • The point above can be considered a fact that can be verified by research methods used by natural sciences


I could go on forever but that is not the point here... The more analytical and multi-faceted approach hinted at above is much more useful, truthful, polite, constructive and effective than, in the tradition of great simplification, just answering to everything: "That is just your opinion".
 

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No, it is not all just opinion. Not ALL...

The problem with the "all artistic values are subjective" theory is that it fails to recognize that works of art - like other things - succeed or fail, not merely according to standards of "taste" applied by audiences, but by their own standards. Perhaps the most essential perception in judging a work of art is the perception of what it is trying to be, and perhaps the highest praise we can give a work is that in trying to be something strong, rich, challenging, or original it has carried out its intended idea with consistency and force. Obviously the artist is best positioned to know how well he has succeeded by that standard - he alone knows fully his intent - but works are acclaimed in no small part when the artist has succeeded in communicating a clear intention - a clear vision or concept - by carrying out its expression in a way that coheres and reinforces itself. Coherence - clarity of purpose, consistency of idea, and the appropriateness of means to ends - are admirable not merely as abstract ideals but as crucial conditions of effective aesthetic expression. And - essential to this discussion - they can to a great extent be perceived and are not simply matters of "opinion." That we do perceive them is a principal reason why certain works of music survive and give pleasure for centuries while others are forgotten. They are forgotten because, failing to make a cohesive appeal to our faculties of aesthetic perception and impress us with strong ideas tightly argued, they are intrinsically forgettable (or worse). Works that succeed in these things represent extraordinary achievements by extraordinary creative minds and rightly acquire reputations for superiority.

There are right and wrong, better and worse. decisions an artist can make as he makes the thousands of choices that confront him in the act of creation. What is wonderful for us, his audience, is that we have the power to intuit the appropriateness of his choices and to feel a profound pleasure at the results of his success - as well as a profound indifference or distaste at the results of his failures.
 

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I am truly sorry, but I have found through these many iterations of points of view, that my position remains both unchanged but also unassailable. So much verbiage--and fine verbiage--to somehow sidestep the key factor of clustered opinion in the "Objectivist" viewpoint. But no matter how the argument is framed, it does come down, ultimately, to opinion. Art can be easily be seen to be a human product that has certain qualities that attract or repel certain or even many perceivers-- whether they say they like or dislike it or whether it has successfully reached some goal that a cluster of enthusiasts or experts has set for it. It can only have value imposed upon it by that net of human perception (general or specific--either will do) that it satisfies or fails to. But art is like, as I have said, the elements of the periodic table, neither good nor bad in and of themselves but only as they impinge upon human experience, as a poison or as a key industrial product.

I am delighted that people like or dislike or evaluate art however they choose--whether they think it itself is imbued with Platonic Excellence or, like me, something that I like for any number of reasons. The end result is the same--opinion. The key thing is that it is nice and good to enjoy art along with like-minded others, without having to use a crutch of validating and supporting alleged "facts" about the intrinsic excellence of certain artworks. I cannot make my position more clear, and choose not to attempt to bury my opposition in an enormous mass of additional verbiage, as seems to be the necessary counterargument to the Subjectivist view--somehow Dumbo will find the feather and learn how to fly
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I am truly sorry, but I have found through these many iterations of points of view, that my position remains both unchanged but also unassailable. So much verbiage--and fine verbiage--to somehow sidestep the key factor of clustered opinion in the "Objectivist" viewpoint. But no matter how the argument is framed, it does come down, ultimately, to opinion. Art can be easily be seen to be a human product that has certain qualities that attract or repel certain or even many perceivers-- whether they say they like or dislike it or whether it has successfully reached some goal that a cluster of enthusiasts or experts has set for it. It can only have value imposed upon it by that net of human perception (general or specific--either will do) that it satisfies or fails to. But art is like, as I have said, the elements of the periodic table, neither good nor bad in and of themselves but only as they impinge upon human experience, as a poison or as a key industrial product.

I am delighted that people like or dislike or evaluate art however they choose--whether they think it itself is imbued with Platonic Excellence or, like me, something that I like for any number of reasons. The end result is the same--opinion. The key thing is that it is nice and good to enjoy art along with like-minded others, without having to use a crutch of validating and supporting alleged "facts" about the intrinsic excellence of certain artworks. I cannot make my position more clear, and choose not to attempt to bury my opposition in an enormous mass of additional verbiage, as seems to be the necessary counterargument to the Subjectivist view--somehow Dumbo will find the feather and learn how to fly
I am not surprised since you have obviously constructed this position of yours for years.

You have deliberately and consciously chosen the great laser-focused simplification of a complicated matter. How that affects the conversation you participate in, I do not know.

Despite my opposite view on the matter, I hold on to my right for subjective opinions and preferences, too. I do not have to elaborate on or defend my every opinion nor do I expect that from others.

Still I choose to be polite, tolerate many kinds of utterances and not over-simplify complicated matters just because it’s easier.
 

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Still I choose to be polite, tolerate many kinds of utterances and not over-simplify complicated matters just because it’s easier.
Polite is good.

I don't think SM "over-simplifies" (and certainly not "just because it's easier").

My own current exploration of Schubert's Symphony No 9 inevitably raises comparison with Beethoven's. One of the differences is that, to me, the Schubert sounds more like Haydn than Beethoven, is more readily accessible than Beethoven and easier to get to grips with than the Beethoven. Others may agree with me, but even so, these are all just my opinions. My conclusion might be that not only do I prefer the Beethoven, but it's "better" than the Schubert. I know others agree with me on that last, because we've had a thread dedicated to the Beethoven - but there were some who hear it differently, and don't rate it very highly.

I can't get past the feeling that if a definitive case could be made for the Beethoven's being "the best" in the same way that a case might be made for it's being "better", it would have appeared by now. I guarantee that any posts that follow this one will fail to make that case. The best they might succeed in doing is offer a detailed analysis of the kinds of criteria that might be used and a decent effort at seeing how those criteria might apply. But at the end of the analysis, it will remain an opinion, not a statement of fact, if a conclusion is reached.
 

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^^^^@Waehnen: One person's oversimplification is another's cutting of the Gordian Knot, or akin to Samuel Adams' refutation of the good bishop Berkeley's strange Idealism. But I appreciate your restrained and civil tone throughout this discussion. I do fear that I will have little to contribute if/when the conversation becomes convoluted or arcane. Like the philosopher Ernest Nagel, I prefer my theses to be simple, and of a reality quite close to that experienced by most rational people in everyday life. In matters of art, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." :)
 

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I am truly sorry, but I have found through these many iterations of points of view, that my position remains both unchanged but also unassailable. So much verbiage--and fine verbiage--to somehow sidestep the key factor of clustered opinion in the "Objectivist" viewpoint. But no matter how the argument is framed, it does come down, ultimately, to opinion. Art can be easily be seen to be a human product that has certain qualities that attract or repel certain or even many perceivers-- whether they say they like or dislike it or whether it has successfully reached some goal that a cluster of enthusiasts or experts has set for it. It can only have value imposed upon it by that net of human perception (general or specific--either will do) that it satisfies or fails to. But art is like, as I have said, the elements of the periodic table, neither good nor bad in and of themselves but only as they impinge upon human experience, as a poison or as a key industrial product.

I am delighted that people like or dislike or evaluate art however they choose--whether they think it itself is imbued with Platonic Excellence or, like me, something that I like for any number of reasons. The end result is the same--opinion. The key thing is that it is nice and good to enjoy art along with like-minded others, without having to use a crutch of validating and supporting alleged "facts" about the intrinsic excellence of certain artworks. I cannot make my position more clear, and choose not to attempt to bury my opposition in an enormous mass of additional verbiage, as seems to be the necessary counterargument to the Subjectivist view--somehow Dumbo will find the feather and learn how to fly
The problem is your position has little to do with what discussions of aesthetic value are about and how they are conducted and structured in the real world (that is, anywhere but on TC;)). No one serious about such discussions will make a free-floating claim that a work is objectively great because that's not a meaningful move or proposition in the enterprise that is music criticism. Statements about aesthetic value are normally presented and understood as conditional propositions: If one accepts that certain qualities and principles are the basis of aesthetic value in musical works (of a certain style, era, etc.), then here is an objective argument for the existence of such qualities and the successful fulfillment of those principles in a given work. Obviously, if one doesn't accept the values and principles on which the argument is premised, then one won't accept the conclusions. The objective-subjective argument at the center of your position just isn't a meaningful issue. You are making unassailable rules for a game no serious person is playing. It doesn't ultimately come down to opinion, it comes down to more or less objectively verifiable claims made within a system of shared values, with the understanding that the values and the claims are always subject to challenge.
 

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I think the mistake is in setting up a rigid objective-subjective dichotomy and then congratulating yourself when an "objectivist" (which is really a straw man anyway) can't come up with scientific proof.
 
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