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I suspect that this thread exists mainly for the purpose of keeping the contentious "objective/subjective" controversy alive for those who can't get enough of repeating themselves. I'll try to avoid falling into that trap by offering a caution: the term "profound" in art is commonly used to mean nothing more than "very moving to me." If that's all it's going to come down to - and that would be consistent with the view that all artistic judgments are valid only for the individual making them - then we can all just agree that "profundity" in art is essentially a vacuous and useless notion, and save ourselves and each other some time we can spend more profitably elsewhere.

Personally, I don't happen to think that "profundity," as applied to art, is merely a pretentious way of referring to a personal emotional reaction. I think some works of art are capable of conveying much more complex meanings and resonances - both emotional and intellectual - than others, meanings and resonances which, although they won't be identical for all perceivers, can be seen and explored. For example, people will never stop exploring Shakespeare's plays and Wagner's operas - the books keep being written and published - while there will never be a need to say a word about vast numbers of works that give every bit as much pleasure. The profundity in art lies not in "how much it means to me" - i.e., how much I like it - but in the range of meanings, and in what kinds of meanings, it is seen to be capable of conveying and provoking.

This view does of course assume that art actually has the capacity to mean something, with the corollary that the range of meanings a given work will convey is determined to a major degree by the nature of the work - which is to say, that meaning is not merely something imposed by the audience. I must therefore call the following statement (from post #6 above) of no value to our understanding:

"I'm fine viewing profundity as a deeply personal experience. I can analyze works I feel are profound--Tristan und Isolde, Neon Genesis Evangelion, War & Peace, Paradise Lost, Vertigo, Mozart's 41st Symphony, etc.--until the cows come home, but at the end of the day such analysis doesn't matter much unless one feels it on a gut level."

Analyses of works of may have little immediate value to those who don't "feel it on a gut level," but one would be a fool to dismiss the perceptions of thoughtful individuals whose deeply felt observations might awaken us to things we hadn't realized were there until we were given a key with which to unlock their secrets. Anyone who's achieved any significant level of appreciation of any art has surely benefitted from the insights of others. Personally, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to thinkers who have assisted in my awakening to depths of meaning I might otherwise have come to perceive more slowly, if all.
 

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My instinct is to say that profundity is seriously overrated.The serious and the tragic are, for reasons best known to the tragedians in particular, accorded greater importance than the smile and the laugh. Humour is just as valid a part of the human experience, but note how many comedians want to be "taken seriously"...literally.
Humor isn't all the same. It can be shallow or deeply resonant - "profound," in a sense. We can laugh at slapstick and sex jokes, or we can laugh at penetrating satire that acknowledges the tragedy of life.
 

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:[Another poster] posits that profundity in art does not differ from profundity in what he terms philosophy, by which I suppose he subsumes science as a branch of philosophy. But then he states that the elements of reality to which art refers belong to a world of internal reality, which is to say they are subjective in nature. We are again in "a world of feeling", with all that implies, because your feelings may differ profoundly from mine. But I propose that [that poster] offer an example of a profound piece of art (let's specify that this be a painting or piece of sculpture), and we can consider whether it be profound or not in the sense that I propose that plate tectonics or the concept of an expanding universe is profound. I think the difference will be clear.
As the "other poster," I will caution you against assuming you know what others mean and reporting on their views without checking to be sure you're not misrepresenting them. I take exception to the words I've put in bold above. "With all that implies" may not mean the same thing to you as it does to me (in fact I'm sure it doesn't), and neither I nor anyone else (to my knowledge) has ever suggested that art can be profound "in the sense" that a scientific theory can be. The task is to say in what sense the word can be used of art. I've attempted to make an approach to that question before, and I do so here in post #19.

I personally have no problem with accepting that anyone can postulate that any piece of music or art is profound, if we simultaneously state that the term may have no real significance "objectively"-- it is merely convention to express our subjective personal preferences.[,,,,,,] The well of subjectivity may be deep indeed, and our experience of its waters quite moving, but that we ought not allow our primary definition of profundity to be tied to such variable and uncertain phenomena as personal experience; it is an exact parallel with our previous discussions on "greatness" in art.:
Who is the "we" that ought not to allow exactly what? What is the "primary" definition that we ought not to apply? Why shouldn't the word "profound" refer to personal experience? Words are words, not things. They mean what they are used to mean. Defending your personal favorite definition of "profundity" may not be a worthwhile project.
 

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What would this mean then?:
"Wagner is known for his music’s ability to transform, and Meistersinger fails in this respect. Since it is supposedly a comic opera -- in reality, it is far from comic, offering none of the chuckles of a Nozze di Figaro or L’elisir d’Amore -- Meistersinger doesn’t contain the raw emotional struggles of Tristan und Isolde or the psychological conflict of Die Walkure. If we could see some of the classic Wagnerian energy and drama in this opera, Meistersinger would certainly be better. Ironically, Meistersinger was composed between Tristan und Isolde and the finale to Der Ring des Nibelungen, two of the most powerful pieces of music ever written.
Wagner, with Meistersinger, was trying something different, testing his artistic abilities. As a writer of comedy, one must admit, Wagner is not sublime."
-Alkis Karmpaliotis (appreciateopera.org/post/ranking-richard-wagner-s-operas)
Whoever Alkis Karmpaliotis is, he is neither a good listener nor a good thinker.
 

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A lover of the works of Jackson Pollack will likely not be taken with those of Giorgione or Pierre Cot, whereas a scientist who is a physicist will strongly appreciate the workings of evolution or the movement of huge crustal plates. I think this says something about the relative "strengths" and seriousness of the profundity experienced by the two groups.
It says nothing of the sort. Your entire attempt to place art and science in competition with each other for "profundity" - a word that doesn't even mean exactly the same thing in the the two cases - is pure sophistry. I also find it odd that someone who absolutely denies the possibility that works of art can be meaningfully ("objectively") rated is so eager to rate one area of essential human endeavor as more "strong," "serious" and "profound" than another.

There's nothing wrong with having biases - inevitably we all do - but this looks like a case of someone trying to endow his subjective preferences with objective reality.
 

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Strange Magic said: "A lover of the works of Jackson Pollack will likely not be taken with those of Giorgione or Pierre Cot ..."

Do you have any data to back that up, or is it just something you pulled out of your backside? I love both Webern and Mozart, as a counterexample. Someone who is interested in the visual arts is likely to appreciate both artists as lying along roughly the same continuum. As for the rest, Eva Yojimbo would know more about it, but it sounds to me like rehashed Spinoza.
Just so. Personal tastes and preferences are not the same as appreciation, but the expansion of our appreciation - our grasp of aesthetic concepts and principles - tends to broaden our tastes. SM himself reports quite a wide taste in music, which makes his statement above the more surprising.
 

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I would go so far as to suggest that art that successfully conveys profound ideas is far more likely to survive the era, the social and cultural context and the specific factual circumstances in which it was created. [...]
Just what we would expect.

[...]

This empirical approach, often called the "subjective" approach here at TC (a rather misleading term, in my very humble opinion), while far from the only possible approach, has considerable advantages. [...]
I agree that the term "subjective" is misleading, tending at least to obscure, and possibly to dismiss, important realities. (I tried like hell to avoid it in previous discussions of aesthetics, but it kept on being thrust at me). As you say, the continued pleasure and esteem inspired by certain artists and works of art is an "objective" guage of something, and in some cases of something important. The constant dichotomization of the terms "subjective" and "objective" seems to allow for contentment with the idea that music which, in your words, "survives the era, the social and cultural context and the specific factual circumstances in which it was created," does so not because it has intrinsic superiority - or in this case greater profundity - but because the greater number of people just "subjectively" prefer it (a redundancy, of course) to the stuff that doesn't survive. The huge grunting gorilla in the room is the simple question of why they do. Why on earth don't people have busts of Pixis and Dittersdorf - respectable composers both - on their pianos? It's hard to fathom why the numbers (the "poll" numbers) should be more interesting than the reasons for them, but for those attached to such non-explanations of reality as "there's no accounting for taste" (or "chacun a son gout" or "de gustibus non disputandum est"), the reasons why humans prefer some things to others seem not to be sympathetic ground.
 

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But what is being added to the discussion? I suggest you reread my notion that profundity should be limited to the fields, unifying discoveries, and insights of science as being more mind-bending--sublime, if you will (I do)--than the ten thousand voices and choices in the arts. I could post it yet again. But I won't.
I remember your post well and don't need to review it. "Notion" is the right word for your attempt to privilege a single definition of profundity and to reject common and equally legitimate uses of the word. In fact, I suggest taking one of your "polls" to see how many people acquainted with both quantum mechanics and the music of Bach would say that the terms "profound" and "sublime" should be attached only to the former.
 

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Attempting to reduce "profundity" in music to a popularity-based polling question actually is an example of trying to reduce an aesthetic evaluation to quantifiable, measurable metrics.
What can you do if you outright deny that anything called "profundity" can even be applicable to art, and if quantifiable metrics is your only criterion for aesthetic knowledge or truth? Popularity polls is all you're left with. Is the art of Vermeer a visionary celebration of the perceiving eye and mind, standing head and shoulders above the genre scenes of his contemporaries, and setting a standard for technical brilliance that has left other painters baffled and reverent for centuries? Hey, I have an idea. Let's take a poll.
 

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I celebrate your personal love for and respect for the art of Vermeer. I love it also. But even if everybody else loathed his art or were indifferent to it, I would still love it. I have no need of belonging within the cluster of those who admire Vermeer as a validation of my admiration.
I am completely in accord with this. I'll wager most people are. Appreciating artistic greatness and profundity has never depended on belonging to a cluster. Rather, it's a primary - in many cases, I think, the primary - explanation for the existence and size of the cluster.
 

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With your idea of collective memories, I submit that you are in poll country, willing or not. Do more people love Bach than love Elvis? I don't know but I am sure we could find out, given enough time and money.
Is that a meaningful or useful question? What would such a poll tell us? What knowledge would we be seeking? Would we poll everyone? Of every culture, age and station in life? I sense a gorilla, an elephant, and lots of other creatures in the room...
 

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The title of this thread is asking what profundity is. I don't think defining it as "the quality that makes works resonate with a great number of classical listeners" is a very interesting answer,
Has anyone defined it that way?

because you could say that about "beauty", "transcendental sorrow", "brilliance", etc, etc.
Certainly, many qualities determine the popularity of music. Profundity - the power to represent and evoke more consequential and permanent, and not always easily accessible, aspects of human life and being - may not be quickest route to popularity (which is why we have the realm of artistic ephemera known as "popular music"), but it's at least worth a mention that works that speak to more aspects of human experience are apt to prove more enduringly popular (and that emphatically includes the best popular music of every era).
 

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Of course there is a difference. Why is Pachelbel's canon more popular than a lot of Bach, even after all the "propaganda".
Simple. Because it's based on a sure-fire structural idea and a sure-fire harmonic progression, and because someone decided that everyone on earth needed to hear it every time they turned on the radio. I don't think most of the people who've enjoyed it are aware of the "propaganda" you're talking about, but the popularization of pieces of music nowadays is just a variant of the standard propaganda technique of telling people that something is great - or true - until they're brainwashed into believing it.

You do know about "apples and oranges," don't you...?
 

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I'm less interested in what "profundity" means for the enduring universality of music, and more interested in why we're sometimes compelled to use that word in the first place, versus any other word that defines a positive aesthetic response we have to music.
So am I. But I don't expect many here to put in the work of rooting out the factors that make people describe art in particular ways. I know I don't always have the energy - or the knowledge or insight - to do it. But then I'm old and weary, and I always hope for some younger blood with good ideas and clear heads (is that a mixed metaphor? Oh well...).

As I said I think people are attempting to simultaneously answer entirely different questions at this point which is causing obvious problems.
It always happens with issues of aesthetics. No help for it.
 

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I've wrote about this numerous times, but the crux of it is that we're ultimately asking why human subjectivities end up in a certain state (such as thinking a given work of art is great/profound) after interacting with a certain work of art, and why do so many end up in that state over long periods of time, while they DON'T end up in that state with most other works of art. This is a question worth asking but one that, IMO, can't be answered until we have a complete understanding of both the objective works of art and the human subjectivities experiencing it, and we only ever have a partial understanding of both.
If a question admits of no answer, then it's hardly worth asking. I think there ARE answers, and that more answers are possible. The demand for complete knowledge of what makes art variable in its power and scope, and the retreat into a sort of egalitarian subjectivism, is just an evasion of everything interesting about art and the experience of it. I'm not accusing you of that, but...

To me, part of the objectivist/subjectivist division is really just about whether we should put more focus on the object part of our queries (the art) or on the subject part of our queries (human psychology).
Doesn't that depend on what we're trying to ascertain? Do we most care about why opera is fascinating or why cousin Howie doesn't like it? If we want to understand why millions of otherwise sane people will camp out overnight on the sidewalk in winter to get tickets to see Callas as Tosca, do we gain most from examining opera or from polling people who might prefer to go out drinking at Murphy's pub?

The major "fault" I see with, let's call them the anti-subjectivists, is that they ONLY want to focus on the object and think everything can be explained if only we perfectly understood the art/objects; but this clearly isn't so. If the subjectivists push back against this it's only by saying "hey, human subjectivities matter just as much in terms of understanding our reactions to art." I don't think most subjectivists object to the study of the objective aspects of art (I certainly don't, having spent most of my life doing just that), we just think that the myopic focus on the art-object is only ever going to get us part of the way there.
I wonder where you've seen a "myopic focus on the art object" and a refusal to acknowledge the individuality of people's responses to art? What I've seen is an extreme "subjectivist" view which explicitly reduces artistic value to popularity ("polls"), while a few other people try to put in a good word for the genius of composers and the excellence of their achievements and get swatted down again and again by repetitions of analogies to ice cream and the sacred and sovereign right to eat the flavor of one's choice.
 

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Well those "clusters" are clustered tastes and opinions which should be celebrated as well. The clusters are people. So celebrate one individual taste, but two or three or a million having essentially similar reactions is a dehumanized "cluster".
I'm much more impressed by those dehumanized clusters than by Uncle Larry's or Aunt Jane's celebrations of their musical individuality. I mean, their Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme records were just fine for what they were (and I don't recall anyone suggesting they were profound), but when Aunt Jane asked me with complete sincerity how I could stand listening to Tristan und Isolde I just didn't know where to begin. She was probably only in her thirties at the time, and if I hadn't been just an awkward teenager I might have known how to open a door to a new world of sound and meaning beyond anything she'd ever imagined. She might even, eventually, have transcended her "individuality" and found her way into one of those dreaded clusters.
 

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I also agree there are answers, but without full understanding it's a bit like the proverbial blind men feeling around an elephant. We may can illuminate certain aspects of that interaction, but it's also very easy to build shaky theoretical edifices on such ignorance and partial understanding. Science has an antidote for this; aesthetics, not so much.
Much here is a matter of degree, but as far as that goes, I'm not going for the blind men and elephant analogy. As a lifelong practitioner of several arts, I find that description of my (and others') aesthetic understanding quite insulting. Nothing personal, I'm sure...

I think it's both. Let's consider the two groups you've selected in this hypothetical: the millions of people who will camp overnight to see Callas in Tosca, and the (probably more) millions of people who'd prefer to go out drinking at Murphy's pub. There is certainly a difference in the subjectivities of these two groups that makes one drawn to seeing opera, and the other drawn to drinking in a pub (and probably being indifferent to, if not hostile towards, opera). Certainly there is something in Callas (and in Tosca) that provokes those subjectivities that love opera to want to see her/it, just as there is something in Callas (and in Tosca) that provokes those subjectivities that don't love opera to not care. All of these components matter in the final result. We can do this both for individuals (cousin Howie) and for groups that share similarities and dissimilarities with Howie's subjectivity.
Well, yeah, everyone's "subjectivity" matters, whatever it consists of. But I knew a guy, not into opera at all, who I had watch the phenomenal film of Callas and Gobbi in act two of Tosca. He knew he was seeing something remarkable. I also had my sister - a woman with acting experience and a classical music lover who dislikes Callas's voice - watch it, and she said "I can see what the fuss is all about."

Maybe I'd be impressed by Murphy's pub and its patrons were someone to introduce me, but let's try to keep a little perspective on the potentials of human subjectivity., and the potential of art to captivate and transform it.

Any time there are intimations, if not outright claims, of objective greatness I see that myopic focus rearing its head.
What you see, at least in the case of some of us, is the simple understanding that talk of the irreducible subjectivity of artistic judgments simply leads nowhere. At least an attempt to talk about the art object is a discussion of art. I'm with those who find talk about art based on a subjective/objective dichotomization not merely pointless but contrary to my own experience of art as both creator and perceiver. But I won't try to go into that again, since it will regiuster with only a few here and will bring down more aridly abstract philosophizing on my aching head.

I think the "reduction of artistic value to popularity (polls)" is, at least from an objective perspective, basically what's being described, though: lots of people valuing certain art/artists highly is, fundamentally, a poll. This doesn't deny that there are features in the art, the object, that provoke that love; but there's objective features in ice cream (to use that analogy) that provoke some people's love for it too. Why do people like ice cream (and prefer certain flavors) is really the same kind of question whose answers involve understanding both the objective features of the ice cream and the variable subjectivities that respond to it the same way art does.
The gods deliver us from ice cream, objective flavors and all. It's only "the same kind of question" to those interested in that kind of question.

have no problem praising the genius of composers and excellence of their achievements as long as we're on the same page with exactly what we mean by those accolades; I'm not sure we all always are.
Probably not always. It's good to be different people. It's also good to agree that Mozart and Wagner were F-ing geniuses.
 
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