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Back in 2016, we had a wonderful exchange of views on the nature of profundity in the arts. The whole objectivist/subjectivist thang was aired as part of the discussion, as was the linked Understanding versus Appreciating a work. These topics have a life of their own, but I enjoyed this thread very much and trust that others might also. Just my opinion. But just try the first page....

See 4chamberedklavier's post below for link to old thread.
It would be tough to define in a comprehensive way what is meant by "profound" in the case of a work of art. (I would argue it is impossible, but let's pass over that rabbit hole.) However, 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. The word "classical", especially when applied to art, traditionally referred to the culture of ancient Greece and Rome. It still generally refers to art of an earlier period or era.
If we gauge the profundity of art by looking at the impact or influence it has had over an extended period, well past the era in which it was created, we are using an ex post, empirical approach, famously advocated by David Hume in his 1757 essay, On The Standard Of Taste.
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. Not surprisingly, in the 260+ years since Hume's essay, empiricism has had a successful run in aesthetic and many other fields.
 

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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.
Well, I for one am certainly not proposing the use of polls in this regard. Though, if one polled a cross-section of well-educated adults and found that many of them have at least heard of the music of Bach, the plays of Shakespeare and the paintings of Rembrandt, to me that is significant, regardless of whether they liked any of it, as all of that art is centuries old, yet it lingers in our collective memories.
 

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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.
A poll is where a representative cross section of a population is selected and asked a series of predetermined questions or subjected to predetermined tests. It is a valid statistical technique for many purposes when done correctly. The tricky aspect to using polls to determine what music is most culturally significant or profound is that mere popularity, or size and enthusiasm of audience, doesn't do it. One indirect sign of cultural significance, pointed out by Hume, is when an artist is remembered and recognized decades or centuries after their own lifetime. (I've picked 75 years, or the approximate length of an average human life, as a measure.) But cultural influence can be quite subtle, and not easily revealed by polls. One's tastes can be profoundly influenced by art of previous eras without even realizing it.
 

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As a lifelong practitioner (and studier: I'm that kook who reads textbooks for fun) I find that description of my (and others') aesthetic understanding dead on. It's a bit like science in that regard. Sure, we can admire just how much we've come to know in contrast to our hominid origins, going from learning how to use tools and build fires to traveling to the moon and discovering all the weird movements of subatomic particles... but at the same time if you can look at the remaining mysteries of life and the universe and not be humbled by them then something is very wrong. I'm reminded of the great Isaac Newton quote: "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

And I know a guy, not into opera at all, but who's a rather sensitive aesthete with a taste for great films and literature, whom I introduced to Tristan und Isolde and he couldn't even finish it... though I did have some luck with having him watch a filmed version of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. I'm sure we all have anecdotes like this, and I dare say mine is more common than yours: most people don't like opera and don't have the experience with opera to pick out the "great voices" or "great operas" from the offal and also-rans. I guarantee that if you played a clip of Callas and an ordinary soprano most people couldn't tell the difference. The only way to make these subjectivities see the "greatness" in Callas or any great opera is simply make them empathetic to what WE see in these things; but this is the same kind of empathy (even sympathy) I'm saying we should be doing for ALL subjectivities, including the folks at Murphy's pub.

This gets into arguments of pragmatism. To me, I'm always interested in truth whether it's pragmatic or not. To me, I think the understanding of the objective/subjective distinction doesn't just pertain to truth, but in many life situations is quite useful. Is it useful to anyone's artistic work? Probably not, no more than understanding physics is useful to a baseball player when he's up to bat. My issue is that some are trying build objectively true theories out of what are subjective feelings that don't have any truth value. That has more damaging consequences in, say, religion and politics compared to aesthetics, of course.

I don't see why it would/should be any less impressive than the reputation of Bach among the subjectivities of classical music lovers, players, conductors, theorists, etc. Other than the fact that my own subjectivity is probably closer to, and thus more naturally sympathetic with, the Bach lovers, other than this biased sympathetic preference there is no objective reason why mass tastes are any less impressive. There's even reasons, I think, why it should be more impressive. As the great Billy Wilder said: "An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark - that is critical genius."

The fact that much popular art is forgotten doesn't mean much; most unpopular art is forgotten too, as has most classical music been forgotten. Very little art from any genre or style remains over long periods of time, and I'm also not convinced that this "lasting" is any definitive sign of greatness. What it is is a sign of art that, if we're being generous and non-cynical (the way hammeredklavier is with his brainwashing and circularity of popularity theories), we can say such art managed to tap into the fundamental aspects of human experience and psychology and managed to render them powerfully within a medium... that's all well-and-good, but nobody is a "universal human;" we are particular humans from particular times and places within particular cultures with particular styles, tastes, etc. The fact that people like to see the flesh-and-blood aspects of their particular experience rendered in art is not an aesthetic crime. The fact that this rendering of particularities means it's likely that art will fade with the fashions doesn't mean it was any less excellent at capturing these particularities of time, place, and experiences. Yes, art can be both particular and universal, but that's rarer still.
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All of that is very well said, especially the quote by the great Billy Wilder about imbeciles in the dark. But especially noteworthy in the context of certain ongoing marathon debates here at TC is your final paragraph about the distinction between popular and classical art, which you describe very well. Like you, I'm always careful to point out my great respect for a great deal of popular art, which as you say is often the product of great talent and skill and truly deserves to be called "excellent". But classical art aims to deal in truths and psychological insights that are more universal, and if successful and not sealed in a tomb like King Tut's treasures, remains relevant and compelling well beyond its own time, place and social and cultural context. That is the sense in which classical art is more "profound" than popular art.
 

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I think this is a too simplistic view. First, I don't think all classical art aims to deal in universal truths or psychological insights; just as many are interested in rendering the tastes and fashions and trends of their own particular time. It's why so much classical music featured forms of popular dances in their day because, just as today, there is a whole group of subjectivities who only care for music insofar as they can dance to it (Ezra Pound once quipped that; "poetry withers the further it gets from music; music withers the further it gets from dance." I don't necessarily agree, but it's a good articulation of a certain perspective).

Second, I don't think all popular art avoids universal truths and psychological insights. Of all 20th century music artists I can't think of any in the classical tradition that cared more about such things than, say, Bob Dylan, who was a massively popular artists. And I even think such things can be found in relatively slight popular art.

Finally, I'm not certain universal truths and psychological insights are a necessary component for great or lasting art. Much music, especially, is by its very nature abstract, and the fact that we're able to metaphorically link music to aspects of our human experience doesn't mean that music contains truths and insights; it's more a testament of our very human ability to take anything and find a way to make it relevant to us and our experiences. Perhaps certain music is more malleable for doing this, but it's still a very, innately subjective thing.
Respectfully, the flaw in your analysis of my comment is that you try to draw a sharply defined boundary between the ideas of classical and popular art, or assume I am trying to do so, and then mention someone like Bob Dylan, a boundary-blurring artist. You might also have mentioned Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno or David Byrne, or even Philip Glass.
Also respectfully, the fact that music is abstract, and deals in concepts and ideas rather than concrete, physical forms, is not what is relevant here. The nature of those underlying concepts and ideas is. Charles Rosen, in his books The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation, and Walter Jackson Bate, in his book From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in 18th Century England (which deals with art in general, primarily poetry and literature but also visual art and music) discuss how certain basic concepts consistently permeate and underly the art of the Classical and Romantic Periods.
In short, aesthetic taste is not an innately subjective thing, at least not completely. Nor do we have the ability to take anything and find a way to make it relevant to us and our experiences. Rather, we live in a certain cultural and social context that unavoidably colors our perceptions and tastes. That is why the fashions of one era, or even one year, can differ from those of the next. Yet, some artistic concepts remain compelling centuries, or even millennia, after their appearance. That suggests some concepts are less dependent on the fashions or context of the moment, and more lasting and universal, than others.
 

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I don't disagree with art's ability to remain relevant after fashions fade because of its ability to appeal to fundamental aspects of human nature/experience....
This to me, is the whole point here, and the only reliable way to describe what 'profundity' is as applied to art. Note that "art's ability to remain relevant after fashions fade" is something that can only be observed empirically. There really is no other way to get at it. One could do ex post analysis of art that has passed the test of time and theorize as to why it has that timeless quality, and while many do such analysis, and it can be useful and illuminating, it can never be conclusive.
 

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In reading the various posts, it becomes ever more clear that many do not grasp my fundamental position that all esthetics are personal. I liberate completely the individual's ability to enjoy, loathe, admire, grade, rank any and all art. This does not mean that all art is equal; it means that the individual controls the grading and ranking to suit his/her own requirements. People are equal in their right, validity, freedom, to hold fast to those things that are important to them as art and the experience of art. Whether one chooses to follow the guidance of another or of a cluster or of critics is a matter of individual choice--we all actually thus pick and choose--it cannot be denied. What is non-demonstrable is that some art is greater than some other art merely by the fact that a consensus, a cluster, an authority figure says so. Art just is; we endow it as individuals with qualities and properties beyond those clearly and universally measurable.
All true. Also, there is no such thing as an absolutely unbiased or neutral audience member. Our aesthetic tastes are always inescapably impacted by our particular upbringing, life experience and environment, and our general cultural and social context, in countless ways, large and small. One corollary to that is, one individual's tastes can never perfectly and completely match another's. But there is also the important and empirically observable phenomenon that people from similar environments and backgrounds tend to share many aesthetic tastes and values, at least in an approximate sense.
None of that has any relevance to the "right" of the individual to his or her own individual tastes. In fact, it is more than a right, it is an essential part of human nature.
The empiricist comfortably accepts all of that and doesn't fall into the trap of trying to prove the objective validity of any aesthetic principle.
 

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I don't want to speak for someone else, but the general impression I get is that a subjective view of aesthetics does not hold that all art is necessarily equal in every possible frame of reference. Instead it holds that a) art has no inherent value that can be separated from some sort of frame of reference, b) frames of reference exist where it is possible to compare and assign values to different works of art, and c) whether or not one accepts or sees art in a given reference frame is very much up to them (meaning that even if works can be compared within a certain framing, the importance that one assigns to this frame is very much down to the listener's own aesthetic values)
Ironically, this is very much the approach of an author such as Charles Rosen, yet it gets him into hot water here at TC, and probably elsewhere too. For though he goes to great pains to establish a 'frame of reference', to use your terminology, having done that, he expresses his opinion as to which music is the greatest and which is not so great in no uncertain terms.

Rosen could have omitted or toned down some of his more sweeping opinions, for example, that since Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were the greatest composers of the classical period, and since other composers of that period only did what those three did but not as well, only the music of those three composers need be considered in an analysis of the classical style. He could simply have written the rest of his book and edited that statement out.

In the end, opinions are always just opinions. Even having established his frame of reference, Rosen must subjectively prioritize the many skills involved in working within the classical style and subjectively attach more value to one composer's characteristic approach to certain problems than another's. Among other things. Still, his analysis is useful and illuminating. To the posters here who keep asking, "What is so great about Mozart?", it likely is the best possible answer.
 

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A few thoughts after reading through the lat few pages of posts:

1. Artists definitely have intent in their work. While they may not be consciously aware or involved in every nuance later audiences find in a work, I think they are certainly capable of using the materials in a work to communicate ideas and themes.

2. When the work is completed and enters the public realm, find an audience, it has a life of its own, divorced from the artist's intentions, except only what is obvious superficially. Without an accompanying essay explaining the work, the artist's intention can only be guessed at, or discovered through analysis - although it remains speculative. This is a dicey game, allowing opportunistic critics to find their own philosophy within just about any work. (Remember the essay by G.F. Haas regarding the Erlking?)

3. Does it ultimately matter if we know the artist's intention? Are we able to get something out of a work by perceiving our own meaning in it? The answer for me is most definitely.
Yes. I have great respect for the best art historians, and there have been some very good ones. But as centuries pass, however diligently we may study our cultural history, the artist and their particular time, circumstances and context unavoidably become more remote and alien to us. In the end, for a work of art to survive its own time, it must create a reaction, or interaction as fbjim calls it, with audiences that, if not entirely ignorant of the work's original context, are much less than thoroughly informed.
We can observe this interaction empirically. Some will try to analyze it, but this is always ex post facto analysis. There is no unified theory of art. Of course, a particular artistic method can be developed in great and elaborate detail, and a particular artist can display extraordinary skills in working according to that method, as J.S. Bach did with certain types of counterpoint. But there is no way to demonstrate any inherent artistic superiority of that artist, or their method, to another artist or another method. We only have empirical observations of the interaction of art and audience as a gauge of the significance or profundity of Bach's art.
After spending nearly a lifetime (I hope I have a few years left) listening to, playing and singing the works of J.S. Bach, I am genuinely mystified that anyone would less than entirely satisfied with this view, and persist in viewing art as a puzzle to be solved. There is nothing to prove and everything to love.
 

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I largely agree but wonder what CM we like that we do not consider well-written. My problem is that certain pieces are too long and thus I do not like them as much and can complain that is was not well-written.
One reason you may find certain 19th century symphonies or operas too long is that you are not a 19th century person, but rather a late 20th / early 21st century person. The problem may not be that the 19th century work was not well-written but that it was written for a 19th century audience. And that may be a minor problem at most for some, but a very big problem for others.
 

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[Q
Needless to say, I disagree. Art's (music's) alleged profundities are of a different and lower order indeed.. Music is just not capable without lyrics of transmitting the data for full understanding of the enormities of the examples I raised. The Sublime, yes.
Yes, if by "lower order" you mean "not universal". And in fact, the same applies to music with lyrics, literary art, and all art. "Hard" art principles do exist as Luchesi says, but they simply are not universal the way scientific principals are. There is a famous quote by the great German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein about this that I have dug out before. But I've noticed most of you are profoundly bored by things like that, so I won't do it again.
 

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Just speaking for myself I'm never bored of such things. :)
"You might think Aesthetics is a science telling us what's
beautiful - almost too ridiculous for words. I suppose it ought to
include also what sort of coffee tastes well."
Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief
 

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I don't think anyone here has failed to recognize this either. That some composers compose in such a way that has created a positive reaction in many listeners over time is a fact as well. You can't have one without the other. The issue, as always, is that this is fundamentally a poll involving us counting how many subjectivities have reacted positively to certain music. We can speculate on the reasons why they reacted positively, including notions of "compositional skill and innovation," but those will ultimately just be speculation without rigorous scientific testing, and without the latter you're just getting into post-hoc and just-so fallacies.
Right. And of course, this doesn't mean that the enduring 'popularity' and / or critical acclaim enjoyed by the music of Beethoven and Chopin has nothing to do with their immense talents and skills. But music is like organ meat. An expert chef might do a superb job of preparing liver or kidneys. But if you find liver or kidneys revolting, it isn't going to help much. And if you're British, perhaps you are more likely to appreciate a well-made kidney pie. But not always. Even if all that could be reduced to an exact science, it's a safe bet that the success of Beethoven's and Chopin's music will always be highly dependent on the environment, background and physical and mental makeup of each individual listener as well as the general social and cultural context.
What we are left with is empirical observation. You can call it polling if you like, but that's a somewhat inaccurate use of that term. I prefer "cultural anthropology".
 

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This has actually been a point I've made - that though I think historical importance is a reasonable way to classify composers according to objective data (if - y'know, that's a desirable thing to do), it doesn't constitute an aesthetic evaluation. One reason I think it's useful, though, is that it models well to reactions I've had to certain composers, and things I've heard a few people state - that one can simultaneously think a composer is important, and not like their music very much at all. Or the not-uncommon practice of distinguishing between "greatest" and "favorite".
Why is this such an endless point of confusion and acrimony here? A music listener does not have to be a cultural anthropologist. A music listener need not be concerned one iota with whether a composer is 'great', however one defines that term. Most composers and performers I enjoy exhibit some sort of skill in their approach to their musical genre, and also some individuality that sets them apart from the ordinary. More than that I wouldn't say.
 

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Oh I understand my position quite well, though I grant it may be too nuanced for some. Objectively all art is equal in that it is inert, neutral, reflective with no power of generating light from within that all--all--would see. To this all-reflecting ball we bring our own individual personalities, neurochemistries, histories--our very uniqueness, and endow the neutral ball with its meaning, status, rank, stature, value, etc. Canals on Mars. Faces on the moon, or images of rabbits? Some have observed that you want to have your cake and eat it too. Well, so do I.
I am genuinely mystified that this is such a point of contention. And as I've said, this reality is entirely consistent with the fact that Beethoven and Chopin each had prodigious musical skills. To use Wittgenstein's term, each of these composers played a "language game". If that particular game (and Beethoven and Chopin played different games, similar in many ways but distinct in many as well) is not to your individual subjective taste, then all of the composer's skill in execution is for naught. So, the artist has the challenge, not only to play his game with great skill, but to choose a game that will appeal to many audiences.

As audiences begin to view art further in time (and place) from its creation, even centuries removed, the challenge for that art to remain relevant and compelling ever increases. Yet, some works are up to that challenge. Not that they remain foremost in the minds of millions centuries later, but they persist somewhere in the framework of a culture, and their echo often can be detected, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly. Finding and analyzing these echos is the job of the cultural anthropologist. They collect their data and try to describe the common cultural values of a society.

When large numbers of subjective individual tastes happen to coincide in a society, those areas of coincidence (which may be approximate, of course) are what I am calling "values". Man is a social animal, and people living together in a society actively seek out common cultural values. This phenomenon can be objectively, empirically observed and measured. This is entirely consistent with the fact that our individual tastes are entirely unique and subjective.

That is why we can appreciate, respect and celebrate the greatness of certain composers and their music while acknowledging the uniqueness and complete subjectivity of our individual tastes. Not everyone will like the music of Beethoven and Chopin, and of those who do like it, some will like it more than others, or prefer the music of Beethoven to that of Chopin, and so forth. No matter. Their art, and that of Debussy and Stravinsky, and Shakespeare and Flaubert, Joyce and Proust, Rembrandt and Titian, Picasso and Kandinsky, Cage and Stockhausen, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, all contribute to our cultural values in empirically observable ways. India and China, both with sophisticated, highly developed cultures reaching back centuries if not millennia, have their own cultural polestars.

So I say, like what you want to like. Become an amateur cultural anthropologist if you want. A connoisseur of cultural nuances. Or not. That's all there is to it.
 

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[QUOTE="SanAntone, post: 2312588, member: 56608"
The primary quality all artists have, along with talent is an individual voice and artistic integrity.
[/QUOTE]
Yes, indeed. But choosing that individual voice is a major challenge, often involving much formal study, soul-searching and changes of direction, especially early on. Miles Davis studied at Juilliard for a year, but then got his father's permission to drop out. Look at Picasso's earliest paintings or Schoenberg's early string quartet in D, or Stravinsky's early symphony, Op. 1. Starting out, all of these artists got thorough training and experience in well-established traditions. When they struck out in new directions, they were experienced and educated, both culturally and technically. Beethoven was already 34 by the time he composed his revolutionary Eroica Symphony. All that is no accident.
 

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While an artist hopes to find an audience, his internal drive to actualize his artistic vision dictates his style and finding his unique voice more so than chasing what he may see as a stylistic trend that currently enjoys a large audience. I am speaking here of true artists with a long view, not commercial songwriters/performers writing music designed to sell quickly.
Very true. But it's interesting when looking at the careers of famous musicians of a variety of genres to see how diligent and thorough music students they were early on, educating themselves in existing well-established musical traditions, including classical music, before establishing their own styles. Their eventual "individual voice" is almost always created from a foundation of already known and accepted musical traditions in their culture. So while there is no guarantee that audiences will roar with immediate approval when they strike out in new directions, at some level there are principles and features that audiences will find at least somewhat familiar.
Unless we're talking about someone like the provocateur and conceptual artist John Cage, who often in his career (not always, mind) intentionally did the opposite, cutting the audience off as completely as he could from any comfortable frame of reference. But here the exception proves the rule, I think.
 

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You're right. Today's audiences are not as musical literate as an 18th century audience would have been. During the time of Mozart most members of his audience owned a piano and had at least one person who played. All members of the family could read music and would regularly gather around the piano and sing part songs.

Because of this there was a desire for the latest works by the most popular composers.

For some time the audience for Classical music has become almost entirely passive, consumers, and musically illiterate. All which contributes to a desire to remain within their comfort zone with the music they've heard countless times.
Gosh, is that ever true. My own grandfather, born in 1899, belonged to that last generation of musical literacy, when even a family of modest middle class means had an upright piano in the parlor, at least one family member who could play it, and piles of sheet music. As a youngster, he was the pianist of his family, and could easily sight read his way through that sheet music while everyone else sang along. And he was not alone. Most American members here will know the name of baseball great Babe Ruth, born in 1895. Not only could Ruth hit long home runs, he could play the popular songs of the day on the piano and was the life of many a party. All that began to change in the 1920s when high fidelity recording and broadcast radio came along.
 
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