Clarifying a distinction

Again Schweitzer, from the same book:

“Some artists are subjective, some objective. The art of the former has its source in their personality; their work is almost independent of the epoch in which they live. A law unto themselves, they place themselves in opposition to their epoch and originate new forms for the expression of their ideas.”

I’d throw Zeppelin, Coltrane, Nirvana, Public Enemy, and some others, into this category.

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6 Responses to “Clarifying a distinction”

  1. toejam Says:

    in re final line: I agree. see my comment from original BTQ post–you can’t leave out pop music though. much of our population considers “Theme to Titanic” to be hot jams, and in a way, Celine and Mariah define their time, though they’re not necessarily pushing art forward. I remember the Zeppelin versus Bee Gees argument back in the day, too.

    by the way, I’ve got a hot Zep boot from December, if innerested lmk

  2. pelee Says:

    I think the distinction is one that was brought up earlier. Ellington and Bach, for example, COULD define their times. I don’t think anyone named in this post/comments qualifies because their appeal is limited mostly to their genre and none of these genres is representative.

    In other words, it becomes less a question of music, taste and even artistic endeavor and more a question of sociology. Once nonconformity became acceptable/desirable, was it even possible for one person or band to represent an entire society anymore?

  3. aljamieson Says:

    Yeah, but that’s the point of the distinction between subjective and objective artists. The list I have in this post would be “subjective” artists the way that Schweitzer defines it (as a comparison, he uses Wagner as an example to contrast Bach’s objective art). Taken in their time, I think that the bands listed fall into the category of subjective artists precisely because they do not define their times, and instead create something uniquely their own, transcending a genre while existing squarely within it.

    Additionally, as long as Bach is a starting point for artistry of the age (which I think is only appropriate), it’s should be noted that Bach was considered a largely forgotten performer until his compositions were revived by Mendlessohn et al close to a hundred years later. I don’t think that contemporary acceptance would apply as a standard by which to judge.

    IN other words, while it’s much easier to say that Ellington’s art was definitive of the music of the era, it’s partly because the era itself has been well defined, and Ellington has provided a measure of context and contour for it. I don’t think our “era” has truly been defined such that today’s musicians and artists can be said to be providing some of that definition. It would be a shame, however, if it turns out that Gnarls Barkley, 50 years from now, is considered to have done so…

  4. pelee Says:

    So, just as a case in point, you think that Nirvana transcended the genre? Or will in retrospect?

  5. pelee Says:

    Another thought: The Beatles, who seem to qualify as both subjective and objective, especially if one cares to include solo careers. And whether or not they transcended their genre, I do think they transcended their initial audience, which might be where we’re getting lost in the discussion of the artist/process vs. their ability to “define” the time.

    And finally, Andrew Lloyd Weber, but I haven’t quite thought this one out. Just posting before I fly.

  6. aljamieson Says:

    Nirvana, definitely, if you take grunge as a genre. It’s a paradox (exceeding the limits of a genre and still remaining generic), I know, but that’s the genius of it. Subjective art doesn’t need much retrospection, I think, because it’s there to be judged on its own terms. I’d take the Beatles music as being subjective, because it “created new forms for the expression of their ideas” (though I still think they’re overrated). Additionally, it is independent of the epoch in which they lived, as evidenced by its continuing relevance and popularity.

    I think though, with the distinctions between the subjective and objective artists, it’s getting blurred. An objective artist, under the definition carved out, has no need to transcend any genre. In fact, they take existing genres of music and work them out definitively, but are not necessarily innovaters.

    I don’t think any artist necessarily defines his time, anyway. Rather, they contribute to their time something that up until that point had escaped any meaningful definition (jazz, for instance), and provide that definition. Thus their contribution is huge and happens at a particular moment in history, thus contributing to the history of the era that will eventually be written and remembered. Ellington didn’t define his time – after all, World War II was going on – but he defined something at that time which has persisted up until today, thus providing that era with more richness and contour than would exist without him.

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