Wednesday, 13 April 2005

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing

'Berlin Bear' disagrees with me. It happens. In response to my musical point here he asks: "What I don't get is this: If we can, as you say "without trouble identify what is good music, and what is not" why do opinions on what is good music and what is not, or indeed what is music and what is not, differ so much from one person to the next?"

Good point, and on reflection I withdraw the words 'without trouble.' If it could be done 'without trouble' we wouldn't need either the philosophical discussion or the research, would we?

First of all let's understand that art per se is of crucial importance in human life. Art, if you like, offers a shortcut to our philosophy; it allows us to say when we see a painting or hear a piece of music, "Yes! This is me!" Art that does that for us helps us to integrate our view of the world; it allows us to hold in one 'mental unit' the totality of our view on the world, and by so doing helps to integrate us.

So as we all hold different philosophies and have a different fundamental outlook, it's quite natural that we will all look for different art to give us that "Yes!" moment.

Having said that, it should be clear that not every work of art can do that for us. A piece that does will have sufficient scope, depth and integration (SDI) to integrate a fundamental view of the world, and it is by these measures that we can form objective standards for what is good and bad. As Duke Ellington explains it, "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing."

So if a painting or book or symphony or poem or sculpture is good enough, if it has suffient SDI, (and if it swings!) it will be capable of being a 'shortcut to our philosophy'; if not, it won't. That's why we can say of one work of art: "This is good art, but I don't like it," or "This is good, I love it," or "This is crap because it insults my intelligence."

If you're interested, I talk about this with respect to music at greater length here, and Ayn Rand talks about this at much greater length and with much greater style in her book The Romantic Manifesto. As you'd expect. I recommend both to your attention. :-)

The importance of this new research, to conclude (thank goodness, I hear you sigh), is that it helps to further explain what up to now has only really been possible with introspection - that is, up to now it's only been possible to feel the effect of melody, harmony and the like in the 'listening room of our own mind.' It seems it might now be possible to show these effects more demonstratively, a very exciting prospect! :-)


  1. OK, I'll buy that. Interesting, I had never though of art in that "speaking to youe personal philosopy" kind of way, but I can see waht you mean. I did not, by the way, disagree with you, I just asked for more info on something I didn't get from your post. I know that this is completely unheard of in the blogosphere, where it is the accepted practice to plum for all out attack of something you don't understand without bothering to read the links, but some of us still gather our knowledge the old way ;-)

    All philosophical eh Pete? I'm impressed. There's layers I had not imagined under there, you big lug! ;-)

  2. Oh my GAWD, I type like a monkey. Sorry for all the typos.

  3. "Big lug"! I'm a sensitive new-age guy! ;-)

  4. Oops, sorry, my bad. ;-) What I *meant8 to say was "you big sensitive new age lug/guy". I shall be more cafeul in future.

  5. "I shall be more cafeul in future." (sic)

    It's too late, I'm already offended. Deeply offended. I demand a tearful apology. (Q: What's the national symbol of NZ? A: A box of tisssues.)

    And you're right: you ~do~ type like a monkey. Played footy that way too as I recall. :-P

  6. Well, now I'm offended. It's because I am taking my laptop's name literally and using it in my lap. Sorry.


1. Commenters are welcome and are invited to challenge the facts presented herein. Commenters who wish to ignore them however will themselves be ignored.
2. Read before you comment.
3. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
4. Off-topic grandstanding, trolling and spam is moderated. (Unless it's entertaining.)