I have an upcoming post summing my personal reflections on the aesthetic justification for existence. Like all things I promise, it will likely be forgotten in the chasm of ever-more stimulating ideas that surmount my consciousness. I will likely be invoking Nietzsche and nihilism and borrow generously from contemporary psychology to validate my subjective reflections, so stay tuned if you’d like to see something interesting! But as I continue to procrastinate indefinitely on that, it struck me that I’d never dedicated any one post to tackling my position on art – one which detailed my aesthetic outlook on the visual arts and also music. Before we further ourselves into this random post, here’s something out of the blue:
promote art, prevent suicide
My aesthetic philosophy follows from my desire to keep things efficient and immensely meaningful. Efficiency, unlike in the traditional contexts the term finds itself within engineering and thermodynamics and economics, can be used more broadly to refer to the doctrine of maximizing some desirable outcome for the same amount of physical labor and attention to detail. Excessive attention to otherwise trivial detail is a turn-off for me, unless they serve to capture a critical part of the painting’s theme. This hopefully should tip you in the direction of my preferences in art: expressionist that is minimalist and abstract.
Art, to me, is more than just a subjective experience on the part of the artist. Good art is one that elicits meaningful subjective responses in different subjects reconciling with their own outlooks on life, their life experiences and even personality. A mathematically-accurate depiction of a fractal might invoke ideas of spirituality in a religious person, but instead seem more like a case for the soul in a philosopher or mathematical appreciation in a mathematician. A tessellated image might mean many things for different people. A realistic depiction of the infamous Mona Lisa, on the other hand, might not predispose the viewers to these subjective experiences. Mona Lisa is Mona Lisa, regardless of whatever you might be feeling or have experienced throughout your life. Realistic art conforms to people’s expectations and appeals to details and the sense of familiarity they might reap. It’s all too familiar for the populace to see a coarse texture on asphalt, so it only makes sense that realist art depicts these characteristics as accurately as possible. The appeal of idealist art on the other hand, as with expressionism and abstraction, is to the ideas captured as opposed to the familiar and trivial details that we are all too used to seeing.
The need to capture grand and wildly abstract themes using the least amount of paint and strokes of the brush is what makes idealist art an artistic challenge. Often proponents of classical, realist art will refute by stating that art is in the detail, and the greatest challenge to producing good art lies in the aesthetic complexity of the piece. I for one do not subscribe to this notion. Yes, art can certainly be about accurate reproduction of real-world subjects and/or objects, but in an evolving age of high-definition photography and image processing – virtually anything is within capacity to be realistically depicted on the canvas. Realist art had a strong appeal to it back in the days when printing and high-definition photography were non-existent or at their infancy. The photography methods of the day were unable to resolve a great amount a detail and it was often left to the artists to make up for this lack of realism in their artistic conceptions. And it has been long since this paradigm has shifted away. It’s insanely easy to reproduce anything the human eyes can possibly see leaving for the artists to capture the ideas and create mystery left for subjective interpretation. Because after all, a geometrically-perfect circle could mean just about anything, right? This justification for the downfall of realism also confirms my belief in the law of averages.
I like my art to express itself in the most absurd ways imaginable. Maybe explore the 3rd dimension or play with the perception of time? The creative artist sees no bounds. I strongly believe that the practical constraints of instruments and methods should never impose a constraint upon the artist. I might be in a place to clarify that statement with an analogy to my preferences in music.
traditionalists should reconcile with their mental block about art being objective and market-oriented
While I vastly appreciate rock, jazz and other musical genres, the one type of music I’ve found myself infatuated to, more so over the years is electronic. The appeal of music generated electronically is in its ability to manipulate sound far beyond the capabilities of any musical instrument. There’s nothing more liberating to the creative artist than being able to create, manipulate and use sounds in ways never done before. But as with all things, technological ease of music production brings with it the potential for abuse. Producers, including ones hard-lining on the mainstream charts, tend to, euphemistically, share their samples and chord progressions and melodies. It’s not uncommon for the critical listener nowadays to pick up gross similarities between any two tracks sitting on Beatport’s top 100 – which is good if you’re a DJ as it makes these tracks easier to mix but not so much toward maintaining artistic originality. This perhaps has given room for critics of electronic music, especially with newer genres like big room. Regardless, creative artists have enormous power at their hands today than they ever did. And despite being so critically received among older musicians, electronic music pushes the boundaries of what music can achieve in all its aesthetic elements. The harmonies can be made more interesting and dynamic, the drum machine can be programmed to produce a beat no drummer could possibly produce with his own two hands, and synthesizers can be tuned to emulate virtually any acoustic instrument in existence. More avid emotions can be elicited through elaborate and complex buildups, melodies, chord progressions and effects. All sorts of auditory illusions can be evoked using techniques such as stereoscopic panning. Every time I listen to Avicii’s remix of Drowning by Armin or one of his tracks from the Stories album, I can never assert confidently that my emotional experience will ever be the same.
My aesthetic philosophy in music follows from my outlook on the visual arts. I like music that’s minimalist – mixes that are constructed meaningfully as opposed to in a formulaic way. You don’t necessarily have to use a hi-hat just because every other song in a particular genre does. Every track in a mix should add a significant aesthetic value. As you can tell, big room house is certainly not one of those genres I’d consider to be good art. It’s minimalist at the expense of lacking more than one aesthetic element. The melodies and effects are too repetitive and monotonic and fails to elicit any sort of introspective (meaningful) experiences to say the least. Big room, in other words, fails on the aesthetic fronts. There also seems to be little tonal variations and harmonic complexity throughout the song, which again makes it less and less emotive, an aesthetic quality of music. But at the same time, I enjoy music that convey abstract themes that can only be appreciated by a very introspective mind. An apt contender to demonstrate abstraction in music would be intelligent dance music, abbreviated as IDM. The lack of vocals detailing the song’s tenure sets the precedent for subjective interpretation. Back in my school days, I discovered this producer called Aphex Twin. I instantly found the two tracks of his that I’d listened to, Lichen and Rhubarb to be such a powerful emotional experience. I’d later go on to listen to Orphans, but Lichen was my point of entry into IDM.
it is my contention that the more intelligent a subject is, the more they will seek to art that provide for them a meaningful internalized experience
Before I conclude, I want to ask the curious handful among my readers why rock music would be so closely tied to intelligence? For one, rock lies more on the expressionist side, aesthetically. The hardcore screams and ground-shaking drum solos and frenzied guitar riffs are all signature of an expressionist aesthetic. A scream might signal a release of frustration to some rock fans. Obviously, it must now be noted that a psychoanalytic inquiry into aesthetics is not something I hold expertise in but that’s something I’ll comfortably leave for the experts to ponder, perhaps Jordan Peterson? I could go on theorizing without empirical data, you know.
But the expressionist themes conveyed in rock music is not something I particularly relate to – but I make an exception for Linkin Park. They had me and I consider them to be my favorite rock band to date ever since I’d encountered them on MTV sometime during middle school. Some notable instances of expressionism in music that jump to my mind pertain to Avicii and Enigma’s music. Avicii seems to use some interesting delays to add a swing-y feel while Enigma, in Return to Innocence make what seems like an obvious error in the vocals, but upon realizing the aesthetic quality it was bringing in, I decided that it could have been just another subtle expression. Avicii’s minimalist aesthetic draws from his style of layering a new melody on top of an existing hook (or should I say Ostianto?), so the hook never gets boring. The process of layering also allows the harmonic complexity to gradually pick up. I could tell he did this in his remix of Drowning. Sometimes, he substitutes white noise in place of a melody to create the same variation, as with Silhouettes and Fade Into Darkness (originally produced under the name Penguin until they ran into issues with royalties over a sample?).
Perhaps the greatest appeal of Avicii’s melodies, to me, is the differentiation it undergoes throughout. While the melody itself doen’t rapidly evolve into a new melody altogether, it undergoes constant change in a couple of its notes, particularly those lying toward the end. Aphex Twin also seems to employ a similar style wherein metamorphism of the lead melody is used to combat the monotony brought on by repetition. Live set performer Paul Kalkbrenner also exhibits a style that features a minimalist aesthetic not limited to repetition and phrasing. Moving away from examples in contemporary music, the 18th century French composer Erik Satie generously employs repetition on his bass chords, giving his pieces a classical parallel of the modern rhythmic bassline. As any connoisseur of Western classical music will point out, Erik wasn’t particularly fond of traditional constructs governing music in his day. All this rebellion and shift away from the norm would not be tolerated by the conformists of tradition.