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8 July, 2008

And I thought proggers liked extended instrumentals

Certain philistines have lazily dismissed the ongoing Halberstadt performance of John Cage's 'ORGAN2/ASLSP As Slow aS Possible' as 'pretentious'.

Pretentious. Go on then: what does it pretend to be? If there's pretension, it's on the part of the critics, and their apparent po-faced adulation of convention.
C'mon; how could anyone interpret a performance scheduled to last 639 years, which is on its sixth note in seven years and which people visit on key dates to hear tone changes, as deadly serious? Don't be so ****ing worthy. Have you actually read anything about it, and noticed it serves as a framing element for other educational and musical projects?

Another criticism is that "anyone could do that". Trite, vacuous and irredeemably ignorant.
The ability to play an organ is a skill which I certainly respect, as is an ability to write organ music. But both are merely crafts, whereas an ability to derive inspiration from the instrument may go further: art. Conventionally, craft is considered a precondition for producing art, but it doesn't have to be: considerable technical ability on the part of the artist may or may not be involved, but that's a totally different issue, even a matter of coincidence. Banging two rocks together can be music, whereas as 70s 'prog' bands and their imitators amply demonstrate, the ability to wring intricate... widdly bits out of guitars and mellotrons has rarely produced art.
An object or performance may involve complexity, and an object or performance may be art, but there's no causal relationship: complexity isn't a precondition for art.

Production of art doesn't necessarily demand great (or any) technical ability, and nor does it necessarily require great intellectual effort.
Yes, in some cases the means of production, including the thought process, is part of the artwork, but sometimes only the result matters, whether it's a lifetime's work or the outcome of two minutes' daydreaming. I'd argue that it's even possible to generate art inadvertantly, perhaps by accidentally triggering one's camera at a fortuitous moment.

Art is about the reaction it inspires in the viewer or listener. If, after watching a film, one thinks "that was fun; what's next?", that's fine as entertainment, but it's empty sensation rather than art; it hasn't touched the viewer, hasn't provoked deeper, lasting thought; it hasn't changed the viewer.

That's not to say art has to have 'meaning', or convey some grand 'message'. As an organiser of the Halberstadt performance says, "It doesnít mean anything. Itís just there." I really don't believe an artwork has to encapsulate ('contain') any ideas; many do, but it's not part of my definition of 'art' Ė it's entirely acceptable for an artwork to be an inert reflector of one's own ideas. An artwork doesn't need to give the observer anything, or interact with the observer in any way; sometimes the burden is entirely the observer's.
Self-reflection is a 'valid' reaction (as if validity needed to be proved) – some of the best art forces one to question oneself rather than the ostensible content of the work itself. Art can also inspire anger, even disgust – art definitely doesn't have to entertain.

But a blank refusal to engage with art.... No. I can't accept that. If you don't like an artwork, fine; that's your choice. But if you merely dismiss it, you're just a drone.

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