November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
There will be another essay here on this topic, the middle section of the argument, whose objective will be to look at length at the similarities between the classical arts of different cultural traditions.
But today I will race ahead and state why looking at these similarities is important.
It is important, in my view, because it constitutes a prolegomena to a new theory of art: it reveals something of aesthetic xx.
The usual view of art is that it is an activity which grows out of a particular cultural tradition; I don’t have a problem with this view — certainly new art often has something to do with the art that has gone before — except that on this view the “relevant tradition” is defined very broadly. And thus Italian opera is assumed to grow out of the totality of all cultural phenomena present in Italy at the time of its creation; while, in my view, many cultural phenomena — and much of the human capital — of Italy was not just uninvolved in the creation of Italian opera, but probably antithetical to it. Many Italians of the time remained indifferent to opera, or made fun of it just the way many people do today: opera was invented by some people for some people; the name “Italian opera” is conventional, not revelatory; it is not clear that there is anything “Italian” about “Italian opera”; and it is certainly clear that there is nothing operatic about Italy, or the Italian people, or other Italian arts.
The spread of opera to other countries of Europe is consistent with this view: some Frenchmen, some Germans, some Englishmen, some Poles found opera instantly appealing, despite it being “foreign” (“Italian”); but most did not; the invention of national opera (sung in national languages and on national themes) changed things only a little: it helped secure state sponsorship and acquire some ideologically minded following (people who will “support” on ideological grounds); yet, for all this, opera has remained a minority pursuit, appealing only to a very narrow subsection of each society.
This is true as opera travels outside of Europe: when it is shown in China or Japan or Korea, the same thing happens: most locals remain indifferent, some ridicule it, and some, a very narrow minority, love it.
I take this to mean two things:
1) that classical arts appeal to certain kinds of minds which exist as a mutation across the globe, in all populations; this makes it possible for classical arts to cross borders and language barriers because through them like minds speak to like minds; and
2) that in whatever the broadly defined milieu of the classical minds (“Italy” or “Europe” or “West” or “China” or “Far East”), the classical minds constitute a minority, an island, an isolated population within it, indifferent to the rest (non-classical) of the culture and often in an adversarial attitude to it.
Combined, the two theses amount to the claim that we, the classical minds, belong to the art world of the classical arts; and that this is our true fatherland, not “Italy” or “Europe” or “The West”.
This thesis has an important corollary: that to the extent that the kinds of minds do not mix, kinds of art do not mix: classical arts do not mix with popular arts; dumbing down a classical art so as to reach to a wider audience does not mean that classical art has reached further, only that the classical art in question has been perverted and — from the point of view of the classical minds — killed.