September 24th, 2008

music is not passive

Over on bluishorange, Alison pointed to Shaun's post about the film High Fidelity. Something Shaun wrote jumped out at me:

The only conversations the characters care about are about music and film, solidly passive art forms. Their real thinking is limited to art criticism and introspection.

I have not actually seen the film, but I can understand that in the context of how those characters behave, "solidly passive" could be a fair description of their relationship with music. Still, my immediate reaction was to strongly object to the characterization of music as a "solidly passive" art form.

Music moves people, literally - at the least, it can make you tap your toe or nod your head or maybe even sway your body a bit. You find yourself humming the tune later on, with no particular prompting. There's interaction and feedback with the performers in a performance: at a concert, you'll applaud or yell or scream or whistle or whatever's appropriate in response. And of course, anyone can participate in the creation of the art even during a concert, just at the basic level of singing along or tapping the beat. That's not to mention learning to make music on your own, with voice or instrument or whatever's at hand. 

Yes, music can be absorbed in a passive manner, just as film (or television) or other performing arts can be. And just like film or television, mediocre music lends itself to passivity. However, I submit these are flaws not in the art forms, but in the particular instances of artwork or in the particular members of the audience. Music itself asks for your attention and evokes a response; to call music a solidly passive art form or to treat it as a solidly passive art form is to miss its entire reason for being. And in truth, it's arguable that anything worthy of being called art cannot be a solidly passive experience.
  • Current Mood
  • Tags