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How to talk about art

How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 01:40:43 AM
As anyone who is reading this knows, the Dark Legions Archive sets itself apart by being one of the very few websites that offers interpretive criticism (criticism of the meaning of a work) as well as aesthetic criticism of heavy metal albums.  However, it seems that many recent posts are confusing the concept of interpretive criticism with subjective emotional reactions to art.  The latter is not an interesting topic of discussion, and posts that pretend like it is are making this forum look stupid.  As such, an extremely basic guide to artistic criticism is required.

There are three main parts to artistic criticism.  These are aesthetic criticism, interpretive criticism, and evaluative criticism.  It is important to note that these are sequential- that is, that we determine the meaning based on the aesthetics, and we determine the quality based on aesthetics and meaning.  

Now that these three parts have been introduced, it is time to define them more precisely, starting with the ones that most people have no difficulties with- aesthetic criticism and evaluative criticism.  Aesthetic criticism is criticism of the physical aspect of a work.  In the case of music, the aesthetic elements are melody, rhythm, harmony, structure, dynamics, tempo, and timbre.  Evaluative criticism seeks to answer the question "is it good?"  It follows from both the interpretive criticism (are these ideas interesting or important?) and the aesthetic criticism (is it executed well?).

Interpretive criticism is the part that many people, whether posting on internet forums or sitting in introductory art lectures at a college, have difficulties with.  Interpretive criticism deals with the question "what ideas are expressed by this piece?  What does it mean?"  It follows from the aesthetics.  Just as if you were writing about a piece of literature and ascribed to it a theme in no way expressed in the original text, if you ascribe a meaning to piece of art without being able to point to the aesthetic elements that communicate this meaning, then you are not engaging in interpretive criticism, but rather are engaging merely with your own subjective emotions.  

A brief example of interpretive criticism done correctly:  "The Gate of Nanna by Beherit starts with two simple riffs with melody limited to a jump to demarcate the end of the phrase, and a rhythm that is little more than a repetitive pulse.  At about half-way through the song, it changes to a third, slower, theme, also limited to only three chords, but in a higher register, and with a consonant minor-key melody that runs throughout the riff, as opposed to a simple note change at the boundary of the riff.  For the first time in the song, the pulse beats are dropped, with beats 1, 3, and 4 having prominence over beat 2.  As the song ends, it reverts to a gentle droning riff in the lower registers, with whispered vocals and swirling synths, playing oscillations more than notes, lending a presence more significant for sound than for musicality.  

The beginning of the song is clearly ritualistic, with the even beat and repetition of the basic riffs, combined with the intentional monotony of said riffs acting to hypnotize the listener into a meditative state,  aided by the choice of the minor third and major seventh for the notes that demarcate the end of a measure- the former to keep a somber atmosphere, and the latter to keep the song from falling into a simple minor key and giving the listener an obvious emotional reference.  The effect is further enhanced by the timbre choice of the vocals, alternating between whispering and a mechanical chant.  After some repetitions of the two ritualistic riffs- the faster one indicating an intensifying of the ritual- this part of the song fades out into the more melodic middle section.  This section, by staying strictly within minor key, but by avoiding the sixth note and descending to the seventh instead of ascending to it, is able to give the listener a more human emotional reference- the trance now broken, the listener is confronted with a triumph, still utterly somber- this feeling is enhanced by the move to the upper registers, where the guitar's tone is more clear.  The vocals take a dramatic shift from the understated to a bestial roar of "Ave Satan!  Ave Lucifer!", making the song's implication more obvious- the ritual has succeeded, and now the forces of the occult are palpable, looming over mankind, glorified by their disciples.  Finally, as the song fades out, it returns to the ritualism, but this time given an unsettling tone, from the solely-descending riff, swirling tones of the synth, and a voice whispering "sleep... sleep, my friend...".  The de-emphasis of the guitar, being the most rigid piece of instrumentation, acts to cut the listener away from the physical, as though a portal to the beyond has been opened, and the listener has been swept inside."

While it's obvious that not every post will go to the length of the above, more due to the casual nature of internet forums rather than the depth of analysis of the above (it's the minimum that would be expected in any college freshman art class), it should make it clear what most posts around here are missing- namely, discussion about the meaning of the work itself, as can be backed up by the physical form of the work.

Here's an example of what one is more likely to see around here: "Being 'artistic' means listening to music and associating colors with sequences or production like a trained painter. Certain strong colors produces stirrings or tinglings in the heart, and the imagination is taken away on an aesthetic voyage.

With Filosofem it was the faded greens of Norways countryside, In the Nightside Eclipse was dense white woods, with sharp blue moonlight cutting in, nighttime aureoles - a jaded coldness turning your heart into stone. Battles in the North.. a completely northern landscape, pure white, colder than glaciers."

Notice how no connection to the outward form of the pieces in question is made; rather, all we see here is what one listener sees in his own mind as he listens to these.  The fact that in each case he's simply describing the album cover, combined with his unsubstantiated assertion that "being artistic" (whatever that means) involves associating colors with an sounds shows that he's simply regurgitating his own uninteresting subjective emotions (oh, but they are interesting!  look at me! I'm unique!), like any well trained hipster.

There are no more excuses for poor posts like MachinalHeidegger's.  It would be appreciated if those who do not want to learn to post correctly find somewhere else to share their neurotic ego drama.


Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 04:51:37 AM
I knew painting albums in an aesthetic sense would upset the cold hard 'logicians' akin to Kant around here. - and look, it has sprouted up a carcass of a system to analyze the structure of art (that gets us nowhere).

If you are blind to the color association with tones and production, then I suggest you begin admitting you're a mathematician, not a musician.

Alas, the point of said thread was subjectivity that arrives in solipsism, surreality, abstraction 'which colors do you associate to these albums?' It was to spur others into evaluating the idea of perfect pitch into visual aesthetics, not finding a realistic holistic system to base musical structure upon, unlike most threads around here (and it's got you by the balls). You do realize that a musician with perfect pitch visualizes colors with tones and notes? If a modern black metal band is generally one tone and frequency at a current setting thrown in a blender - the tone is gray. Pretty simple, unlike this complex system you barf out.

To put criticism into linear structures aka, 'There are three main parts to artistic criticism' is how modern Black Metal has been formed. Cold calculation compared with a purposeful ever-changing life force, that eventuates into the surreal, and esoteric (indescribable). Distinctive artistic styles - whether an orchestral movement by Wagner, or a piece of writing, are the only entities in life that have shaken off all right to calculate themselves into systems. Why do you think there hasn't been an interesting Black Metal act since 95'?

Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 05:15:42 AM
There are no more excuses for poor posts like MachinalHeidegger's.  It would be appreciated if those who do not want to learn to post correctly find somewhere else to share their neurotic ego drama.


I appreciate the points you raised, and I happen to find MachinalHeidegger's reasoning to be flawed, but you're moving into awfully dangerous territory here.  There's very little point in the existence of a public forum if we're going to dictate which opinions are valid.  I would think that the status quo will eventually (and more suitably) dictate the flow of discussion without having rules in place concerning content; the forum will weed out the "lesser" contributors.

Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 08:31:04 AM
MachinalHeidegger:
I would assume your post was targeted because it was the most recent. While the criticism against you was harsh, I would much rather your hurt feelings than a degenerating forum. I'm sure you can rationalize the insult and overcome your aching pride, do you really think systematic evaluation of art is a 'carcass of a system', c'mon bro, really?

When you get down to brass tacks there really is no easy way to communicate the 'feel' of an album. The passions and fervor rage inside you but its unquantifiable, intangible.
Systematic evaluation begets greater complexity in analysis than album = colour. Your getting closer to the (useless) emotive aspect of the album with colour association but completely sidestep the (useful) intellectual stimulation that makes the music beautiful.


There's very little point in a public forum if a morass of idiotic opinions drown out the ones worth reading.

 


Rise Arjuna

Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 09:47:28 AM
A few thoughts:

Lets not turn this into a discussion of MechanicalHeidegger's thread as it is merely used as an example. I do find it interesting how much album art can influence one's listenning experience (part or interpretation I guess), but any thoughts should be taken up in the other thread.

I knew painting albums in an aesthetic sense would upset the cold hard 'logicians' akin to Kant around here. - and look, it has sprouted up a carcass of a system to analyze the structure of art (that gets us nowhere).

If you are blind to the color association with tones and production, then I suggest you begin admitting you're a mathematician, not a musician.

Alas, the point of said thread was subjectivity that arrives in solipsism, surreality, abstraction 'which colors do you associate to these albums?' It was to spur others into evaluating the idea of perfect pitch into visual aesthetics, not finding a realistic holistic system to base musical structure upon, unlike most threads around here (and it's got you by the balls). You do realize that a musician with perfect pitch visualizes colors with tones and notes? If a modern black metal band is generally one tone and frequency at a current setting thrown in a blender - the tone is gray. Pretty simple, unlike this complex system you barf out.

To put criticism into linear structures aka, 'There are three main parts to artistic criticism' is how modern Black Metal has been formed. Cold calculation compared with a purposeful ever-changing life force, that eventuates into the surreal, and esoteric (indescribable). Distinctive artistic styles - whether an orchestral movement by Wagner, or a piece of writing, are the only entities in life that have shaken off all right to calculate themselves into systems. Why do you think there hasn't been an interesting Black Metal act since 95'?

Surely the reason is more the desire to emmulate/immitate Burzum and Darkthrone than anything else. What makes good black metal good is that it strives to create something beyond the aestheitcs, ie. more than the sum of its parts. It also strived to transcend mere emotional engagement.

The view that this way of evaluating art would fall into dogma is merely down to how you see it. The way I rad the original post was that rather than telling people what to think it gives them tools to think. This means people can discuss the meanings of works on the same level rather than one person spouting emotive un-thought out responses and the other trying to give an indepth analysis.

As has been said, rather than this leading to everyone thinking the same thing, it will lead to sophisticated discussions and save the integrity of the forum. 
In a state of permanent Abyss

Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 01:48:18 PM
When you get down to brass tacks there really is no easy way to communicate the 'feel' of an album. The passions and fervor rage inside you but its unquantifiable, intangible.

This is one of the most valid points about music criticism I've seen in a while. Well said.
No.

Having reviewed the thread, baby Jesus is most definitely weeping at this point.

Re: How to talk about art
June 15, 2010, 02:27:32 PM
To put criticism into linear structures aka, 'There are three main parts to artistic criticism' is how modern Black Metal has been formed. Cold calculation compared with a purposeful ever-changing life force, that eventuates into the surreal, and esoteric (indescribable). Distinctive artistic styles - whether an orchestral movement by Wagner, or a piece of writing, are the only entities in life that have shaken off all right to calculate themselves into systems. Why do you think there hasn't been an interesting Black Metal act since 95'?

You'll notice that Cynical and I have different approaches. My statement was a general principle: the more subjective we make our analysis, the less we keep sight of reality, which includes the notion that art has a purpose, or is a communication.

At least by any decent scientific standard, art is a communication. It is a flow of information encoded in culturally or biologically relevant patterns. Even "ambient information," like wallpaper or a good painting, contains a focal point and an exchange in action.

Anecdotally, I find all art fits this pattern:

1. I had adapted to my life as was
2. I confronted a problem I did not understand
3. Here is how I reacted
4. This is how (a) the problem and (b) the world responded
5. This is what I did to resolve the situation
6. Here is how it changed me

Cynical's point is not to regulate in a binary sense what we can post on this forum. It's to point out that some critique is logical and therefore has a higher value over other stuff, which basically counts more as SOCIALIZATION than DISCUSSION. Discussion is an exchange of information; socialization is an exchange of social approval.

Quote
Person 1: Hey, how's it going?

Person 2: Man, I've had this giant black cock lodged in my ass for two days.

Person 1: That's a bummer. I hate it when it happens to me. Hey, are you going to the club tonight? WITTR is playing.

Social approval: no matter how many black dongs are lodged painfully in your rectum, you still have a social group. You are somebody.

When we stop being Asperger's cases, and thus stop viewing our music as information leading to an exchange of knowledge, we drift into the world of socialization that's a sliding scale:

NICE GUY <---------> POLITICIAN <-------> PROSTITUTE <------------> HIPSTER

Therefore, we can agree -- and Cynical's message was a good lightning rod -- that we want our conversation to drift closer to the informational side than the socialization side.

However, there's a catch... per our informational focus, we don't view it as relevant that there is a person behind MachinalHeidegger's username. In fact, we're not convinced there is -- he could be a really intense script (sorry dude, any of us could, really) or AI. So it's not wise to take this personally, because in Aspie/scientist/White Suburban Nerd world, we don't. It's like we're hanging out at the mall and one of us farted -- oh well, and haha, farts.

There's bad information all around, and bad habits you can pick up anywhere. They will infect you. They infect me all the time and I fight them off, about half of the time. In the past, when I was less "fully articulated," they infected me even more. It was a bummer. Like having black dongs lodged in my rectum.

Re: How to talk about art
June 16, 2010, 12:17:47 AM
If you don't mind Conservationist, rather then address these topics here, I'd like to research them intrinsically for a week (separating the ego from the self, subjectification, social approval etc, in regards to Black Metal) and then send you a Private Message with a more knowledgeable pallet. While I agree that my young idealism got in the way of more seasoned and honed people like yourself and Cynic, at-least we have separated two important topics: this thread - an ego-less intellectual discussion of art criticism (aesthetic, interpretive, and evaluative,) and the other thread - the effects of album art on the aesthetic listening experience.

Does that sound reasonable?

Re: How to talk about art
June 16, 2010, 02:01:20 AM
I was going to recommend just being assertive and restate your original post from a more informed position, not that I'm in a much better position to talk mind you.

Re: How to talk about art
June 16, 2010, 06:55:54 AM
Cynical's point is not to regulate in a binary sense what we can post on this forum. It's to point out that some critique is logical and therefore has a higher value over other stuff, which basically counts more as SOCIALIZATION than DISCUSSION. Discussion is an exchange of information; socialization is an exchange of social approval.

I would not disagree with any of what you said as it pertains to this forum in a general sense.  Specifically as it relates to the content of this thread - "ego-less intellectual discussion of art criticism" or otherwise - I found this comment to be particularly egregious:

There are no more excuses for poor posts like MachinalHeidegger's.  It would be appreciated if those who do not want to learn to post correctly find somewhere else to share their neurotic ego drama.

That to me boils down to what you alluded to as binary regulation.  If this was meant as a preemptive strike against the possibility of appearing as a bunch of daft metalheads to outsiders, a fate that's almost a certainty no matter how articulate some of us are, I'd venture that far better examples could be cited.  I don't think the intention of the post in question was socialization for socialization's sake, nor was anything he posted indicative of a neurosis - again, far better examples could be cited.  Exercising flawed reasoning is certainly grounds for a debate, but shouldn't automatically open up the door to elitism.  I can respect the need to fine tune the forum's signal to noise ratio, but there are surely better ways to go about that than via the ad hominem route, the ugliest method of attack afforded by the virtual anonymity of the internet.

Re: How to talk about art
June 16, 2010, 09:28:19 AM
On that note I would like to say that over the course of the five years or so that I have been on this forum, sometimes as lurker and sometimes as poster, the level of discussion has improved massively. On top of that the detatchement and decrease in ad hominem arguments is very apparent. I have been very impressed at the highly critical yet respectful way this thread has been carried.

I think the intention of the original poster (stop me if I'm wrong) was not to accuse MachinalHeidegger personally but to use his thread as an example of what this forum needs to avoid in future. If we strive to this then we can but hope that rest of the world will wake up and view us as more than just daft metalheads.
In a state of permanent Abyss

Re: How to talk about art
June 16, 2010, 09:27:21 PM
I'm with hoodwink. Down with the elitists! Everyone grab a torch or a pitchfork. Let's storm this fucker. Ha!

Re: How to talk about art
June 18, 2010, 03:25:49 PM
I certainly think that metal of all kinds should be spoken about with an intelligent edge, as opposed to the standard "man, dat shizz is br00tal y0" wiggerspeak of most forums out there.