Language and the Arts

Last night I attended a lecture that is part of a series called Recovered Voices. It’s an initiative aimed at highlighting composers whom were suppressed by the Nazis. This week’s lecture was particularly interesting for me, as it took on a philosophical slant. The following stood out to me: from a practical standpoint, how do we-if at all-encourage people to attend concerts that highlight these voices (this will be an interesting usage of the term, as will be evident in a minute) without it seeming to exploit music that may have originated under horrible circumstances? If music director’s opt to highlight these pieces, do they have a responsibility to highlight the circumstances and context under which the music was composed when presenting the pieces to a wider audience? This will largely depend on how we philosophically understand music, or the meaning of it (if it has meaning at all). The following is an excerpt from the supplemental reading of the lecture (which I recommend reading as it will be much more succinct with expertly observations):

“Of course the battle for and about musical meaning has been going on for centuries.  For some, music is nothing more or less than the relationship between tones in “musical space,” gloriously abstract and preferably untainted by too much contact with other aspects of reality.  Others insist on a general connection between human states of mind and behavior and musical gestures, while still others wish to forge closer connections, arguing, as did Mendelssohn, that music is actually the most precise commentary on human existence.  Finally, in Terezín artists and musicians also used music as a means for sending messages that exposed the propaganda lie of the camp.”

http://orelfoundation.org/journal/journalArticle/what_kind_of_historical_documen

I’ve often wondered how we view the meaning of art. It’s communicative but is there a meaning to these pieces? Additionally it seems like (at least from personal reflections on my own experiences, which is a weak measure) different arts will lead to different reflections (perhaps differently depending on the person).

I remember some years ago, I went to the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA) for guided tour that coupled the paintings of an era/location with foods that may have been served during that era and location. My food motivation runs deep.

As we walked through the exhibit the guide explained the context of the paintings and what made them so remarkable (the food if you were wondering, was not remarkable. Though I met a German who was a professional sommelier of water…yes, water).

The following paintings stood out to me (keep in mind this was some years ago):

 

John Singer Sargent, "Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis," 1890

 

https://unframed.lacma.org/2016/10/31/haunted-lacma-wanderings-john-singer-sargent-portrait

http://brownboygenius.com/2015/02/black-man-sued-right-vote-1780-youve-probably-never-heard/

The portrait on the left is of Maria and Livingston Davis, a mother and son from a prominent family. Though visually it is striking, it’s significance comes from context. Looking at it from today’s perspective it may seem like any other nice depiction of a mother and son, however this type of posture and the tenderness depicted in the painting is in context extremely unusual, especially of a family of prominent class. Paintings like this were typically very postured, perhaps even rigid, to signify class. Here there is a warmth and casualness that is extremely unusual.

The other is a commissioned portrait (possibly) of Captain Paul Cuffee, a freed slave who became a prominent and wealthy business man. Though the painting is not a technically remarkable portrait, the significance of the painting comes from the ability of Paul Cuffee to commission such a portrait. It is extremely meaningful in context.

Perhaps we may say that that context doesn’t give the painting itself meaning, but only our understanding of it. Is that so? (Spoken language relies on understanding meaning from context quite a bit)

Now with this lecture that touched on the meaning of music and it’s ethical applications, especially when we consider music composed under horrible circumstances, I wonder how far we take context to understanding the meaning of music (if it has meaning at all).

Thinking about this now, I think there are two concepts to flesh out: enjoyment and meaning. It SEEMS from my own perspective (which is a horrible metric) like context is less important for the enjoyment of music than it is with artwork, which I wonder if it may get confused with meaning. For example, I truly enjoyed learning about the context of the paintings, it made it more meaningful to me. But with music I’m not sure that understanding the context affects my enjoyment of music. This may be a bit too centric to my own experience, but I think it may be a valid point with respect to the arts. Does something become more meaningful if it becomes more enjoyable? What do we mean by ‘meaningful’ when we talk about the arts?

More things for me to think about.

Time

At this very moment, I’m on a quick trip with one of my closest friends. This point in time for me consists of navigating through odd and complicated life crossroads, but I’ve never been so sure of myself. I’ve never been this happy, content, and surrounded by support.

Additionally, these are the last few hours of being 28. Time is an odd beast, and the older I get the more I realize it.

In university, I developed an interest in the nature of time. From a philosophy of language standpoint, indexicals in particular grabbed my attention. I’m really fascinated by how-probably mostly metaphysically- ‘I am here now’ is meaningful.

My very specific interest in philosophy of language found it’s home in philosophy of time, when I had one lonely but incredible course on the philosophy of space and time. It challenged some deeply engrained assumptions I had about how I understand the world around me. Is time real? What would that mean for it to be real (or not)? In what way does it exist? If it doesn’t, how do we make sense of our experience?

I also acknowledge that though it’s fun to play around with ideas, I want to understand the implications of those philosophical conclusions in various real world contexts. It seems fine fun to challenge the reality of time when we think about comfortable scenarios. But what about the uncomfortable ones? Not that those situations should mould our understand of what is, try to force something. However, I tend to think when we only consider the mundane examples, it does just that. It let’s you play with fun abstract ideas, but doesn’t help you get to what the reality is (whatever that may mean).

Currently, I’m beginning to piece together what some physicists have to say about our understanding of time. In essence, they don’t. At least not very well.

Something so seemingly absolutely fundamental to our understanding of our place in the universe-our existence- is so unknown. A mundane thought takes time to experience.

It’s bewildering and exhilarating. To the adventurer in me, it’s a unknown frontier that I want to explore.

So the older I get, the less I understand but in a strange way it’s had the effect that I value my time-whatever that may mean-more than ever, and spending it with the people whom I care for and care for me.

So-here’s to a 29! May it be filled with hygge, exploration, and a lot of love (reciprocated with the people who earn it 😉 ).

I am here now.

Modern Day Heartbreak

One of the toughest heartbreaks is when someone you respect or love or are mentored by stops believing in you.

It’s a somber experience to lose a friend. It’s a devastation to lose a mentor.

When they stop believing in you; in your ability to do the thing you love, when they were so encouraging before, is a difficult failure to move beyond.

The Beginning of 2018

A while back, I got a paddle board and for my first trip with it I went out into the ocean. When I got out, it was beautiful. Calm serenity, looking out into the horizon and floating out, just touching the unknown. When I tried to get back to shore though, it was the first time in a very long time I felt fear. I should say, a specific type of fear; emotional fear I’ve felt. This fear was a twilight of primal/survival fear. I was out in the middle of an open ocean, not in prime physical shape, never had been out in the water with my board, trying to fight currents and waves to get back in. I was realizing I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was and for the first time in a very long time, I wasn’t sure if I was capable of saving myself. I was never in true danger as there were plenty of surfers around me. Pride wouldn’t let me ask for help though, so I pushed and paddled through as though no one was around. It took me a  long time to get back on shore and I was a bit away from where my friend was waiting for me. I was completely drained and the following day my entire back was in pain from pulling all of those muscles that I had never used before.

It was exhilarating.

I was afraid, but I was pushed (in a small way of course) out of my comfort zone. We get complacent sometimes, but I think in those places of the unknown when you get to test your own boundaries you learn so much. That’s what I want from life. I want to learn, grow, bring some joy to others, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to contribute in a positive way to the world.

It’s been an odd time in my life. I have been trying to get into graduate school for two years now. During that time I have had a job that-though not ideal (which job is?)-it provided some security for me during this interim. I’ve had amazing coworkers, it provided a supportive environment for the pursuit of personal goals, and for some time I even learned a bit about business and the people within it, so I waited for things to come together; I kept staying. But life doesn’t work in the way we plan, so even though I wasn’t being used to my full capacity it was easy for me to become complacent with where I was.

But I wasn’t happy. Perhaps it’s an irrational part of me, as how often do you really get a job that’s as relaxed as mine was and has coworkers who are as smart, funny, supportive, and talented as they are? But somewhere in me I want to feel that fear; I want to be pushed ahead of my limits. I want to use and extend my potential.

And so, perhaps against good judgement, I decided to leave my good job at the end of this month. Perhaps I’ll wind up in a worse situation, but hopefully that will propel me even further. I’m not truly sure what’s in store for me; I’ve nothing waiting for me. But I’m done waiting for nothing.

And so, here I go to make some more mistakes.