> Alex Ross cites a character in a 1902 Thomas Mann story as an illustration
> of the developing split between artists and the masses. (page 36) The
> character berates a store owner for displaying "kitsch." So far, so good.
> It's the descriptor Ross appends that surprised me; he calls it "art
> that is merely 'beautiful' and therefore worthless."
"Art that is merely 'beautiful' and therefore worthless..." strikes me
as a typical Adorno point of view, and I strongly disagree with it. For
one thing, it is not that easy to be "merely beautiful." Mahler was known
to say: "Interesting easy; beautiful difficult." There is nothing "mere"
about beauty at any level. It too often seems to flow from Adorno that
"ugly" and "inaccessable" are deemed to be marks of worth, because you
(over there... and you know who I'm tgalking to) don't get it. The
subtext is obviously: "If it appeals to you, it is worthless, because
you are worthless." I utterly reject that idea.
This peculiar attitude hit me hard when I was in grad school. I had
just composed a lyric and romantic aria on a text from the "Song of
Solomon." I played the recording for a fellow student, a hard-line
serialist. His words are still etched in my mind fifty years later:
"Well of course it's beautiful, but it's irrelevant!" We are still
friends, but I have never forgotten. Beauty need not be pretty, but
it should not be held up to some fleeting standard of fashion.
This has nothing to do with "kitsch" of course, but it does have to do
with our perception of art. Do we believe what the Adornos tell us,
or do we have the courage to rely on what our ears and hearts tell us?
David Lamb in Seattle
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