Monday, February 26, 2007

Jazz and Abstraction

In a recent post, Dyske Suematsu says that Japanese people like jazz more than Americans do, and this is because Americans are uncomfortable with abstraction, and don't appreciate instrumental music.

Most Americans do not know what to do with abstraction in general. To be able to fully appreciate abstraction, you must be able to turn off your thought, or at least be able to put your thought into the background. This is not as easy as it might seem. In modern art museums, most people’s minds are dominated by thoughts like: “Even I could do this.” Or, “Why is this in a museum?” Or, “This looks like my bed sheet.” Etc.. They are unable to let the abstraction affect their emotions directly; their experience must be filtered through interpretations.

I agree that most Americans are more comfortable with representational art than abstract art, and like pop music with lyrics better than instrumental jazz. But jazz used to be much more popular in America than it is today. What happened? Did Americans have a greater ability to appreciate abstraction in the past? How did they lose it?


Michelle said...

It may be the difference between "Jazz Standards" (Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Fats Waller) and the more modern jazz of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and those who came after them.

Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong are jazz, but they're a different kind of jazz than Coltrane and Davis. A jazz that is more abstract.

So... maybe?

Can't comment on your comparison with art though. I'm a heathen and don't much care for any art. (It's a picture. It's on the wall. Can we go to the Natural History Museum now?)

Anne-Marie said...

"Did Americans have a greater ability to appreciate abstraction in the past? How did they lose it?"

I don't think it's a coincidence that our loss of ability to appreciate the abstract was contemporaneous with the rise of television as a cultural phenomenon.

Television exists to justify advertising. So much of what we have been shown on television serves the corporate agenda, i.e. it helps make Americans more accepting of what they are being sold. An intelligent and discerning populace is the *last* thing businesses want. A side effect of this is that Americans tend to be less able to appreciate non-linear music and films.

Peter said...

Abstraction offers a relatively efficient means of understanding ourselves and our world. I don't think we Americans, as a whole, want too much of that.

I second what Anne-Marie wrote.