Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cage's Personal Tastes

So, as we discovered and established in class, John Cage did, in fact have tastes in music whether or not they were expressed in his compositions. As an artist myself, I understand how hard it can be to let things go when it comes to what you like to be seen -or in his case, heard- in your work. No matter what I do and no matter what medium I choose to work in, the pieces I create all have something distinctly "penny-ish" about them. In fact, this can be said of many artists -most artists- because we all, like it or not, have likes and dislikes. Honestly, would you use a color that you absolutely hated in one of your own paintings? It may be ok for other people but it's not going to end up in mine. I might even like the color in someone else's painting, but there's just no way I can bring myself to use it. It's just not "me." And it's amazing how you can identify a work just using what you know about an artist. Personally, I think Beethoven was way too serious and never any fun. I can always tell a piece of his when I hear it. He writes music like a heated persuasive essay. Mozart, on the other hand, is so much more playful in his composition and when I hear anything of his, I recognize it as well (I also get an image of some crazy, fun, loony guy pounding maniacally and yet blissfully at a grand piano).
So us artists are predictable. So many of us like our work as being a manifestation of ourselves. I think that Cage, however, didn't. I don't think that he meant for art to be about him, but about art. This is evident in his often stated quote that he wanted to "let sounds be themselves." He was a different kind of artist in that, He wasn't a manipulator of mediums, but a facilitator. He collected sounds and presented them, as one would collect interesting shells and present them, not as a work of an artist, but a work of nature, taking very little credit for the masterpiece. But then, one could say that, though his art wasn't about himself, it was for himself. He created music in the mentality of the audience, preferring to be as little involved in the actual composing of the music as possible in order to be fully submerged in the act of listening to it. I think that, for Cage, music was about listening and not about creating.
Taking into account that he had his own preferences, Cage knew that man can hardly write music without putting himself into it. Therefore, if Cage was to have as little to do with the music as possible, if he was to detach his personality from his work, he would have to institute an arbitrary way of determining what should be written. Through use of the I-Ching, Cage was able to create as little room for his personal preference as possible, allowing his mind to have nothing else to do but listen. It was a cause and effect thing for him, not a compositional plan. In a sense, the coins were writing the music, and he was able to listen to the sounds being themselves, without manipulation by an artist to meet personal preference or some sort of agenda. Cage was about experiencing music, not about writing it. He wanted to listen as much as the next audience member and felt that he could only do this, and feel no connection to the work, if it were written through chance operations, leaving his likes and dislikes unaccounted for. I liken it to asking someone else to make a work of art for you. If you were to make it yourself, you know that it would turn out to look like you made it, like it reflects something about you. But since you don't want this art to be about you, you've asked someone else to do it for you. You just want to be the audience for a change.

P.S. So, I work at the library, and I'd never heard of the I-Ching before this class, but last night, I shelved a book titled, The I-Ching: Modern Applications. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

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