Monday, 30 September 2013

Popular vs. the Classic

     This is probably an age-old debate: is there a difference between popular and classic art forms? Do we recognise what is considered to be 'more beautiful' and 'more intricate'? Is classical art really 'more beautiful' or 'more intricate'? Art, of course, is not just the fine arts, but also inclusive of literature, music, dance etc. Recently, there have been quite a few posts that have been speaking about the fine line that separates these two types of art: poetry vs. rap music and modern art vs. toddler art are two sites that explore the audience's ability to recognise (or not recognise) the distinction between art established over the ages, and that created by popular culture (whether famous artists or unknown ones). Mica Angela Hendricks explores something slightly different along with her daughter. She looks at a fusion between the artist's stylised, professional lines, and a child's unrestrained creativity.
     How many people recognise the intricacy of a brush stroke, or the meters in poetry? Recognition is only one aspect out of many. Is there, or should there be, a collapse in the distinction between the popular and the classic? In an amazing experiment, Joshua Bell, a famous violinist performed to a dismissive audience in the Washington Metro. The people conducting this experiment called and interviewed the very limited audience who chose to stand and listen to Bell's classical music. Amongst these, only those who had studiously learnt the violin or who had actually seen Bell perform (which was one lady) could recognise the complexity involved in the music at the Metro. He had performed during the morning rush hour, however. Would it have been different, would there have been more people listening if it was during the return home, probably during the evenings?
     Of course, setting matters as well- something that is mentioned in the Washington Post article, where Mark Leithauser speaks of de-framing a classic work of art and hanging it in a restaurant. But, on a slightly different note, what if, instead of performing in Washington, Joshua Bell chose to do the same on a crowded Indian station- not at the Metro in Delhi, say, but at a random train stop with open platforms, surrounded by the noises of street vendors, and beggars? The Indian stations do not have any exposure to 'good' music (save the tuneless strains sung by some beggars). There are no street performances that occur. They would most definitely not recognise Joshua Bell (would it be different if he was replaced by an Indian artist?). How would such a crowd react?
     Are the barriers between the popular and the classic coming down because of these interesting surveys or experiments that attempt to analyse audience understanding? However, even within the popular, there are distinctions- is there a 'good' and 'bad' popular that we notice and accept? For instance, in music there is an off-tune or off-beat. Does this hold true for poetry, for fiction, for literature, where graphic novels and fantasy fiction have become topics that can be analysed in the academic world (but then, can academia be a judge of the classic/popular?).

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