La Deshumanización del Arte

First off, let me apologize for the lack of posts, my 18 credit hours this semester have been keeping me busy.

From that school work however, I came across an interesting essay by a man named José Ortega y Gasset called La Deshumanización del Arte. Written in 1925, the essay explores art, what it was before his time and what it had become.  For Ortega, art is something lost to some and loved by others.  He wrote (translated):

“Wherefore, the new art divides the public in two classes of individuals: those who understand it and those who don’t understand it; those being, the artists and those who are not artists.  The new art is an artistic art.” (p 53)

Artistic art?  Isn’t that a little redundant?  Like a flavorful flavor or colorful color?  What Ortega is getting at is that art, at least from a modern view, is best understood, or really only understood, by fellow artists.  There is no underlying human emotion or element that the piece is conveying, it is simply art for art’s sake.  One must be in the business of creation to understand and appreciate the creations of others.  For me, it makes sense.  My father, for example, loves cars.  Though I enjoy a souped up engine as well, I do not have the same passion that he does nor do I think I could ever because of my position.  He has been building and tweaking cars since before he could have a license.  I view a car more as a means to getting around.  Ortega might divide the population in two like so, gear-heads and those who are not gear-heads.

Doing something makes you involved.  Musicians listen to music differently than people who do not play music.  We notice chord changes that aren’t lifted from Pachelbel’s Cannon, we think about why finger picking was used in a song and not a pick, we pull apart the layers and find meaning in places where no meaning was before.  Being able to do something (or at least trying) makes you appreciate what others can do to a degree that can’t be achieved otherwise.

Allow me to suggest an experiment.  Ortega quotes a contemporary of his, Nietzsche, in that “en la música, las pasiones gozan de sí mismas” (p 64), or in other words, “in music, passions enjoy themselves”.  We all enjoy songs that speak to, I know I sure do.  I would dare say that every song I have ever written has been about the human condition.  Let us these next few days listen to music for music’s sake.  This might be a hard undertaking, I know, but I think I have been missing a lot of enjoyment in music by looking for how this relates to me.  Whether I like it or not, all beauty in life does not relate to Jake Workman.  Let’s find those things that would be wonderful even if humanity wasn’t here to listen to it, despite music being a human creation (or is it?  I sure like those crickets as I’m falling asleep).  Let me know how it goes.


PS- My band The Sweater Friends has some free downloads available to benefit the World Food Program.  Each download means more money for people who could really use it (eg Pakistan). Thanks!

La Deshumanización del Arte

2 thoughts on “La Deshumanización del Arte

  1. So-called “avant-garde” music and art is always getting criticized as being more about setting up an in-crowd of the select few who get it than anything else. In some cases that seems spot on to me, but sometimes you only need a few repeat listens to understand something and learn to love it.

    College is a great time to broaden musical horizons, especially if your school has something like BYU’s LRC. I sought out and listened to some of the more challenging twentieth-century composers: George Crumb, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti. It was more of an attempt to broaden my musical understanding than to pass the time in enjoyment — sometimes it felt more rigorous than my assigned homework. I pushed myself through some pretty dense stuff because I hoped to learn to enjoy it. I could never get into Stockhausen, no matter how I tried. I had better luck with Crumb and Ligeti, but a lot of the twentieth century (outside of Bartók, or the so-called “minimalists”) has remained a challenge for me.

    I had a roommate who said that any music that didn’t appeal to a lot of people was worthless – at least that’s what I heard (he was commenting on an Einstürzende Neubauten CD that I was trying to get into). I didn’t agree with him and still don’t, but I still also have a limited quantity of patience for music that gets too arcane.

    Maybe that’s because I’m only a drummer . . . 🙂


  2. I had a recent conversation with someone on this subject and the question of the Beatles got raised. While I think popularity isn’t really an objective argument for quality, on the other hand, the Beatles have sold over a billion units. That does in fact count for something in my mind. When you can get so many people to agree that your music is good, there must be something to it. And I don’t think anyone would disagree that there was indeed an element of art in their music. They interwove art and pop pretty well.

    But then again, Charles, I remember a Robert Fripp quote (why are you and I always referencing Fripp?) where he basically says that it’s the job of the audience to educate themselves to the level of understanding his work. Seems pretentious, but for the most part I do think that he’s right.


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