Taste, etc.

In a comment on my post about John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, A. C. Douglas quoted from the post:

As always, my reaction to him says more about me than it does the music.

His comment: "Maybe not."

I believe I understand what he is getting at with this, but I was very careful in how I worded my response to Mr. Adams's music. When I said "it doesn't speak to me", I meant that and nothing more. I didn't state an opinion of the quality and/or value of his music because I've never studied it enough to feel qualified to render one. I was released from my duties as a columnist for the American Record Guide for similar ideas about how new music could be reviewed.

I didn't get Brahms until graduate school, and now he's one of my favorites. I didn't get Mozart until even more recently. But even before then, I had studied enough of their music to know better than to say that my dislike said anything meaningful about the music itself, but might reveal something about me. I've not had any experiences since then to change that fundamental idea. An up or down evaluation of a work of art or an artist tells me next to nothing about the art or artist, but it does tell me something about the evaluator. Enough of these data points from a critic/observer and I can get a pretty good idea about how their tastes may or may not align with mine.

Naturally, when the criticism goes beyond an overall evaluation, the criticism can tell me something about the work or artist in question. But most of the time, I learn more about the writer--and that's not necessarily bad, as I've indicated. When I have an opinion on something, I'll try to state it clearly and with backing arguments.

When I merely like something or don't especially like it, I'll say that, too.


  1. I completely understand what you mean. I wrote a long essay once called "Jane Austen, Richard Wagner, and Me," because I just don't get most of the appeal of Austen, and I'm quite sure that says more about me than Austen.

    I guess I should put it on my blog some time. I posted it to Opera-l ages ago.

  2. Anonymous8:22 PM

    Look. Lets not backpedal or deflect here or be politically correct. Theres some music of his I just love and I listen to every day. And there is other that I just think is utter crap. Why? Because it doesnt hold up cognitively, and in terms of what matters, that has to count for something.

    You can justify it structurally all you want with any amout of musical and theoretic technocratics, but in terms of Cognitive Science, it just doesnt hold up.

    Sorry John...

  3. "Political correctness" has nothing to do with it. I know enough about the music to say that it doesn't speak to me, that's all. I pretty much have no idea what you mean about cognitive science, so I can't say much about that, either.

  4. Anonymous8:29 PM

    There is no cognitive schema to base a listening experience on, or a schema is not constructable from the information he is providing, or the schema that I do find as a start of a reference is trite and uninteresting...

    if you like linguistics, use linguistics...

    or if you look under the bottom of the hamburger:

    It doesnt speak to me either...