DC Area musician Liza Figueroa Kravinsky (Go-Go Symphony composer, Artistic Director) asked this question on Facebook, but she didn’t seem satisfied with the answers she was getting. Why does music (or any other art) have to be serious? It’s a great question, especially because it can lead to so many other questions pertaining to individual and group differences in art appreciation and consumption. Answers to questions like these are based on one’s worldview and personality, not right or wrong, but simply a representation of an individual’s perception of his/her world. How artsy!
The question by itself can lead to some interesting surface observations of music and art as stand alone, intangible creations by everyday people. However, when we bring to bear the realities of our society and its divisions, reflecting on a type of art such as “rap” can reveal why it may appear that some people have a preference for more seriousness in music or art.
For example, many such Black art forms came from an expression of struggle (and resilience), and with society’s so-called “race problem,” many people feel that such art should be used to express the seriousness of ongoing problems (for example, the very real problem of the plundering of Black culture and cultural expression for the financial and social benefit of the majority culture, while Blacks are still systematically and institutionally disenfranchised by that majority culture; for example, the very real sentiment that some performers are being paid to “coon” and reinforce negative Black stereotypes). BUT, many of these art connoisseurs who seek this socially conscious connection still want a fun experience of art and/or art for artistry’s sake.
The point of contention for these folks is not whether the music/art is “serious,” but whether it feels like it is done for the sake of art and expression. At times, what is called “art” feels like someone did it because they were told they could get paid for it. It feels empty and sold. That is contrary to how the art of Black struggle/resilience hits people who dig it: it’s the funk, it’s the soul; it’s the blues, it’s the go-go, it’s the hip hop (as distinct from simply “rap music”). It’s these distinguishing, almost indescribable elements that people connect with. Such art forms are born of Black struggle/resilience, and then slowly but surely, different types of people (non-Black, not experiencing the same social reality) are connecting with the “real” of it. Within the context of the very real problems of society, music/art is a treasured form of expression and a treasured form of experience. Some people take that very seriously, because… seriously… music/art interacts with human emotions — if we let it. And some people want it to! Their connection to art and music is that deep. And that’s a good thing. Some scholars study the humanities, the stuff of human culture. Others study it outside of a scholarly paradigm, but it is still serious study. Because of the connection these connoisseurs feel, their artselves will not accept just anything presented as “art.”
On the other hand, there are people who acknowledge society’s problems, but they would rather be “entertained only” by music/art, which is a good way to avoid having to think about those issues. Still, Entertainment-Only and Feed-My-Soul types of music/art consumers are not mutually exclusive groups. Feed-My-Soul art/music connoisseurs like some pieces that seem to defy their artistic tastes. Entertainment-Only people, for whom the art/music thing just ain’t that deep, often come across a few pieces for which it IS that deep.
Some artists think about society’s serious issues as they work on some pieces. Some may never think about society’s serious issues as they create, and some may think about these things all the time when they work. I don’t think artists are aware of exactly how their art will strike people. Just to throw some go-go in here as I engage the musical mind behind the Go-Go Symphony though… I have read that Junkyard Band’s “Sardines” is about being poor. I never, ever think about the plight of poor people when I hear it. I am too busy grooving and having fun. I am entertained by the TV show “Empire” because I feel it, though I understand that some Black people do not. Experiences, worldview, the lens of perception, etc.
People’s artselves are sustained by varying standards, and for many, the notion of “serious” art is a construction of how their unique experiences influence what they need out of art. Like some people’s foodselves. Why does food have to be healthy? (Kato asked me that on the show once.) Like people’s loverselves. Why does dating have to be for the purpose of leading to a deeper, more meaningful connection? (No comment.) This sentence concludes this art piece, shutting off the entrances to those rabbit holes. Anyway… good question for discussion, Liza. Artpeace to you!
Go-Go Symphony on March 21st!