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Music and objectivity

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Yes. The level of music's worth goes beyond its popularity among audiences and is not, therefore, dependent on the ear of the listener.

Bach's incredible technical facility, demonstrated by his ability to transform ensemble compositions into solo pieces, marks him as one of history's greatest minds. But what really makes his music great is the amazing expressiveness that conveys so well his love of life.

The Brandenburg Concertos and Cello Suites are better than "Baby One More Time" not only because they took longer and required a more productive mind to write, but because of their ability to invoke deep emotional feelings within the listener.

People who like Britney Spears ultimately like bad music.

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A judgment of music relys on two things, in my opinion: ones hearing, and ones values.

Music may be judged objectively. However, since the above may vary from person to person, so may an objective judgment in music vary.

As for your example, we may say that Britney Spears' music is bad, since it is meaningless... but someone who values meaninglessness will disagree.

And as for J.S. Bach, I find his work simplistic and boring. He pioneered piano music, though, and deserves some credit for that.

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we may say that Britney Spears' music is bad, since it is meaningless...

Actually, I think there is quite a LOT of meaning in this :

I tell them what I like, what I want and what I don't

But every time I do, I stand corrected

Things that I've been told, I can't believe what I hear about the world

I realize I'm overprotected

[...]I'm fed up with people telling me to be someone else but me...

(I realize that it is just the lyrics and not the music that carries the meaning, though.)

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This is a quote from Ayn Rand's Romantic Manifesto:

"In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and, therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there, in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.

"Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music. (There are certain technical criteria, dealing mainly with the complexity of harmonic structures, but there are no criteria for identifying the content, i.e., the emotional meaning of a given piece of music and thus demonstrating the esthetic objectivity of a given response.)

"At present, our understanding of music is confined to <rm_56> the gathering of material, i.e., to the level of descriptive observations. Until it is brought to the stage of conceptualization, we have to treat musical tastes or preferences as a subjective matter—not in the metaphysical, but in the epistemological sense; i.e., not in the sense that these preferences are, in fact, causeless and arbitrary, but in the sense that we do not know their cause. No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself."

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I was attempting to use Spears as an example of how even Objective judgment may vary from person to person...

I could have articulated this better, but my primary point in discussing Spears was not that her music is meaningless--though I do believe it to be--but that, even if we prove it to be meaningless Objectivly, value judgments may still be different.

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I don't understand how Brittany Spears music can be said to have any meaning. It is not written by an individual who is trying to illustrate his/her own values. It is written by a *collective* of producers (Spears included).

If art must portray a value, and value judgements are made on an individual basis, then how can a *collective* write meaningful music?

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daniel, I call Spears' music meaningless mostly because it is not intended to have any meaning.

I have not heard much of her music, from what I have heard, though, her music is essentially standard pop beats with standard pop progressions...

I am not really arguing that none of her music has any meaning--although it would be unintentional if it does--just that it doesn't have enough meaning to interest me.

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I don't understand how Brittany Spears music can be said to have any meaning. It is not written by an individual who is trying to illustrate his/her own values. It is written by a *collective* of producers (Spears included).

If art must portray a value, and value judgements are made on an individual basis, then how can a *collective* write meaningful music?

A "collective" can write meaningful music if no member of the band has to sacrifice their values - in the same way a board of directors can run a meaningful comapny.

The case of Britney Spears is totally different though, considering she is little more than a puppet.

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The case of Britney Spears is totally different though, considering she is little more than a puppet.

What makes you think so?

I am asking because I often hear people make all kinds of assertions about her--and sometimes cannot help feeling that they simply hate her because she is successful.

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What makes you think so?

I am asking because I often hear people make all kinds of assertions about her--and sometimes cannot help feeling that they simply hate her because she is successful.

Yep, I agree that people often make such assertions against successful people, simply because they hate the idea of success and what it stands for. But it is not the case here.

I am arguing that Britney is basically a puppet because she contributes very little to the end product of a musical album. The lyrics are almost always written by somebody else. The music is also not composed by her. She can't play an instrument. She doesn't have a good voice at all. (It's tinny and has no range). So what is Britney's role? Well, she works more or less like a brand name does - it represents a product. A group of people come up with the product and she basically acts as the recognisable symbol or 'face' of it. And just like a brand name, the idea of Britney Spears the brand can be manipulated and the idea behind that brand changed as the actual producers see fit. For example, when she first hit the charts (in 1999 I think), she was portrayed as a 'cheeky schoolgirl' figure. Then she was turned into this virginal angel / American sweetheart sort of character. Then she went through a 'bad' stage, etc, etc.

Consequently, since Britney Spears contributes very little to her music, I don't see that music as portraying the values of Britney Spears (the person, not the brand), who is the so called "Artist". And this is what I meant when I said that the case of Britney Spears was totally different - because her personal values don't really get to emerge (because they HAVE to be sacrificed to the values of Britney the brand) and therefore she cannot be viewed as a true contributor in her 'collective'.

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I am arguing that Britney is basically a puppet because she contributes very little to the end product of a musical album. The lyrics are almost always written by somebody else. The music is also not composed by her. She can't play an instrument. She doesn't have a good voice at all. (It's tinny and has no range). So what is Britney's role? Well, she works more or less like a brand name does - it represents a product. A group of people come up with the product and she basically acts as the recognisable symbol or 'face' of it. And just like a brand name, the idea of Britney Spears the brand can be manipulated and the idea behind that brand changed as the actual producers see fit. For example, when she first hit the charts (in 1999 I think), she was portrayed as a 'cheeky schoolgirl' figure. Then she was turned into this virginal angel / American sweetheart sort of character. Then she went through a 'bad' stage, etc, etc. 

Consequently, since Britney Spears contributes very little to her music, I don't see that music as portraying the values of Britney Spears (the person, not the brand), who is the so called "Artist". And this is what I meant when I said that the case of Britney Spears was totally different - because her personal values don't really get to emerge (because they HAVE to be sacrificed to the values of Britney the brand) and therefore she cannot be viewed as a true contributor in her 'collective'.

I agree with all of this. She is an extremely successful spokesmodel. And a failure as a musician. Faking reality?

It reminds me of Toohey's "Councils."

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Can music be judged by objective means? Can we say that (for instance) Britney Spears's music is bad, while (for instance) Johan Sebastian Bach's music is good?

Or is the grasp of music subjective?

Hoping for good answers.

I think the answer to your question is yes, although this answer is impossible to explain in a few sentences on a forum like this one. I am aware of an excellent essay on the subject by Ayn Rand called Art and Cognition (in The Romantic Manifesto) that covers music among other things. There is also an excellent book on this topic by the late American composer Aaron Copeland, called What to Listen For in Music.

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No one has really responded to DanielShrugged's assertion that there's no objective standard for music. Someone said "objective judgements can vary from person to person" which doesn't seem to make sense to me - a properly objective judgement must conform to reality.

There is nothing challenging about Britney's music, and I don't find it interesting. But the only objective difficulty with it that I can see is that it's not written as pure art, but as a product of sorts. Might this then put it in a different category from music qua music?

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"objective judgements can vary from person to person" which doesn't seem to make sense to me

Objective understanding (concept-formation, -validation, etc.) is contextual. It can certainly vary from person to person depending on what each person already knows. If (big if) everybody were infallible in their understanding, there would still be differences in context of knowledge and everybody would walk away understanding different things in different ways. Nobody would have any incorrect knowledge, but nobody would have complete knowledge either (that would require omniscience).

Moreover, objective judgment of music is personal - it depends on the values one has chosen for himself. One can certainly judge music in relation to any standard - eg, in relation to the standard of technical expertise, the standard of cool effects, the standard of somebody else's values. One cannot act on those judgments, of course, if one wants to act on his own standard of value.

Might this then put it in a different category from music qua music?

I'm sure a basic definition of what is music can be derived (although I don't know it). Britney's music would qualify, just not as music I enjoy or music demonstrating any technical expertise.

That you're paid to be an artist doesn't mean you're automatically a non-artist.

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No one has really responded to DanielShrugged's assertion that there's no objective standard for music.

I will respond to it now... Daniel--or rather, the statement which he quoted--is correct. There is, at present, no objective standard layed out for the judgment of music. As I, and now feldblum, have stated, even if such a standard did exist, it would merely identify what sort of music should be identified with certian values. Even--in fact, especially-- when judging objectively, the music judged as good by an Objectivist will be different from the music judged as good by a Marxist.

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You all make good points. I have a couple comments...

Feldblum: I understand what you mean now about objectivity. As for Britney being non-artist, I was suggesting that because her music isn't created with the intention of being art, but rather with the intention of making money, it isn't music qua music - it's a musical product of sorts. It's music inasmuch as music is just sound organized into melodies and chord progressions with rhythm - but is it really Art? I know Now, I know you can get paid for performing and still be an artist - Beethoven was paid for his music, Liszt became a celebrity through his - but they were clearly artists because of the intentions of their composition. They wouldn't have changed their art TO make money. Britney Spears's music is written TO make money - it's written to cater to what other people want so that it will sell. That's not art, it's a product that utilizes music. Art must come from the individual.

Halley: I don't think a certain kind of music fits certain values in the sense you're implying. Wagner was an anti-semite nationalist-collectivist, but he wrote some of the most heroic, majestic music ever. Liszt was extremely religious, but his music is powerful and uplifting (les preludes anyone?). A person's philosophical views don't shape their artistic taste in as simple as sense as "Objectivists like triumphant music whereas socialists like depressing music." I know some socialists, misguided though they may be, who like great, heroic music. What do you think?

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