Can Classical music be defended as “high art,” or as having a special status as a cultural artifact that distinguishes it from “entertainment”?
A. Julian Johnson, “Elitism,” from Who Needs Classical Music? (Oxford, 2002), Chs. 2 “Uses and Abuses,” and 4, “Understanding music,” pp. 33-50, 72-90. B. John Carey, “Is ‘High Art’ Superior?” from What Good Are The Arts?
(Oxford, 2006), pp. 32-64.
In 5-6 double-spaced pages (but please no more than 7), evaluate the respective merit of the two opposing arguments, as well as their possible implications or consequences. The key issue is: is it possible to ascribe a special status to Classical music as opposed to other kinds of music? What does that music do that other musics do not? To Johnson, Classical music may legitimately pretend to be high art because of its ability to rise to the level of “discourse” (see p. 35 on Classical music’s “discursive aspect”). Related to this point is Johnson’s argument of music’s “utopian” function, i.e., its unique ability to “transcend its thing-like quality” p. 86); in short, when we follows what music “tells” us, Johnson says, we are taken beyond the level of the immediate and the everyday, and to live fully is precisely to have those kinds of experiences. This point leads him to distinguish between good and bad forms of cultural elitism…
Carey, on the other hand, maintains that no definition of art is possible (“art is anything anyone has ever considered art”), and connects its function with the satisfaction of basic human needs that have been with us since humans and humanoids have walked on earth. He observes that no artistic language can claim universal status. Carey also spends considerable time addressing the arguments of the critics of popular culture (though not Julian Johnsons’s views on classical music; the two authors clearly sit on opposite sides of the debate, though they do not address directly each other’s views).
As you evaluate the two positions, you are encouraged to refer to specific works that we have studied thus far, and to bring into your discussion the readings that we have discussed thus far in the class. I am obviously not looking for right answers here, but rather for coherently formulated reflections on the positions of the two authors – on the respective merits and shortcomings of both. Thus, avoid mere summaries of the two positions; rather, incorporate your own perspective in your paper. Don’t feel obliged to address all the issues raised in those two chapters (which would require a much longer essay). Concentrate on a few points and develop them in a coherent and reasonably exhaustive fashion.
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