Alex Ross asks the rest of American culture to get off his lawn
The following short blog is a response to Alex Ross' article, The Kennedy Center Honors Go Pop. It was published on September 10th, 2014 in The New Yorker Magazine.
How I wish someone would put me on a Q&A panel with Alex Ross — and believe me, I've tried. Alex advocates for some really traditional views about art that are antithetical to the thinking of the new generation of patrons and audience members. Nevertheless, each week classical traditionalists treat these old-fashioned ideas as if they were gospel. His outsized influence limits the thinking within the industry to appealing to the most elitist of intellectuals.
Why do I say that? Because Alex Ross advocates that pop culture has little to nothing at all to offer "serious" art. This week, in speaking about the Kennedy Center Honors, he writes:
"[Successful pop artists] hardly lack for laurels. Why should they add to their shelf a prize that could have gone to a comparatively unsung figure such as Meredith Monk?"
Another way to ask his question is: "Why should we be asked to take seriously any artists who have had real commercial success? Doesn't everyone already know that art can't be both good and popular at the same time? Why can't we just all support the artists that I deem worthy of coverage, like Meredith Monk. Or John Luther Adams."
Alex writes: "It’s not enough for pop culture to dominate the mainstream; it must colonize the spaces occupied by older genres and effectively drive them from the field."
The big pill the classical industry needs to swallow is that their problems stem from their own artistic atrophy. American orchestras rot away the decades by playing the same 60 pieces year after year...along with NYT (and Alex Ross) approved orchestral composers. (Haven't you heard the kids talking about Scheherazade.2? Neither have I). While traditional genres have a place in some concerts, those traditional forms of art can only flourish by being put in contact and context with other modern forms. Sure Nico and the Brooklyn Boys have a place in the compositional playground. But the things that traditionalists like Alex Ross need to appreciate, and they don't, is that for orchestras, it's the Third Estate music — Video Games, Film & TV, and Broadway — that will contextualize the Beethoven and the Mahler. It's that music which, when taken and treated seriously, will allow much more of the public to be seduced by orchestras and other traditional forms. Of course there must be curation, but with an eye to the entire field — not just the people Alex and Tony T deem worthy. By expanding the tent of what we call art, we all will be elevated.