Let us now look into another human activity. It is an important one because, like our scientific knowledge, it is one of the main criteria by which future or distant civilizations will judge us ie. "Yes, but what did they do?".
In the usual `A Fresh Look' approach, we will not look at the rich brocade of Art in the 21st Century but go back to its individual strands originating in a typical (and quite imaginary) prehistoric tribe.
There would have been Picture Making and Sound Making in this period before speech was invented. There would have been Useful Pictures and Play Pictures. Useful Pictures would be simple maps scratched in the ground or on bark, star patterns, pictures of animal life, leaf shapes. Useful Pictures would have been used to store and pass on information.
Play Pictures would be decorations on bodies, huts, weapons and overlapping with the above, hunting scenes. Some of these are incredibly advanced as you will see if you visit the caves of south-west France. Perspective has been discovered and an added realism has been given by forming animal bodies (long extinct bison) around bulges in the wall of the cave. Such art will not be seen again for thousands of years.
Useful Sounds would be warning signals (enemy or dangerous animal approaching) and frightening noises to drive them off or impress them with your superior strength. Useful Sounds would be made by stamping, clapping or striking hollow objects.
Play Sounds would have developed simultaneously (watch children or monkeys with tin cans) and would be made for fun and for dancing. In religious dancing these would overlap in purpose with Useful Sounds.
Play Pictures have become painting and sculpture – Play Sounds have become Music. Speech and writing arrived late. Play Speech and Play Writing became Theatre, Films and TV, Play Writing became novels, poetry and er ... playwriting.
Play Speech, Pictures, Sounds are ART and are not intended to pass on useful information. But there are messages that do come across in Art. Let us look at some modern examples of these messages:
- `Look at this nice flower, be happy.' (Painting).
(The flower may be of a type as yet unknown to science. If you want to know about flowers, consult a gardening catalogue).
- `War is hell, feel disgusted.' (Painting of the aftermath of a battle.)
- `War is wonderful, we always win. Feel elated.' (March music)
- `Look at the musicians in the candle-lit church. Think how pleasant it must have been to live in the 18th Century, how stable and certain. Feel nostalgic.' (Forget that you would actually have been the peasant waiting outside in the rain by the coach, possibly suffering from toothache.) (Mozart-type music)
- `Look at the impressively massive construction, well made yet barbaric. Feel that only We could have built it. Hear heroic music - feel that you are nothing but das Volk is all. (Architecture)
- `Look up at the grace and elegance of slender stone arches. Hear echoing organ music. Feel small and humble but reflect that there is a benevolent Power looking after you.' (Architecture)
So the message is a "Feeling" and this brings out the big disadvantage of Art - it is "Culture Oriented". A Moslem looking at a painting of a village church in England is only marginally affected. We can be impressed by the strangeness and formality of Egyptian art but when we look at the painting of an obviously important ceremony, we hear no music, it means nothing to us.
And music is at a greater disadvantage in this respect in that being purely symbolic it is capable of being `fine-tuned' to produce deeper feelings and mood changes than any other art form, providing you are `fine-tuned' culture-wise to it. Otherwise it's a pretty pointless noise, if not actually irritating. Arab music, Indian music - how much can you appreciate it? Even in our own culture, how long can you stand Bavarian music, Scots music, Schönberg, disco music? About the only way we can appreciate foreign music is by its rhythm, and that is really simple.
And then you and the artist may share the same cultural back-ground but have had different experiences in it. What feelings can you experience from a picture of a pit-head if you have never been down a coal mine, or even read a book about miners?
Ballet would be understandable to the Andromedans in the same way we could slightly appreciate a ballet performed by ants or elephants. But, like most humans watching ballet, they would bore quickly. The human body in a 1g gravity field is only capable of a limited number of movements and if you are going to use body-movements to semaphore feelings you have a very low band-width communication channel and can only send information slowly. And even the most fervent ballet-lovers would agree the larger part of the performance is in the music, which you can in fact listen to alone, without losing much.
So Art is a communication of feeling and if you and the artist have never experienced the same feeling, the full message will not be received. After all, logically you must have lived exactly the same life as the artist if you want to receive all the nuances. But you should be able to get something from most European art (or `respond' to it, in the jargon).
Now comes the next barrier. I might not like the feeling the artist is trying to induce in me. Pictures entitled `Beggars on the Cathedral Steps', `The Inquisition Dungeon' or `The Leader reviews his Troops' will not hold my attention for long.
And now comes the last barrier to contact between me and the artist. I like what the artist is trying to tell me, I can understand and appreciate it, I approve of his sentiments, but why, oh why, is it being done so badly? Why is the trumpet flat? Why are the Madonna's skin tones so leprous? Why is the dancer in the second row so fat? Why is the abstract sculpture so badly welded? In other words, why is the technology so sloppy?
Perhaps the artist has a charming `couldn't-care-less' attitude to the boring technical details of his trade, but not me. When you've had long fights with draftsmen to get neat, clean drawings, with plating firms to get a good finish on metal parts, it's difficult to ignore the paint flaking off some work of art.
To summarize then. The artist and I will only really come together if:
1. The artist is trying to induce feelings in me that I like to feel.
2. The artist and I share a common cultural heritage and a common background of experience.
3. The artist is technically competent.
Let's take these one at a time:
1. The producing of a `feeling' is the object of the communication and if you don't want to receive the artist's message it’s no use him persisting. But distinguish between `dislike' and `don't understand'. People usually dislike dry wines to start with, preferring, like children, a simple sweet taste. But if you keep at it you will acquire a taste for dry wines. After the astringent music of Schönberg you will relax smiling to the simple smooth harmonies of Vivaldi. This is the Matched Filter effect in the section on Sex where you were warned against tuning your filter too finely to your beloved as she may one day depart and leave you with the painful job of detuning it. But with wine, and Art generally, there should be no such danger. The finer you tune it, the more output you will get from the filter, the more nuances you will appreciate. (Well, yes, there is a danger. You can become one of those exquisites who has tuned up his Beethoven filter so finely that he can now only appreciate the Concerto No. 5, and really only the middle of the 3rd movement).
2. If you don't have anything in common and desperately want to get in to Indian music, you must immerse yourself in Indian culture. But this is a bit way-out. There is plenty of art around you should be able to easily interface with. The problem is that if anything, there is too much me-too art around, and very little original.
3. There are two sides to technical competence. A poem can generate a great feeling of sadness and unhappiness but on examination it can be seen to have been done using just the minimum number of words that also convey sadness by the rhythm.
It's nice to see the picture of the old church by the meadow. It gives a feeling of timeless stability. How well it is painted! The calm summer day, the slow moving clouds, the placid cows, they all reinforce the permanence of the old church. This is the craftsmanship of the artist.
Technology has helped the artist a lot and today there is little excuse for sloppiness. Painters no longer have to nail canvas to wooden frames or mix their own paints. Everything is available in unimaginable profusion. The same for architecture. Computer programs can simulate any building shape you like, compute all the stresses, tell you if it will stand up or not, where to thicken up the design. You can even wander around it and view it from all angles.
On the music scene, music is now so easy to record that separate instruments can be recorded on separate tracks and the best combined to give the best performance. There are some musical groups that are no longer capable of giving live performances - they can only record.
Interestingly enough, Technology can survive on its own and is what a lot of people think is Art. The elaborate video graphics on TV, the whimsical balloon lettering, the repetitive electronic sequences of disco music - no thought is required, there is no message there. Like sweet wine it is immediately appreciated and it cloys as quickly.
Artists and creativity
When he is young, the artist, like the engineer, must learn the basics of his trade. This is done in three stages:
1. At an early age he shows an inclination to Art. He finds himself able to receive the `feeling' messages that other artists are transmitting and decides he would like to do that himself.
2. He starts experimenting with various media. Feedback here is all important. He strikes the keyboard, rubs crayon on paper, piles one brick on top of another. Depending on the results he modifies his actions until something appears which begins to please him. Child psychologists are happy, he is `expressing himself'. He starts to learn seriously.
3. Finally he becomes so competent at pleasing himself that he wants to show off his ability to others. From being a `Receiver' in stage 1, and a learner in stage 2., he starts to become a `Transmitter' and sends `feeling' messages to others.
He has become an artist.
Of course, not all of them make the grade. There are many more `Receivers' than `Transmitters'. Lacking energy or competence (or both), the `Receivers' just `appreciate' Art, buy it, visit museums, become Art critics.
Reserve your pity for those who have stuck in Stage 2. They want and have tried to become creative artists but were not talented enough. Some realize this and earn their daily bread in another fashion, keeping Art as a hobby. Others keep trying - and good luck to them. Yet others compensate `No, I don't exhibit, I just do it to please myself' or `The world is not ready for me yet' (and they may be right!).
But let us go back to stage 2 where the artist is learning his craft. The longer he stays learning, the more conventional, safe and well-made will be his final products. If he wants to do something new, he must break off his education at some optimum point. Advances in Art (as in engineering) are often made by half-educated mavericks who did something new because they didn't know it couldn't be done that way. But here the comparison between artists and engineers breaks down. Creativity in an engineer usually means solving a problem in some elegant, why-didn't-I-think-of-that method. The actual problem is often well known. But the artist has no defined problem to solve. He has to try to transmit the same old `feeling' messages in some new way, some new `medium' or an unconventional use of an old medium. And the feed-back is different. The engineer has Nature looking over his shoulder, questioning his every move - does it work now, is it better that conventional methods? If the answer is `yes' then the idea is usually immediately accepted. Note that I asked `does it work now ?' because success for an artist is rarely instantaneous. His breakaway Art form is ridiculed in the Press but given a curious cautiously ambivalent write-up in the artistic reviews. Cautious, because since Stravinsky and Picasso, no one in the Art world is sure of anything anymore. Most Art critics condemned these two out of hand when they first appeared, only to find them becoming gradually accepted and themselves cast in the role of elderly fuddy-duddies. The problem is that Art is rapidly running out of ideas, all the obvious changes have been rung, only the way-out combinations are left. Now the Public (the buying Public) have shown remarkable powers of adaption, not to say resilience, in the face of Cubism or the electronic music of Varese. It took a certain time, but they swallowed it. Who can decide if they will finally swallow (say) biofeedback music? (fantastic mood-control but typically throws 20% of the audience into epileptic fits).
Because of this ambiguity (it's a great advance/is he having us on?) and the basic difficulty of using words to describe feeling, other than words describing feeling, Art Criticism has become an Art Form in its own right. "His art is a goal that is no longer `art about art', nor most certainly the flip irony of the currently fashionable styles ... he is concerned with the coherence of life. It has an almost indefinable nuance, a numinous dream about a mythic spirit world. The easy Manichaeism has been replaced by more profound and interesting symbols". Note the quote marks - I could never have invented this. Actually on view were "Five monumental pieces, more than 6 feet high, which have affinities with pre-historic standing stones. They are all coarsely hammered, with a handsome texture, and all bear imprinted upon their middle a perfect circle". Yes, I know it's easy to get a cheap laugh by reproducing this sort of stuff, but it really does exist.
Criticism or feedback
We have shown that the artist is a person who is trying to induce a feeling in his audience. He is a transmitter, the audience is the receiver. The procedure is analogous to an engineer who has constructed a receiver and finds he can receive signals from other transmitters (this is the artist awakening). Then the engineer constructs a transmitter of his own, feeling he also wants to send something and not just passively receive. (This is the artist learning to `communicate' in his chosen medium). Both of course use their own receivers to check that their new transmitters are working. But how do they know that the other receivers are receiving them?
Yes, it's a dilemma. And it's not always easy for the engineer either. If it is vitally important that he gets a message through, then each receiver must have a transmitter too, so they can send back (feedback) the signal "message received and understood" to the engineer, which he receives on his receiver.
For the `artist-audience' link, it's different, because remember, only artists can receive and transmit. So how does the artist know his message is being received? One can imagine one painter painting a picture and another painter commenting on it by painting a picture back. Even more interesting is the idea of a musician playing some little extemporized piece to comment on a statue. Or a dancer dancing a commentary on a building. Or an architect constructing a building to show he has received the same feeling message as a painter is trying to transmit. Or a perfumier (smell-artist) confecting a perfume to match a fugue ...
Tearing ourselves away from these entrancing visions, let us note that the artist's right brain (which is where his ideas originate) sends its message to the audience's right brain, and the answer as to how it is received should come from there and go back into the artist's right brain. Right brain to right brain. But the only way that the right brain of the non-artist can reveal if he has received the message is by showing it with facial expressions, body-language (a form of ballet) or non-speech sounds (Wow!). Limited, but at least it goes directly into the artist's right brain.
The alternative, speech, so good elsewhere, is rather unsatisfactory when it comes to describing feelings. Speech resides in the left brain and the first difficulty is that the audience's left brain must peer into its right brain and try to verbalize what it sees. We all have different skills at doing this, depending on our life-experience and vocabulary. Art critics, finding ordinary language inadequate (or too easily understood by the masses) have invented a language of their own (see above), which is only understood by other art critics.
So the audience says what it feels and these words go of course, into the artist's left brain. Here they have to be translated into feelings before they can go into his right brain where they are needed. But artists are notoriously non-verbal, and detest having their work described in words, having labels attached. It is the probable reason why artists so often react with an impatient. "For Christ's sake, don't rabbit on! Just tell me if you feel it."
Yes, it's a dilemma and means ultimately that Art, as a communication link, is what an engineer would call "open loop". There is little or no feedback and so it is fundamentally flawed.
Now I see the three Andromedans have requested a museum visit and to help they have secured the services of the museum curator Mr Digby. Mr Digby was of course terrified when the sphere (actually the Andromedans' lifeboat) suddenly materialized over Beethoven's piano just as Digby was about to lock up the museum after the last visitor had left. However, he had seen the sphere before on TV and quickly recovered, and indeed felt very flattered.
Sir.`Our interest is in human mood control via the visible and sonic spectra. Through the .. eye and ear. What you call Art.'
Digby. `Art? Oh, yes. I see. of course. Then that would mean painting, music, sculpture, architecture and dancing.'
Dr. `That lot is going to take too long. Dancing is just body movements to sounds, sculpture is a primitive form of Tri-D painting and architecture is basically weather protection.'
Joe `All narrow-band communication channels. I say scrub everything except the first two.'
Sir. ‘Very well.’
Sir.`I'm afraid we only have time for painting and music. Perhaps you could start by showing us how the initial tests were made.'
Digby. (blankly) `Tests?.'
Sir.`Yes. I assume humans were shown various shapes with different spectral values .. er .. colours and their subsequent reaction or mood changes were measured so that you could build up a vocabulary out of which future art works could be built. Same with different sound sequences for music, of course.'
Digby (dazed) `Of course. No, no. Art all started very long ago - such scientific methods were unknown at the time. I'm sure it all developed just by trial and error.'
Joe.`Trial and error. He means random. Everything happens randomly on this planet - economics, scientific progress and even choice of sex partners.'
Sir.`Well, we're here to collect data. I'm going to open a file `Earth, Painting.'
Sir. ‘Excuse us a moment. We would like to record your collection.'
(Sphere blurs and disappears for a moment before reappearing).
Dr.`Odd. Increasing accuracy and realism in shapes until around 1850 and then it all seemed to go downhill. Some of them seemed to deliberately want to deform the subjects.'
Sir. `Did you see that one with the eye in the middle?.'
Joe. `"They made the light the essential object of their painting; rejecting the dark shades to use pure colours. Indifferent to the classical values they tried to translate their visual sensations".'
Sir.`What's all that?'
Joe. `It was under one of the odd paintings.'
Dr. `Something catastrophic must have happened. (searching). There was a war around 1870, but it seems too late, another in 1815 but that seems too early ...'
Joe. `There's no shortage of wars in their history. They wouldn't change their style of painting just because of a war.'
Sir.`Er, we are having a little difficulty with the painting section. There is a logical trend in improvement until around 1850. But then there appears to be a ..er.. change in direction. Was there any event that could account for this?'
D. `Well, yes, you're quite right. Very perceptive. There was the invention of photography which ...'
Dr.`Photography - camera - "device used to record visual images.'
Joe.`Ah. That would have (pause) pulled the rug from under the feet of the painters.'
Dr.`"Pulled the rug"?'
Sir.`It's an expression he heard the other day. "Rug" is floor covering and if it is moving horizontally while a human is standing on it, the human, having a high center of gravity will be projected ...'
Dr.`I see. You mean the painter, having spent all his life learning how to convert 3D images to 2D images was suddenly confronted with a device that could do the same thing instantaneously.'
Sir.`So the painters were disconcerted by the invention of the camera.'
Digby. `Disconcerted. Yes, you could say that.'
Sir.`And their reaction was this ..er..non-representational art. An attempt to do something the owner of a camera couldn't?'
Digby. `Yes, that was the general idea'.
Joe.`And technically easier to do that normal painting.'
Sir.`But did this not mean that the long training to be a painter was no longer necessary? After all, everyone could do this type of painting.'
Digby. `And everyone did. The problem became how to distinguish the good from the bad. It got even more difficult with Abstract Painting.'
Dr.`Yes, that was the section at the end where you thought they were learning to paint.'
Sir.`But one canvas was completely blank.'
Dr.`That was,' (pause) `"Ultimate Reality".'
Joe.`I saw it too. There was nothing on it. Zero information content.'
Sir.`Please tell us something about Abstract Art.'.
Digby. `Well, one theory is that painters finally started running out of ideas and began to look towards music, which influences mood by abstract sounds…'
Dr.`And so painters tried to influence mood with abstract patterns.'
Joe.`You have to hand it to them. They never give up.'
Dr. ‘And of course, Abstract Art was not an elite "culturally oriented" art that the mass of the population couldn't understand.'
Joe.`You're right there. It's very democratic. No one could understand it.'
Dr. `Also even easier to paint.'
Sir.`I see. But to return to estimating relative merit. We have found that humans are very adaptable and can get used to almost anything.'
Digby. `And they have too. It is very difficult to judge art now. The only way we have is called "The Test of Time".'
Sir.`And the ..er..painting "Ultimate Reality" by Mrs Dupont is undergoing this test?.'
Digby. (gesture of despair) `No, she just donated it. She is a rich widow and has given a lot to our Museum.'
Sir.(sympathetically) `Economics and Art, I suppose it's impossible to separate them completely. But one more question before we leave. We found your music very pleasant and understandable and have made recordings for our own use. But there was one recording called "Musique Concrete" which seems defective. We could only reproduce clicks and buzzes. Have you another recording available?.'
Digby. (rather embarrassed) `Ah, yes. Well, we have to display everything in a museum, you know. No, there was nothing wrong with your recording. That's how it really sounds. I'm afraid it's a symptom of Art, this time music, running out of ideas again. Anything a young composer writes today sounds like music already written. So one idea was to imitate abstract painters who were now experimenting with deliberately random patterns.'
Sir.`So music seeks inspiration from painting which got the idea from music in the first place?'
Digby. `You could put it like that. But musique concrete is a very small offshoot. It hasn't been accepted.'
Sir.`Well, perhaps not in classical music. But what about this "Corporal Pepper" piece?.'
Digby. `"Sergeant Pepper". That's true. Scrambled tapes and noise was used in this piece and it did influence popular music for a while. Supposed to simulate the effect of drug taking, I'm told. But the vogue has passed.'
Sir.`Thank you, Mr Digby.' (Sphere disappears with a soft "plop").
Now this little sketch has introduced a completely new type of Art. Abstract Art, using patterns, shapes and colours that hopefully mean the same thing to the artist as to the viewer, can still be considered as Art, in the sense that the artist had things under control and was trying to say something. But Random Art is just that - random blots of ink or paint on a canvas, random pieces of stone, random noises.
So how can it possibly "mean" anything? How can even an avant-garde artist have the nerve to thrust it in front of the public and ask them to pay good money for it?
The answer is that you often do see or hear something meaningful with Random Art. (The technical explanation is discussed in the "Tutorial", where random noise – containing all signals - is put into a filter and can fool you that a genuine signal is present. In this case, what you are seeing or hearing is the output of a complex filter that you have constructed in your brain. It is like looking at "pictures" in the clouds or a coal fire. What you see depends on your ability to construct these complicated filters - on your imagination and on the number of images you have to draw on. In fact, what you see is almost entirely a function of who and what you are, which is why random ink-blot tests and the like have long been used as a standard tool in psychoanalysis).
Which brings us to the reason for the continued existence of Random Art. Being completely meaningless in itself, it gives the viewer a wonderful chance to see in it what he will, preferably in the company of other viewers, where he can show off his finely tuned aesthetic perceptions. Random Art is "Art to be Talked About". All the "artist" has to do in order to earn a reputation for profound and sensitive discernment is to smile enigmatically in the background. It is an unfortunate fact that Art, especially Modern (random) Art, is rife with snobbism.
The frequent success of Random "artists" must be very irritating to serious abstract painters.
This is an interesting trick, used by musicians. The idea is to have a musical theme represent a character, a place, a mood. It's used where the music is not only creating a mood, but also telling a story. If you know the code it's like having sub-titles. Wagner uses it a lot in his operas (with a cast of thousands and spanning centuries it must be the only way of following the action). In fact he went even further and modulated the key inside a sentence. The sentence "Love brings delight and sorrow" would start off being sung in a major key for "love" and "delight" and then modulate to the minor at "sorrow". You must know German to appreciate this level, of course. And being German would help even further.
In a way the use of Leitmotivs must make the structuring of a piece of music easier. First you compose a large number of themes, one for each character, then some more for different places (gloomy wood, sunlit plain etc) and then finally for different moods (deep depression, jealousy, renunciation etc). And from there on it's like writing a book. If the plot finds Wotan feeling a bit down in the mouth in Valhalla you just entwine the appropriate themes. And I suppose any help is gratefully accepted when you set out to write an opera lasting 4 evenings.
As this is an attempt to improve the signal to noise ratio, to get the message through, the engineer can only approve.
The idea is not completely new, of course. Ballet often uses conventional "body language" to convey emotion. And although I haven't heard of it, Abstract artists could use special combinations of shapes and colours to represent specific themes or items, as the Andromedans suggest. Warm colours, cold colours, black spiky shapes to illustrate impatience, movement neuroticism, smooth rounded shapes for contentment.
Art - the position now.
Well, I suppose this essay on Art sounds rather gloomy, and in a sense it is. All the best seams have been worked out, there is little new to do. But if you think about this it should not be surprising. Recorded Art starts about 7000 years ago and thousands and thousands of highly gifted and competent artists have been at it since. All the basic plots in literature had been used before the time of Shakespeare, and since then each generation has dressed them up for its own consumption.
When a young composer writes anything now, it sounds like Mozart, Wagner, Britten... It seems as though all the artist can now do it to try and wrap up the old ideas in new technology. Against the excitement, the sexual arousal messages of advertising, a painting of two old women gathering hay in a field in Provence 200 years ago is just impatiently pushed aside. The Andromedans' "initial tests" (to find the images arousing maximum feelings in the observer) have actually been made by the advertising profession.
Most Art was made for intelligent, reflective people living in quiet surroundings and without any great distractions. Art is essentially a narrow-bandwidth communication channel and to match it, to appreciate it, you must take your books, your pictures and records with you on a long remote holiday. And although it may be true that little if any new Art is being created today, it shouldn't worry you. You will need several lifetimes just to sample the enormous heritage of Art that already exists.
Feedback and afterthoughts
The above essay has been read by a number of people and I have been surprised by some of the reactions.
One remark, from a practising painter, is that she quite often gets pleasure out of painting for herself, with no intention of showing it to anyone. Using the above analogy of artists as transmitters, this can be looked on as a pre-transmission transmitter check, a maintenance run, an investigation or improvement of transmitter performance. And I can well believe that the even spreading of bright, good quality paint on a piece of stretched linen will give a sensual pleasure of its own. And if some new technique "works", it will be added to the artist's vocabulary. But it is "technique", not Art. Furthermore I have a sneaking suspicion that if during one of these "painting for myself" sessions everything goes well, the paint flowing on the canvas exactly as it should, and that a masterpiece is created, something that gives a particularly strong signal in the artist's receiver, it will be very difficult for the artist to destroy the felicitous masterpiece and not show it to anyone, unless she is absolutely confident of being able to reproduce it.
So to generalize, I'm sure artists love playing with the physical side of their art form, but I'm also sure that not very far in the back-ground is the hope that any improvements in their technique so achieved will ultimately reach a wider audience.
Other remarks revolve around the word "interpretation". A piece of music can apparently sound totally different (..."almost demonic ferocity and drive, deeply disturbing" or "glowing autumnal relaxation and warmth, deeply consoling"), depending on who conducts it. If this is so then it means that the composer, in spite of his careful instructions on the score, has lost control. A new work has been created by the conductor, clay supplied by Wagner, or whoever. I can imagine that the composer would feel extremely irritated if his concert flopped because of eccentric conducting but would feel pleased, in spite of himself, if his very ordinary symphony was a roaring success for the same reason. He would need to be very strong-willed if he disagreed with the critics who read more into his piece than he had in his head when he wrote it. Very few people can turn away success even though they must know they don't deserve it (or at least not for the reason given). It may even be that composers sometimes write music deliberately sloppily; in the same way the Random Artist paints vague meaningless patterns capable of different interpretations, hoping that everyone will read their own wishes into it and give him the credit. Like politicians write speeches.
Interpretation almost certainly appeared when the artist for one reason or another couldn't precisely define his message and wasn't around to provide supplementary explanations. Like being dead. Music, because of initial technical limitations, could only be written down on paper and that only approximately. This allows people like Schnabel to make silly statements like "Great music is music that's better than it can be played". In other words, a lot of "noise" was inadvertently included, allowing later performances to take advantage of this imprecision. But "getting more out of the music" doesn't mean there was more "in" the music and the composer can't claim credit - any credit is due to the conductor or performer. A virtue has been made of necessity. It is significant that music written before the invention of recording is the only music that is "interpreted". Modern music is almost never "interpreted" - you just have to listen to it as the composer wrote, conducted or even played it.
The same can be applied to a play. The original final product of the author was a script, which doesn't nail down the performance. Words change with time, which adds "noise", and human personalities are so complex that a character can be played according to some currently fashionable psychological theory - eg. Freudian. The art forms that contain the least noise are those that were most developed when they were created - painting, sculpture, architecture. Classical paintings offer the least possibility of "interpretation"
An engineer can only view all this with distaste. It is noise generation, not Art, and deliberate at that. As sure as hell no one is allowed to "interpret" any designs that go out with my name on them. If I were a composer I would insist on conducting anything I wrote myself, and there would be a pretty stringent check on the competence of all the musicians involved before they were allowed to play a note. I can certainly appreciate the attitude the of D'Oyly Carte Company who kept a steely grip on all performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, down to the minutest stage directions.
My sad conclusion is that I have been overestimating artists and the public. I started out by thinking that artists were people who had something to say, had the self-discipline to develop their talent and then said it in their chosen media. It's not as clear-cut as that. I think all artists start off this way but quickly find that when they get out in the world success is determined more by their looks or personality, accident, ability to follow a fashion or showmanship, than artistic competence. They find that of the small percentage of the public that can be said to be interested in Art, only a further small fraction is prepared to make any effort to understand what the artist is trying to say. They just look/hear and apply their own interpretation - "I know what I like". They merely use it as somewhat pre-filtered noise for their own internal filters. The artist thus finds himself used by a snobbish section of the community who think that possession of a work of art or attendance at a cultural performance raises them to the same intellectual level as the artist.
Yes, the artist today is in a sad situation. I am convinced that the art schools and musical colleges are filled with Beethovens, Wagners, Leonardo da Vincis, van Goghs (statistically this must be so), all raring to go, to express themselves, to interpret their deepest feelings in their chosen media. Unfortunately someone has done it before them (often centuries before). It must be analogous to a scientist working alone who discovers a whole range of fascinating and strangely related phenomena. One night at 11 o'clock it suddenly all comes together and he has Insight. He scribbles down the magic formulae in case he forgets them and falls asleep, his first for three nights. In the morning he triumphantly publishes his breakthrough paper only to find he has re-discovered Ohm's Law!
But of course this could never happen to a scientist today. He would have climbed on Ohm's shoulders at the age of 10 or so, then climbed up on Hertz's shoulders (who was standing on Ohm's shoulders too) at the age of 14 ... on Einstein's shoulders at the age of 18 ... and now be ready to make a significant and satisfying discovery of his own, in a completely new, useful and fascinating field.
Have any of you artists out there thought of applying your talents to another medium? One that is fairly easily learnt, offers great scope for imagination and creativity before a discerning and appreciative audience. Well paid too.