Monthly Archives: November 2010

Merit vs Success

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success = papers not blowing away

My friend Natalie Wilson recently did a remarkable job of setting an enormous goal and meeting it almost to the date. At the beginning of the year she challenged herself to write an entire play (her first) in nine months. Using the extended metaphor of birth (which time and again works uncannily well) she started a blog ‘Birth of a Play(wright)‘ to track her gestation. It’s a testament to her tenacity and determination that she not only finished the play in time, but secured enough funding (and interest) to put up a reading with top notch broadway talent early in November.

And now she’s facing the question that haunts so many early career writers after a big premiere. “What next?” Continue Reading

2 Responses to Merit vs Success

  1. mary beth woodruff says:

    a very important point is made here. it is my humble opinion that the arts is riddled with far too many success whores and it can tend to drive quality into the ground. imagine beethoven’s output if he cared what people thought? we would have no late quartets, as they weren’t even commissioned. we probably wouldn’t have a ninth symphony. then imagine a musical world without these a part of the landscape. scary. there are so many examples of this being the case in centuries past. i wonder if this body of work really exists in the 20th/21st century – works that have received no earmarks of ‘success’ but that will so clearly be recognized as such, via the fortitude of merit alone, at a future date.

  2. Thanks for this, Brian. Both for the buzz but more importantly for your thoughts. I’ve written another post in response (because I love the term “meta” and a blog post about a blog post about a blog post is just so very meta).

    http://birthofaplaywright.blogspot.com/2010/11/dia-blog-on-success-vs-merit.html

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What Technology Wants: Better Musics

Molly Sheridan’s Mind The Gap blog has gotten particularly geektastic this past week as she hosted a virtual book club. The book in question, Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. This certainly tickled the computer scientist in me, Kelly’s Out Of Control changed the way I thought about computing in the mid 90s. Kelly has longContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to What Technology Wants: Better Musics

  1. We actually know what art wants and how it evolves. It wants to be culturally isomorphic with the society that consumes it. It wants to conform to the major social forces that contextualize it, like religion, economic and political systems, educational systems, technology, methods of delivery, social values, etc.

    For example, the symphony orchestra arose to reflect the cultural nationalism and post-revolutionary authoritarianism of the second half of 19th century Europe. A great deal of medieval visual art was written to conform to the belief systems and mythologies of the Catholic church. Most European art up to the Napoleonic wars was written, composed, or built to reflect the status, power, and glory of the aristocracy.

    If a society believes in the harmony of the spheres it produces the clockwork music of Bach. If it believes in the rational nature of the enlightened man it produces Haydn and Mozart. If it turns toward Darwinism it produces the Rite of Spring. If it believes in scientism it produces Milton Babbitt. If it decenters authority through postmodern philsophy it prodcues John Zorn and Pixar.

    There are very few known artists who expressed ideas completely outside the cultural norms of their societies. Can you name any? Artists might contribute to the forward movement, but those who are remembered are those who remain in step with the leading edge. Avante-guardists are merely those who sense where society is headed and who express ideas near the cutting edge of the intelligentsia, but not beyond it.

    Even works that caused dismay in their time, like The Rite of Spring or Wozzeck, or transgressive authors like Joyce, Artuad, de Sade, and Genet actually conformed very strongly to the cultural currents of their periods.

    It is almost always philosophers who lead these developments, but they too can only move in step with the forward progress of the society as a whole. Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Marx, and Foucault are a few examples. Societies move forward as a collective. Inspired geniuses only contribute to that movement. They cannot create it alone.

    If an artist defies these principles, his or her work will be neglected and forgotten, regardless of how good it is.

  2. Brian Rosen says:

    Great comment! The zeitgeist as cultural arbiter is a strong notion.

    But is the culture an indicator or instigator? Is the artist driving the culture or is culture driving the artist?

    More likely it’s an interplay, and exchange of ideas between individual speakers. What resonates is a function of the makeup of society at the time, a sort of echo chamber of individuals.

    We need an acoustic theory of memes and ideas…

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Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and… Benjamin Britten

I think it started with Whitney Houston. Then Mariah Carey. And then it spread to any R&B singer with a record deal. And then American Idol. And now, just about every YouTube video you see. It’s melisma. In singing, it’s any discrete changing of pitch while sustaining a single syllable. A common technique in baroqueContinue ReadingContinue Reading

One Response to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and… Benjamin Britten

  1. David says:

    That video is so terrifying.

    I shall not sleep this even’.

    Thanks Brian. Thanks a lot.

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My Father Knew Milton Babbitt

John Adams titled his work “My Father Knew Charles Ives” based on a hunch that had his father ever actually met the groundbreaking American composer, their similar dispositions and interests would have made them fast friends. This little anecdote differs from Adams’ in two points.  First, my father, a lifelong athlete and track coach couldn’tContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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