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Things you are supposed to like

68 Post author: PhilGoetz 22 October 2011 02:04AM

I'm trying to like Beethoven's Great Fugue.

"This piece alone completely changed my life and how I perceive and appreciate music."

"Those that claim to love Beethoven but not this are fakers, frauds, wannabees, but most of all are people who are incapable of stopping everything for 10 minutes and reveling in absolute beauty, absolute perfection. Beethoven at his finest."

"This is the absolute peak of Beethoven."

"It's now my favorite piece by Beethoven."

These are some of the comments on the page.  Articulate music lovers with excellent taste praise this piece to heaven.  Plus, it was written by Beethoven.

It bores me.

The first two times I listened to it, it stirred no feelings in me except irritation and impatience for its end.  I found it devoid of small-scale or large-scale structure or transitions, aimless, unharmonious, and deficient in melody, rhythm, and melodic or rhythmic coordination between the four parts, none of which I would care to hear by themselves (which is a key measure of the quality of a fugue).

Yet I feel strong pressure to like it.  Liking Beethoven's Great Fugue marks you out as a music connoisseur.

I feel pressure to like other things as well.  Bitter cabernets, Jackson Pollack paintings, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, and Burning Man.  This is a pattern common to all arts.  You recognize this pattern in a work when:

  1. The work in question was created by deliberately taking away everything that most people like best about that art form.  In the case of wine, sweetness and fruitiness.  In the case of Jackson Pollack, form, variety, relevance, and colors not found in vomit.  In the music of Alban Berg, basic music theory.  In every poem in any volume of "Greatest American Poetry" since 2000, rhyme, rhythm, insight, and/or importance of subject matter.  In the case of Burning Man, every possible physical comfort.  The work cannot be composed of things that most people appreciate plus things connoisseurs appreciate.  It must be difficult to like.
  2. The level of praise is absurd.  The Great Fugue, Beethoven's finest?  I'm sorry; my imagination does not stretch that far.  "Burning Man changed my life completely" - I liked Burning Man; but if it changed your life completely, you probably had a vapid life.
  3. People say they hated it at first, but over time, grew to love it.  One must be trained to like it.
  4. People give contradictory reasons for liking it.  One person says the Great Fugue has a brilliant structure; another says it is great because of its lack of structure.
  5. Learning to like it is a rite of passage within a particular community.

Here are some theories as to how a work becomes the darling of its medium or genre:

  1. It is really and truly excellent. This would explain features 2 and 5.
  2. It is a runaway peacock's-tail phenomenon: Someone made something that stood out in some way, and it got attention; and people learned to like things like that, and so others made things that stood out more in the same way, until we ended up with Alban Berg. This would explain features 2 and 3.
  3. Enshrining good art as exemplars helps advance people devoted to art up their field's dominance hierarchy; enshrining bad art as exemplars advances people who are more devoted to seeking power.  Guess which type of person you find more of at the top of power hierarchies?  This would explain all five features.
  4. As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested; like porn viewers who seek out movies with continually-stranger sex acts.  If ivy-league universities had departments of pornography, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals. This would explain features 1, 3, and 5.
  5. Practitioners of an art appreciate technique more than content.  This is why authors love Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Delaney's Dhalgren; they are full of beautiful phrases and metaphors, ways of making transitions, and other little tricks that authors can admire and learn to use, even though these books aren't as interesting to readers. This could explain feature 5.

(Don't assume that the same theory is true for each of my examples.  I think that the wine hierarchy and Alban Berg are nonsense, Jackson Pollack is an interesting one-trick pony, Citizen Kane was revolutionary and is important for cinematographers to study but is boring compared to contemporary movies, and Burning Man is great but would be even better with showers.)

I could keep listening to the Great Fugue, and see if I, too, come to love it in time.  But what would that prove?  Of course I would come to love it in time, if I listen to it over and over, earnestly trying to like it, convinced that by liking the Great Fugue I, too, would attain the heights of musical sophistication.

The fact that people come to like it over time is not even suggested by theory 1 - even supposing the music is simply so great as to be beyond the appreciation of the typical listener, why would listening to it repeatedly grant the listener this skill?

I have listened to it a few times, and am growing confused as to whether I like it or not.  Why is this?  Since when does one have to wonder whether one likes something or not?

I am afraid to keep listening to the Great Fugue.  I would come to like it, whether it is great art or pretentious garbage.  That wouldn't rule out any of my theories.

How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

Comments (366)

Comment author: siodine 21 October 2011 09:49:22AM *  25 points [-]

I think the concept of inferential distance applies to art. As a kid, I was mostly exposed to classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Queen, and so on), and I felt something close to disgust when listening to anything significantly removed from that genre. However, I eventually bridged the gap between genres by finding music that mostly resembled classic rock but with a bit of something else. Eventually, this led me to enjoying entirely different genres that I'm fairly sure I'd otherwise hate.

It's the same with film. I moved from only enjoying blockbuster-type films to very strange films that some might say are pretentious or boring.

Before I thought there was an inferential distance for art, I tried to expose friends and family to some of my favorite movies. So, for example, I'd show them a movie like Festen--which I thought was actually somewhat tame and easy to like--and they'd hate it from the outset. The subtitles were a problem, the plot was a problem, it was boring, and so on. These were intelligent people with complex tastes in other areas. And now that I think about it, I'm confident that I'd feel the same way if I didn't have the progression of experiences that allowed me to love that movie the first time I watched it.

So, I'd say if you want to enjoy the things "you're supposed to like," bridge the distance with things similar to what you already enjoy.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 22 October 2011 01:43:48AM 21 points [-]

Phil, I'll remind you of your own comment:

Incommensurate thoughts: People with different life-experiences are literally incapable of understanding each other...

Analogy: Take some problem domain in which each data point is a 500-dimensional vector. Take a big set of 500D vectors and apply PCA to them to get a new reduced space of 25 dimensions. Store all data in the 25D space, and operate on it in that space.

Two programs exposed to different sets of 500D vectors, which differ in a biased way, will construct different basic vectors during PCA, and so will reduce all vectors in the future into a different 25D space.

In just this way, two people with life experiences that differ in a biased way (due to eg socioeconomic status, country of birth, culture) will construct different underlying compression schemes. You can give them each a text with the same words in it, but the representations that each constructs internally are incommensurate; they exist in different spaces, which introduce different errors.

It seems entirely plausible that a person's appreciation of a piece of music depends strongly on all the music to which she's previously been exposed. Two different observers with different music-histories may have very different internal representations of the same piece of new music. A given piece of music may be well-formed or high quality in one representation, but not another.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 October 2011 07:42:50PM 18 points [-]

I read somewhere that people who have seen few movies tend to appreciate different kinds of movies than people who have seen lots of movies. Part of the reason is obvious: something that is clichéd and trite to one person may seem like amazingly original and creative to someone who hasn't seen it done over and over. At the same time, a newbie might not appreciate the way some movie turns the cliche upside down.

Something similar probably also applies to other forms of fiction, and possibly to music as well.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 22 October 2011 12:15:53PM 4 points [-]

This also goes some distance to explaining (in an alternate fashion) why repeated exposure to the artwork increases appreciation for it. Assuming the piece really relies on their exposure to related music, extended exposure forces people to have increasingly similar backgrounds.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 21 October 2011 03:51:54AM 15 points [-]

It is a runaway peacock's-tail phenomenon: Someone made something that stood out in some way, and it got attention; and people learned to like things like that, and so others made things that stood out more in the same way, until we ended up with Alban Berg.

As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested;

I suspect Methods of Rationality may be the end product of a similar phenomenon with respect to a number of trends in speculative fiction, e.g., of putting in more and more elaborate Xanatos Gambits and more and more subtle pop culture references.

Or as Eliezer put it:

it's hard to beat the Algorithm of Awesome, which works as follows:

First, know the overarching direction in which your fic is going. Then, think of possible events that move in this direction. If they are awesome, add them to the plot. If they are not awesome, leave them out.

Try looking at the above quote while tabooing the word "awesome", or better yet replace it with a word that has a similar meaning to an art movement you aren't involved in e.g., "groovy" for psychedelic, "transgresive" for modern art, etc.

Comment author: khafra 21 October 2011 01:29:51PM 7 points [-]

"minimalist"

Comment author: pedanterrific 21 October 2011 04:59:16AM 13 points [-]

it's hard to beat the Algorithm of [Applause Light], which works as follows:

First, know the overarching direction in which your fic is going. Then, think of possible events that move in this direction. If they are [applause light], add them to the plot. If they are not [applause light], leave them out.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 06:04:47AM 2 points [-]

Clever, but are you implying that a good story is essentially wireheading?

Comment author: pedanterrific 22 October 2011 12:45:45AM 4 points [-]

I wouldn't go quite that far. Maybe affective death spirals are attractors in designspace, though.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 22 October 2011 03:19:38AM 2 points [-]

I read that in a kind of stern, commanding voice, which makes it sounds really silly with the word "groovy" in it. Much sillier than with "awesome", for some reason.

This makes me realize that the voice is nothing like Eliezer's.

It's hard to beat the Algorithm of Groovy.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 22 October 2011 04:46:47AM 4 points [-]

Who knows, maybe is a couple decades describing something as "awesome" will sound as silly and passe as describing something as "groovy" or "funky" does today.

Comment author: Mercy 27 October 2011 03:12:04PM *  3 points [-]

Doesn't it already? Presumably it depends on the level of exposure to the "awesome" cluster of tropes, but I think comics are the ground zero of the trend and the backlash is well underway. What passes for tastemakers in that medium are pretty down on the cluster - if you describe a Grant Morrison or Tsutomu Nihei piece as awesome they'll say they see where you are coming from, but it's a good comic too! And to dismiss a work as "awesome" is to suggest it's written for the blurb. Relevant

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 21 October 2011 04:47:23AM *  63 points [-]

A handful of points, without any particular axe to grind, from a professional music scholar:

(1) The Great Fugue is difficult to like, difficult to know what to make of -- even most of its passionate advocates would agree to that -- and there's no particular reason to think that opinions from wildly positive to wildly negative are not all within the realm of the reasonable responses to this piece. A huge amount of scholarly ink has been spilled on why it, and the late string quartets, and the Missa Solemnis, are so peculiar.

(2) Relatedly, people who love it and think that it's obviously, uncomplicatedly lovable may well be putting on airs or signaling. And as with any piece of music that has gigantic prestige built up around it (partly due to its reputation for being super-profound and inscrutable), all opinions are probably to be somewhat taken with some suspicion of signaling behavior.

(3) Think of someone who has repeatedly shown herself to be a brilliant, extremely sound thinker. You come to trust her opinions on a wide range of topics. When she says something you find absolutely bizarre or inscrutable, you're going to at a very minimum think carefully about what she says to see if the fault is with you. If you're a fan of most of the music Beethoven writes, I encourage you to give him a similar benefit of the doubt.

(4) I myself find the Great Fugue remarkable but not at all pleasant -- in fact, while Beethoven holds me enraptured right up through the Last Five Sonatas and the Ninth Symphony, he loses me a bit with the Missa Solemnis and the late string quartets, with the exception of a few isolated movements. You're certainly not wrong to suggest that admitting these views in academic music circles is low-prestige (although not as much so as it used to be), but a major factor in this is my point (3) above: Beethoven has generally earned the benefit of the doubt. Also, it's equally low-prestige in those circles to run around gushing about how amazing the Great Fugue is without having some interesting things to say about why you think so.

(5) I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music. Quality is subjective, or at most inter-subjective, and aesthetic judgments do not contain truth value.

(6) Whatever you think you mean by suggesting that the music of Alban Berg (not sure why you picked him) lacks "basic music theory," I can completely guarantee you that you are wrong. Music theory is not a property of musical compositions any more than linguistics is a property of language. If what you mean is that Alban Berg was not a composer of tonal music in the 18th- and 19th-century sense, then that is true, but (a) his music contains structure, just not tonal structure; (b) the relativism of aesthetic judgments means that that is neither a bad thing nor a good thing except insofar as the pleasure some people take in his music is good; and (c) if you are hinting at the claim that people who say they like Alban Berg's music don't actually like it but are just signaling social prestige, then that may be true for some individuals but is false in the general sense.

(7) Liking has a great deal more to do with familiarity than you think it does, and substantial music cognition research backs this up.

(8) It is probably impossible to separate individual aesthetic pleasure from socially-pressured aesthetic pleasure as thoroughly as you want to. (I'm reminded of the famous Judgment of Paris wine-tasting episode (link is to Wikipedia, tinyurl is the only way I could get it not to be broken).) We are social beings, so we should release ourselves from the imagined obligation to make all our aesthetic judgments in a social vacuum. Even the pleasure you take from the things you think you like in the most genuine and uncomplicated way is to some degree socially determined. Liking things is something that we're in many ways primed to do by what we hear from others -- if my best friend recommends me a novel, I'll read it with somewhat more patience knowing that someone whose opinion I value has vouched for it. If in the end I like it, even if I wouldn't have liked it otherwise, there's no reason to think of that liking as being less genuine or less valuable.

(7+8) If you listen to the Great Fugue a hundred more times, unless you find something viscerally unpleasant about it (which, make no mistake, some people really do, since it's pretty loud and screechy), you will probably like it, because familiarity and social conditioning tend to do that to us. If you like it, stop driving yourself crazy and just like it. If you can't stand to like something thinking that there's some element of social conditioning driving you to do so, then by all means stop listening to the Great Fugue.

(9) That said, many people do find that it's interesting or pleasant to expend a little effort to see if they can learn to like something that they don't immediately like but have some reason to think they may like eventually. That's what an acquired taste is. If you give it a shot and it doesn't take, then let yourself off the hook. And you can always take some pleasure in being the aggressive countersignaller who goes around telling anyone who'll listen that the Great Fugue is totally overrated (some people will take a lot more pleasure in that than they ever could in the piece itself (the politest, but by no means only, word for those people is "contrarians")).

Comment author: komponisto 22 October 2011 01:33:43PM *  6 points [-]

If you listen to the Great Fugue a hundred more times, unless you find something viscerally unpleasant about it (which, make no mistake, some people really do, since it's pretty loud and screechy)

Such folks may want to try the piano 4-hands or string orchestra version.

If what you mean is that Alban Berg was not a composer of tonal music in the 18th- and 19th-century sense, then that is true, but (a) his music contains structure, just not tonal structure;

Perhaps it would have been better to write "not just" instead of "just not" -- because Berg's music in fact contains plenty of tonal structure; there's a reason he's considered the most "conservative", "backward-looking", "romantic" member of the Second Viennese School (whether or not such a characterization stands up to "proper" scrutiny). The final orchestral interlude of Wozzeck even has a frickin' key signature.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 22 October 2011 04:59:34PM 2 points [-]

Yeah, the most complete way I could have put it would probably have been something like "Berg's music contains structure, but not very much of the kind of structure that would make it sound like the classical tonal music of the 18th and 19th centuries." That's the intuition I wanted to validate while pointing out that there's no sense in which there's "more music theory" in some kinds of music than in others.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 05:58:48AM *  16 points [-]

aesthetic judgments do not contain truth value.

I think it's more a case of us not being good enough at them yet. An aesthetic experience isn't going to affect everyone in the same way, but neither is aspirin. We can still count on reliable clusterings of similar reactions and go from there.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 04:13:34PM *  5 points [-]

(7) Liking has a great deal more to do with familiarity than you think it does, and substantial music cognition research backs this up.

My post says in two separate places that familiarity leads to liking; and this is why the question of whether I should continue to listen to the Great Fugue is a problem.

If liking is just about familiarity, then it doesn't matter what we listen to, and music criticism, and music theory, and all of art, is bogus.

I'm very familiar with the song "My Sharona" by The Knack, because I had a housemate in college who played it frequently. I hate it. I'm also very familiar with the Green Acres theme song. I think that I hate it, yet I find it so compelling that it can get stuck in my head for an entire day - which requires some kind of greatness.

(5) I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music. Quality is subjective, or at most inter-subjective, and aesthetic judgments do not contain truth value.

My post doesn't say that. Theory 4 explicitly rejects that view. But if you strongly believe that aesthetic judgement has no truth value, even relative to your human biology and your culture, then musical training is a waste of time, and I am confused as to why you would call yourself a musicologist, since you then have no more understanding of music, and no better taste, than anyone else.

My knowledge of Alban Berg is limited. I have listened to his music for only about one hour total in my entire life, because I found it painful to listen to.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 21 October 2011 07:11:08PM 9 points [-]

Aesthetic judgment has no truth value in the sense that if I like something, it is not meaningful for someone else to say "You are wrong to like it." It may be meaningful for someone else to say "You think you like it, but you're wrong, you actually don't" -- which I think captures the dynamic you're concerned about in this post in some respects, and I think it's quite appropriate to be concerned about that and to want to avoid getting railroaded into thinking you like something that you really don't. But when I genuinely like something, there's just not any sense in which there is a truth or falsity condition to my liking. It's like our emotions -- there are always factual beliefs that condition our emotions, but various emotional states may all be reasonable responses to the same set of facts, because of the personal, individual element.

This is all somewhat distinct from the sense in which some things are widely and predictably liked by a lot of people. We say that someone has good taste when their judgment is a good predictor of others' judgment. These kinds of preference-clusters around some objects are about the closest we can get to saying that personal aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong. Nevertheless, the ultimate seat of aesthetic judgment is in the individual -- i.e., the brain that experiences an aesthetic object and determines whether I like it or not is my own, with whatever states and inputs it possesses that make up the judgment -- so I do say that actual aesthetic preference is neither true nor false.

I don't think I have "better" musical taste than anyone. I like a lot of music that lots of other people like, and I also like some music that very few people like and hate a pretty great deal of music that a lot of people like. None of this qualifies me to tell other people that they are right or wrong to like anything. Neither does my training in music performance and scholarship. When I perform music, I try to do it in ways that other people will like, and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong, often hilariously wrong.

Musicology as a scholarly discipline has little or nothing to do with making aesthetic judgments, although most musicologists are guided to some degree by their aesthetic judgments in choosing what they'll work on. What distinguishes the profession is knowledge about music (its history, technique, and so on). I wrote a quick sketch of the kind of things academic musicologists do here, just a couple of days ago.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 03:13:51AM 3 points [-]

I don't think I have "better" musical taste than anyone. I like a lot of music that lots of other people like, and I also like some music that very few people like and hate a pretty great deal of music that a lot of people like. None of this qualifies me to tell other people that they are right or wrong to like anything.

If I understand what you are saying, you think that one could not be qualified to tell people that they are simply wrong to like what they like, but one could be qualified to tell them that they like what they like because they are stupid, or for similar reasons, including sometimes when those reasons are (or are due to) things either or both of you would rightfully label wrong according to each of your values.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 22 October 2011 04:53:36AM 5 points [-]

Yes. In other words, your aesthetic preference is what you like, not what you wish you liked. I believe that what Phil Goetz is struggling with in the original post -- an extremely valid struggle that I think we can all relate to -- is something like a three-layered conflict between (a) what he likes, (b) what he would like to like, and (c) what he would like to like to like. (a) and (c) are negative -- he does not like the Great Fugue and would not like to like to like it, but certain pressures make him feel in some respects as though (b) he would like to like it.

Your comment gives me an opportunity to clarify one other thing. Aesthetic judgments are often based in part, though I believe almost never wholly, on factual beliefs of some kind. Insofar as those might be mistaken, I think it does present a limited sense in which I might be wrong to like something, but only wrong relative to my own meta-preferences. To construct a silly example, imagine I like Wagner's music in part because I am under the impression that he was a morally upright person. (This might sound like a bad reason for liking someone's music, but I would argue that things like that factor into our aesthetic judgments really often.) Now, it's unlikely that even my belief about Wagner's moral character would cause me to like his music if I truly found it viscerally unpleasant, so I do think that a core of more purely aesthetic judgment remains in most cases -- but let's say that my positive aesthetic judgment is made wildly positive by my belief about Wagner's moral character, or that a slightly negative (just worse than indifferent) aesthetic judgment is made slightly positive by my belief. Since Wagner was not a morally upright person, though, I think it's fair to say that the portion of my aesthetic judgment about his music that is informed by that belief is simply wrong. However, I don't think there are -- by definition -- any aesthetic judgments that rely entirely on facts.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 23 October 2011 09:58:12PM 2 points [-]

There are definitely people who dislike Wagner's music because of his anti-Semitism.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 22 October 2011 02:38:43PM *  2 points [-]

Your first paragraph is well-stated, and I agree with it.

I can at least expect that musical taste is like multi-level regression, where human biology is one level of regression with a lot of data, a culture is a second level, people who like a particular kind of music is a different second level, and an individual is a third level. Each additional level makes our model more precise, but provides less data.

So, even if I can't say someone's opinion of a musical piece is wrong, I could say it is very improbable, and give my estimate of their taste some kind of entropy penalty. With enough knowledge of their opinions, I could reject the hypothesis that they belong to a particular musical affiliation group.

More importantly, there is a human level of the regression, and it provides some information. Having tastes that differ significantly from standard human tastes - it could be a result of training, so it might be "good"; but it's also as close to "wrong" as we may be able to get.

But, none of what I just said is useful for the problem posed in my post. I think the answer is brain scans.

There is something objectively good about particular musical intervals, e.g., the octave, the 1-3-5 chord, that has to do with the ratios of their frequencies. Therefore there is some objective truth about musical taste. You could use that to construct some metric of each interval, and make something like a Markov model of how that metric changes over time in different musical pieces, and see if you come up with patterns. But that still wouldn't answer the question whether a deviation from that pattern indicates something new and good, or new and bad.

I think that you're saying that my question has no answer.

Comment author: komponisto 22 October 2011 09:34:50PM *  5 points [-]

There is something objectively good about particular musical intervals, e.g., the octave, the 1-3-5 chord, that has to do with the ratios of their frequencies.

That has very, very little directly to do with the aesthetics of musical composition, however. Its implications are rather in the area of how humans interpret musical sounds: all else being equal, we tend to think of acoustically simple intervals ("consonances") as being "more fundamental" than acoustically (more) complex intervals ("dissonances"), so that we interpret the latter in terms of the former, rather than vice-versa.

It's a curious phenomenon that, throughout history, people have thought (i.e. written treatises as if) the key to musical composition is identifying which "atomic" musical materials "sound good" (and then stringing them together, one presumes). But that isn't how it works at all. Musical composition operates on a higher level of abstraction; the treatment of intervals and so forth is just mechanics, like spelling words for a novelist.

(Whatever the reason is that you don't like the Great Fugue, it isn't because it doesn't contain enough consonant intervals.)

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 09:55:20PM 2 points [-]

Initially I couldn't understand why you had such a low opinion of the "trainwreck" you linked to. But I think I've figured it out. Is it not so much that you can't use musicological data to create music that hits it intended mark, but that it's crude to lump all that mark-hitting into the category "good?"

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 22 October 2011 04:34:17AM 2 points [-]

To reply to this and your other comment at once, yes, this is one reason why I think it is so bad. A related idea is that I think that this obsession with a hypothetical ratability (however computationally intractable) of music fails to recognize that music is enormously wrapped up in culture. I'll try to explain why I think that's a fatal error. You and I agree that there are preference clusters around some pieces of music, but we interpret the existence of those clusters differently. To you, they suggest a kind of groping toward some as-yet-unseen aesthetic truth -- what we would like if we were like we are now, only better (coherent extrapolated aesthetic preferences?). To me, they are limited in their (even hypothetical) extent by both individual difference and by cultural difference -- preference clusters only crop up reliably among people who are relatively similar to one another and share a lot of cultural common ground. In my view, even if we were much, much better, smarter versions of ourselves, aesthetic judgment would continue to vary as widely as the combined variance of human cultures and the traits of individuals.

Another way of saying this is that music is a phenomenon created by so many aspects of culture and individual psychology, in such eclectic ways, that I don't think a mathematical model of our responses to music can be very much less complex than a complete mathematical model of the human mind, biology, and culture. When I see people pursuing approaches to music who see it as much simpler than that (like the aforementioned trainwreck), it's a dead giveaway that they don't know what they're talking about.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 04:50:11AM 4 points [-]

In my view, even if we were much, much better, smarter versions of ourselves, aesthetic judgment would continue to vary as widely as the combined variance of human cultures and the traits of individuals.

Even if we were much, much smarter versions of ourselves, intellectual judgment would continue to vary widely.

But there wouldn't be creationists.

Comment author: Prismattic 22 October 2011 05:04:38AM 5 points [-]

Yes there would. Much, much smarter != freed from cognitive biases.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 07:44:09AM 4 points [-]

Granted there would be religious people, I do not think there would be creationists. Granted for the sake of argument a few people sufficiently smart are now creationists, were everyone that smart, the community of creationists might shrink until having such opinions about biology would be as isolating as analogous literalist Biblical opinions about the "four corners of the Earth". Absent a supporting community, only seriously deluded smart people, such as might also think themselves Napoleon, would be creationists.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 07:06:32PM 1 point [-]

I think that I hate it, yet I find it so compelling that it can get stuck in my head for an entire day - which requires some kind of greatness.

"It's a small world after all..."

Comment author: juliawise 21 October 2011 03:07:13PM *  2 points [-]

remarkable but not at all pleasant

I heard an interview with a conductor doing Beethoven's 5th symphony, complaining about people who come up to him and say they enjoyed the piece. (cue German accent) "I want to ask them, 'Really? What is wrong with you?'"

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 21 October 2011 07:16:22PM 5 points [-]

I find that attitude baffling, don't you? But you do encounter it sometimes. Glenn Gould quite famously claimed to hate all music written between 1750 and 1900 or something -- but he still extensively performed and recorded it, so he must either have been lying or really wanted the money.

Something one comes across a little more often is a prickly attitude when you tell a performer or composer that you thought their piece was "pretty" or something, which can be taken as pejorative if something more along the lines of the Kantian sublime was intended! Maybe that's what the conductor in this case meant.

Comment author: juliawise 21 October 2011 09:37:18PM 4 points [-]

It was Christoph Eschenbach, I'm pretty sure. I think he meant the 5th isn't supposed to be "enjoyed" because it's so dark.

Comment author: Bugmaster 22 October 2011 11:11:44AM 1 point [-]

I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music.

Is quality totally subjective, though ? If so, then there's nothing special about Beethoven's music, or Bach's music, or Elvis's music, etc. Sure, their work has stood the test of time, but if there's nothing inherent in music that makes it good or bad, then whether it stood the test of time or not isn't terribly important. Furthermore, if one piece of music is as good as any other, then why have professional musicians at all ? Why should we even have "music" as a discipline ?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 October 2011 11:34:10PM *  3 points [-]

Why have money? Sure, it's been around for ages and it's used the world over, but if there's nothing inherent in money that makes it valuable, then how long and how widely it's been used isn't terribly important. Furthermore, if one coin or bill is made of the same stuff as any other, than why mint currency at all? Should we even have "money" as a thing?

EDIT: Just in case it needs saying: An awful lot of things that are terribly important to humans and can change their lives for better or worse do not correspond to ontological primitives or the first-order phenomena on which reality is ultimately based.

Money has value by consensus agreement -- even the most dedicated Gold Standard advocates will usually cop to the fact that it's gold's properties that make it useful for trade, and anyway most money now and through much of human existence has no basis in gold. You cannot melt down a gold coin, shred a banknote of paper or plastic, and extract the raw value from it. It's totally made up. And oddly enough, this may very well not prevent you from starving to death if you run out of it...

Comment author: Bugmaster 23 October 2011 12:43:02AM 3 points [-]

Money has value by consensus agreement -- even the most dedicated Gold Standard advocates will usually cop to the fact that it's gold's properties that make it useful for trade...

This is already a weaker claim than the one you seemed to be presenting before -- though I may have misunderstood you at the time. Rather than saying that one piece of music is as good as any other (f.ex., a random tune that I'm humming is as good as anything produced by The Beatles or Brittney Spears or whomever), you are now saying that there exists a "consensus agreement" regarding which music is better. Thus, it is possible to rank music according to quality, even if we define "quality" as "alignment with the consensus". I'm going to chip away at your claim a little more, though.

While it is true that the value of money is governed by consensus, this value is not entirely arbitrary. For example, if Mexico's government got its act together, somehow developed fusion power, and began exporting energy to its neighbours, I would expect the value of the Peso to rise relative to the Dollar. I can't predict exactly what this value will be exactly, but I am fairly sure it will be much higher than it is today.

This is because the consensus that governs the value of money is rooted in at least two real-world quantities:

  • The total production of the entity who wields the money (typically, a country or a corporation)
  • Human psychology (which, in aggregate, is reasonably static and non-arbitrary, though of course there's a great deal of variation among individuals)

Is this also true of music ? Or is musical quality still completely arbitrary ?

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 01:28:54AM *  3 points [-]

This is already a weaker claim than the one you seemed to be presenting before

This is my first post in the conversation. Are you thinking of a different person maybe?

you are now saying that there exists a "consensus agreement" regarding which music is better.

Nooooot exactly. What I'm saying is that questions of whether music is pleasurable to listen to or holds up to sophisticated aesthetic analysis do not dissolve even if we assume the criteria are arbitrary (and indeed, different musical traditions around the world have different tone scales, different ideas about what constitute good lyrics, rhythm, et cetera -- so while two humans from entirely different social contexts may disagree with each other's tastes in music, it is still rather likely they both have a taste in music).

I like listening to Tuvan throat singing (no, really). I know plenty of people who can't stand it (one of my spouses being a prominent example, but she adores heavy metal). There's no a priori reason why I'd dig phase-shifting and simultaneous harmonies in a raspy voice while she prefers electric guitar and heavy thumping drum beats.

So you're right that it's arbitrary, but the statement "these preferences are arbitrary" is kind of meaningless -- I still have the brainbits that respond well to Kongar ool-Ondar, and my spouse still has the brainbits that respond well to Apocalyptika and Sammael, and this will lead to important, meaningful social behaviors on our part.

Don't get too confused by my money analogy -- it's true that money stands in for trade balances in a sense and so relative valuations between currencies can be expected to vary in response to economic conditions, but that doesn't make any instance of the symbols or tokens of trade-balance valuable unto themselves.

What I'm saying is you can't make meaningful statements about music quality outside of context; you should taboo the word "arbitrary" here.

Comment author: Bugmaster 24 October 2011 10:03:35PM 1 point [-]

Are you thinking of a different person maybe?

Yeah, I seem to be doing that a lot, lately :-( Sorry about that.

and indeed, different musical traditions around the world have different tone scales, different ideas about what constitute good lyrics, rhythm, et cetera...

Is this actually true ? I was under the impression that there were a handful (maybe as few as two, IIRC) tonal scales that persist across cultures, but I could be wrong. Lyrics are another matter entirely, and are probably out of scope for this discussion, as they are closer to literature than to music.

...but that doesn't make any instance of the symbols or tokens of trade-balance valuable unto themselves.

No, but it does mean that there's something else besides social consensus that governs the value that people place on these currency tokens.

...you should taboo the word "arbitrary" here.

Fair enough.

My point is that, if the measure of quality that we assign to a piece of music is completely independent on any properties of that piece of music, as the original commenter seemed to be suggesting, then it makes no sense to even recognize music as a discipline. And I argue that the reverse is also true: if we are willing to claim that music is a thing, and that some pieces of music are better than others in some way, then these pieces of music must possess some properties which are relevant to their quality. It would therefore be possible -- just as an example -- to identify these properties, and to predict whether a given piece of music will be successful or not.

Note that such properties need not be completely objective, in a way that mass and length are objective. They just need to be relatively stable within our current culture.

Comment author: Konkvistador 21 October 2011 10:33:33PM 12 points [-]

If there were departments of pornography at ivy-league universities, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals.

It is called 4chan.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 October 2011 07:30:18AM 2 points [-]

...really? I've never gone on /b/ - does it really meet that description?

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 07:44:52AM 5 points [-]

"Scoff" might have misleading connotations.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 October 2011 07:49:00AM 3 points [-]

Am I correctly reading your remark as a praising-with-faint-damns endorsement of Konkvistador's thesis? Also, what would you use in place of "scoff"?

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 07:55:47AM *  1 point [-]

Without at all answering your question, and on an entirely unrelated note, why hasn't "fag" become more parts of speech in English? "Fuck" is so versatile, from verb to noun to adjective to adverb to interjection to pronoun...

Comment author: Konkvistador 22 October 2011 08:20:45AM 18 points [-]

Probably because of the moralfags.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 October 2011 09:17:01AM 9 points [-]

Without at all answering your question, and on an entirely unrelated note, why hasn't "fag" become more parts of speech in English?

Because it based on petty bigotry rather than wholesome sexual abandon.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 07:18:44PM 2 points [-]

"Fuck" isn't obscene any more, according to the FCC. ;)

The "N" word has replaced it as the most offensive word in the English language.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 October 2011 08:57:00PM 5 points [-]

Really? It seems a bit too specific to one country to be the most offensive word in the whole English language.

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 October 2011 06:39:20PM 4 points [-]

American English, then.

Comment author: DSimon 25 October 2011 04:43:21AM *  1 point [-]

I voted up both Konkvistador's response and wedrifid's response above, and now I feel vaguely guilty.

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 01:17:19AM *  11 points [-]

Because I accidentally derailed my last post into pedantry, let me try again with a clearer heuristic:

A TEST FOR ART YOU REALLY LIKE:

Try to make fun of it.

If you can make fun of it, and you still like it, then you don't like it just because it's sacred.

This doesn't have to be a deep parody - I don't really think I could write a deep parody of Bach's Magnificat in D. But I can definitely imagine the parts that move me the most, the sublime moments that touch me to my core, played by a synthesizer orchestra that only does fart noises.

Comment author: Prismattic 23 October 2011 02:33:44AM 3 points [-]

If the original work is itself a satire, do you try to make a humorless version of it?

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 05:48:27AM *  3 points [-]

If the original work is itself a satire, do you try to make a humorless version of it?

Hmm...

"In the seminal Zucker, Zucker, and Abrams opus Airplane!, one character, played by Leslie Nielsen, asks another to pilot an passenger airliner in an emergency. The would-be pilot responds with incredulity, but is coolly rebuffed by the Leslie Nielsen character. This evinces laughter from the audience, as the exchange involves a confusion between two near-homophones."

Heh, heh... still funny.

For less goofy, more drily satirical stuff, I think that making a satire of the satire is still a viable option.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 07:39:10PM 8 points [-]

"In the seminal Zucker, Zucker, and Abrams opus Airplane!, one character, played by Leslie Nielsen, asks another to pilot an passenger airliner in an emergency. The would-be pilot responds with incredulity, but is coolly rebuffed by the Leslie Nielsen character. This evinces laughter from the audience, as the exchange involves a confusion between two near-homophones."

You might be interested to know that "Airplane!" was itself essentially a shot-for-shot remake of a "serious" made-for-TV movie with exactly the same plot - with, of course, jokes added in.

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 08:15:46PM *  2 points [-]

I was aware of the genre it spoofed, but I didn't know that it was so specifically targeted. I'm tempted to try to find that made-for-TV movie and watch clips just to increase my appreciation of Airplane!

Comment author: Unnamed 23 October 2011 09:15:07PM *  2 points [-]

Zero Hour! It's available on Netflix.

Comment author: bbleeker 23 September 2012 03:36:37PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 October 2011 10:55:53AM *  11 points [-]
Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 21 October 2011 09:11:28AM *  11 points [-]

I unintentionally hurt someone on Hacker News when I mentioned that:

I played Deus Ex when I was in high school and was more impressed by its storyline than anything I read in English lit.

I know I am "supposed" to like Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Crucible, Moby Dick, A Doll’s House, The Scarlet Letter, etc... more than a "mere video game", but the fact is, I don't.

Comment author: lessdazed 21 October 2011 10:45:13AM 11 points [-]

Those have different meta-levels of "supposed to".

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 12:03:26AM 3 points [-]

I dislike The Catcher in the Rye, feel as if I ought to like Animal Farm, and genuinely like Moby-Dick. I can see why other people would dislike Moby-Dick, but I still like the damn thing.

My hypothesis: Because I was not taught Moby-Dick in school, I did not associate reading it with work, but with relaxation. This is borne out by my love of David Copperfield (read alone) and only vague enjoyment of Great Expectations (assigned in school).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 October 2011 01:16:49PM 2 points [-]

This probably depends on where you hang out-- I've seen a claim that science fiction fans are apt to like Moby Dick, even if it's the only classic they like.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 04:06:48PM *  6 points [-]

I love Moby Dick. Melville constructed an epic fantasy out of real-world material. It presents a detailed picture of a world very different from ours and full of crazy, fantastic, heroic stuff, like a fantasy - but that world was all real.

Comment author: bentarm 21 October 2011 11:54:39AM 2 points [-]

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

I have literally no idea what this comment means. I assume that you think Animal Farm is easier to like than Moby Dick, but have no idea what the different levels of "supposed to" are supposed to mean.

I imagine one of them might mean "people make the natural supposition that you like X, with no judgement" and one of them might mean "it is expected that you like X, with social opprobrium if you do not" but I don't know what the other might be.

Comment author: Hariant 21 October 2011 01:49:12PM *  5 points [-]

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

I have literally no idea what this comment means. I assume that you think Animal Farm is easier to like than Moby Dick, but have no idea what the different levels of "supposed to" are supposed to mean.

My guess, is as follows: One is expected to have actually enjoyed, or at least be able to have a decent discussion about, Animal Farm (supposed to like it). One is assumed to at least say they enjoyed and have a small discussion about Catcher in the Rye, but nothing serious as no one will press it ("supposed to" like it). And one is implied to only have to say you read Moby Dick, as no one but literary critics will actually discuss the book (only "supposed to" like).

Comment author: lessdazed 21 October 2011 05:11:59PM 3 points [-]

Yes. You are expected to actually like Animal Farm, plausibly lie about liking Catcher in the Rye, and transparently lie about liking Moby Dick.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 October 2011 06:18:35PM 4 points [-]

I think you'd get more points by knowledgeably hating Catcher in the Rye than by plausibly lying about liking it.

Comment author: Prismattic 21 October 2011 11:54:49PM *  3 points [-]

That was not my experience. I actually liked Animal Farm, but I was the only person in my 10th grade English class who did not like Catcher in the Rye1, and I've been reading Moby Dick on the kindle recently and finding some of it quite interesting, in a sort of pseudo-nonfiction way.

1 -- I regard Catcher in the Rye and some other books (A Farewell to Arms also springs to mind )as particularly awful in that I can barely remember anything about them except the negative emotional affect being forced to read them produced. This is distinct from, say, Wuthering Heights which I really didn't like because it's not my kind of book, but which I remember just fine and can understand why other people might think it was great.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 21 October 2011 09:58:24AM 10 points [-]

This may shed light on the phenomenon and start value judgement-fuelled arguments in equal measure: what works are we "supposed to like" in the Less Wrong community?

I may get the ball rolling by mentioning that although I like GEB and think it has plenty of merit, I think it's ridiculously non-commensurate with the amount of praise it receives.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2011 12:59:24PM *  7 points [-]

what works are we "supposed to like" in the Less Wrong community?

Primarily HP:MoR and anime. And anything else, but only if we can find something interesting to say about it from a rationalist point of view. As grouchymusicologist says of the Grosse Fuge, gushing adulation on its own, even of HP:MoR, will not earn LessWrong points.

Agreed about GEB. It appears that the more someone already knows about mathematical logic, the less highly they rate GEB, to the point of weary eye-rolling from professionals in the field.

Comment author: jhuffman 21 October 2011 02:48:41PM 15 points [-]

Gosh I've been reading LessWrong since before it existed and I didn't realize I was supposed to like anime.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 22 October 2011 06:27:17AM 6 points [-]

Right. My impression was that it was okay to like anime, but that we should feel embarrassed about it because while we are watching cartoons we could be solving the FAI problem or taking a second job in order to donate to Village Reach.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 October 2011 10:34:34AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure you're supposed to like anime, or at least people don't talk much (at all?) about liking it. However, a substantial background in anime (something I don't have) seems to be assumed.

Comment author: orthonormal 22 October 2011 05:46:33PM 17 points [-]

It appears that the more someone already knows about mathematical logic, the less highly they rate GEB, to the point of weary eye-rolling from professionals in the field.

That's why you're supposed to read it in high school.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 October 2011 01:20:18PM 6 points [-]

Do experts dislike GEB because it covers material they think is obvious and/or because they think it's wrong? Or because non-experts keep talking about it to them?

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 22 October 2011 08:50:37PM 3 points [-]

I spoke with my supervisor in college, a composer, about this. He's made some attempts at reading Hofstader, and said he found that the sections about music were just uninteresting and obvious to a trained musician.

I've read Hofstader's article on the music of Chopin, and found it interesting, but not particularly new.

Comment author: mindspillage 01 November 2011 04:10:57PM 3 points [-]

I think you have to get a fair amount of training in music theory before it's that uninteresting and obvious, though, which most of the audience of the book isn't going to have. There may be some readers to whom all of the sections were uninteresting and obvious; I suppose it's just not the book for them. (I stumbled across it when most of the material was still new to me, which is probably the best time to read it.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2011 01:48:40PM 3 points [-]

Because -- so I understand, and I am not an expert -- they think it is wrong. Not by any means an undifferentiated heap of nonsense from beginning to end, but wrong enough, in the bits that the naive go geewhizgollygoshwowgeehay over and think they learned something from.

I recall the late Torkel Franzén, undoubtedly an expert, having some strong criticisms of it on sci.logic back in the day, but I don't remember details.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 29 November 2011 03:54:01AM 2 points [-]

As well as anime a background in 'classic' scifi seems to be assumed. (e.g. references to Asimov are made without explanation).

Comment author: [deleted] 21 October 2011 02:58:05AM *  10 points [-]

Feeling as if you "should" enjoy something seems like a natural reaction to a -wanting/-liking/+approving behavior, in this case enjoying the Great Fugue. For the most part +approving behaviors have high status, so feeling confused that you don't like it isn't surprising--different parts of your desire are conflicting.

There is a fifth hypothesis, which is a more general form of #4, that could explain the popularity of the piece: when appreciation for an art form becomes sufficiently developed, the criteria for judging it changes as a result of the psychologies of the people who make up the institutions devoted to that art form. For example: literary criticism. What the layman looks for in a novel is drastically different from what an English professor looks for, and that's because of the institution of literary criticism and the kinds of people it attracts. This trend probably has a self-reinforcing effect for two reasons: a) there are strong status reasons to signal enjoying +approving works, e.g. literary critics gain status by saying they enjoy Shakespeare, and b) institutions devoted to art forms can become more homogenous over time. Thus, a popular piece of art need not be more novel to be "fine art," it just needs to be better optimized for the new criteria. This hypothesis is consistent with pattern features 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:47:44AM 4 points [-]

Is that different from a "peacock's tail"?

Comment author: [deleted] 21 October 2011 04:00:27AM *  5 points [-]

Come to think of it, it does resemble a "peakcock's tail" much more than it resembles #4. But I don't think it's identical because the peacock's tail hypothesis doesn't account for the judgement criteria changing based on how appreciation for an art form transforms itself into an institution. (And, more crucially, how the institution's subsequent evolution affects the judgement criteria.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 24 October 2011 08:45:04PM 9 points [-]

Point of evidence re learning to like any kind of music:

Until I was about 11 years old, I didn't like music. I didn't dislike it, per se, but I didn't pay much attention to whether there was music playing or not. I have memories of going to the local Folk Festival and playing at the crafts table or playing tag, but no memories of actually noticing the live music that was playing. I was pretty much completely tone deaf at the time, and my parents decided not to put me in piano lessons along with my siblings, partly because they didn't think there was much point for someone as unmusical as I appeared to be.

This changed when I started learning an instrument at school (flute) in seventh grade. Once I was actually using my own fingers and lips to produce notes, I started to notice melodies, and get them stuck in my head sometimes. I joined choir originally so that I wouldn't have to go outside for recess in winter, but after a few months I started having emotional responses to music, having favourite songs, etc.

Skip forwards by 7 years of playing in various school bands, singing in various choirs, and learning enough classical music theory to start composing singable choir pieces, and almost all music affects me deeply once I know the song, whether it's 16th century sacred choral music or modern heavy metal.

Summary: I see nothing contradictory about having to learn how to appreciate music.

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 21 October 2011 02:54:50AM *  9 points [-]

I've been listening to it as I read your post, and I like it well enough so far, despite not being a huge classical music person. (I will probably get bored of it before the end though since I don't really have the patience for long classical works.) I also liked Pollock's paintings the first time I saw them in person, and generally prefer abstractish art to representational, despite not being an art connoisseur. My point being, some people really do like these things without having to try :).

I do think you have a point overall, in that stuff that's harder to appreciate can become higher in status for precisely that reason. However, just because it takes a while to "get" something doesn't mean that it's secretly bad. In particular, listening to music multiple times could have a "key" effect similar to the effect where an incomprehensible distorted sentence can be understood clearly after hearing a non-distorted version (I can't find a video of this right now). Similarly, just because you don't understand some piece of mathematics the first time (or two) you read it doesn't mean that people who claim to find it beautiful are lying or have tricked themselves into liking it. Some things really do require more effort to appreciate.

Comment author: Sarokrae 23 October 2011 08:53:50AM 3 points [-]

I think you're referring to Sine wave speech (listen to SWS, then original, then SWS again), so I'm just gonna put the link here for you...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:48:38AM 2 points [-]

In particular, listening to music multiple times could have a "key" effect similar to the effect where an incomprehensible distorted sentence can be understood clearly after hearing a non-distorted version

Sounds plausible.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 October 2011 03:40:59AM 21 points [-]

"Burning Man changed my life completely" - I liked Burning Man; but if it changed your life completely, you probably had a vapid life.

That isn't required. Just a good drug that you hadn't had before. Having the right drug in the right environment is perhaps the simplest way to make a significant long(ish) term change. Excluding "change by damaging something" which is easy! Also excluding "met my significant other".

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 21 October 2011 01:48:09PM *  7 points [-]

How confident are you that your Beethoven fugue informants are reliable?

I am not an expert, but I do own a dozen or so Beethoven CD's and I have never heard of "Beethoven's fugue" as a standalone title. I do know that there are some pieces he wrote which are widely disliked. In particular there is one called "Wellington's Victory" which the current wikipedia page says, among other things,

The novelty of the work has worn down over the last two-hundred years; as a result, "Wellington's Victory" is not much heard in concert halls today.

Now, one day around seven or eight years ago I was reading a piece in the Sunday New York Times which was titled something like "the worst music ever composed by the greatest composers". This Beethoven work was very close to the top of the list. Then, a day later on the classical music station they played the sucker, it did sound ridiculous, and it was obvious from the way the DJ spoke that one of his friends or co-workers had played a practical joke on him (or maybe he was a great practical joker of a DJ--which I doubt, because I listened to that station all the time and this was a third string substitute DJ) because he just went on and on about the fantastic, but not much appreciated Beethoven work. It was kind of surreal.

You are going to have to provide more evidence than some cut paste you tube comments to convince me of this:

Articulate music lovers with excellent taste praise this piece to heaven.

According to the wikipedia page on op 130,

After the first performance of this work, mixed reactions and publisher suggestion convinced Beethoven to substitute a different final movement, much shorter and lighter than the enormous Große Fuge. This new finale was written between September and November 1826. This movement is marked:

  1. Finale: Allegro

(Also I mostly agree with what the musicologist said in his comment.)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 04:00:49PM *  4 points [-]

Yes, people disliked the Great Fugue more when it was performed than today. But this is also true of the 3rd symphony.

There's some relevant history to Wellington's Victory. In 1813, Beethoven was seen in Vienna as a has-been. He needed to get back into the public eye. He premiered WV together with his 7th symphony. WV was tremendously popular, and its success carried the 7th Symphony along with it, and brought Beethoven back into the public eye, so that he could write and sell more actually good music. This is a case where the contemporary taste was "wrong". But I don't know the most important fact, which is whether the musical snobs of the day identified WV as bad.

By contemporary accounts, Beethoven got a great kick out of conducting WV, what with firing cannons and making lots of noise, so I won't be cynical about it.

You can also see this pattern at work in the Beatles, who became popular by writing dance pop music like "Twist and Shout" (which is good, as pop, but is pop), and this enabled them to go on to record Sergeant Pepper's and the white album.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 21 October 2011 06:09:29PM 4 points [-]

OK I went and gave it a listen. The copy I have is in this 8 disk box.

  1. I like this piece very much.
  2. No idea if I like this more or less than any other Beethoven String Quartet. I like them all very much.
  3. I swear I heard at least ten distinct samples Rodgers & Hammerstein Sound of Music soundtrack.
  4. I was so convinced of this I was expecting to get real red meat when I googled on the following terms: (rodgers hammerstein sound music beethoven string quartet 13). Alas, all I got was a long list of orgs who had both of those items in their immense repertoires, but nothing like grouchy musicologist's friends writing back and forth pro and con at length on similarity and difference.
  5. A conjecture. My mom's favorite record was the Sound of Music soundtrack, and she had simple taste. I bet she would have liked the "grosse fugue" on one listen, from which I would argue that this piece is accessible.

(Also Rodgers and Hammerstein were going for a German folk music sound, so perhaps Beethoven and they were both independently derivative of the same sources. Or this connection could purely be a figment of my imagination.)

Comment author: komponisto 21 October 2011 06:03:02PM *  4 points [-]

But I don't know the most important fact, which is whether the musical snobs of the day identified [Wellington's Victory] as bad.

They did indeed. In fact, the snobbiest musician of that time was Beethoven himself, who responded to critics of the piece as follows:

"What I shit is better than anything you could ever think up!"

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 04:08:20AM *  7 points [-]

I'm trying out a new way of processing subjective aesthetic experiences. I'm spending less time worrying about how most people don't know they're signaling, and more time thinking: "This is a feeling I'm having, and it's new, and it won't be new for long, but luckily there are more feelings out there to be had."

The first thing I've noticed is that not everyone desires the same degree of novelty or the same intensity of arousal. I'm at the higher end of both spectrums. The second thing I've noticed is that I'm already suffering from diminishing returns. I'm in the offshore drilling and tar sands period of my cultural oil age.

Make me wonder how realistic it might be to willingly ration aesthetic experiences. Probably not very.

Comment author: Mercy 27 October 2011 05:00:28PM *  6 points [-]

The problem is more dramatic in architecture. The latter is the point where the crisis of modern art moves from a bugbear of the chattering classes to a genuine problem. If someone insists that you just need to learn to appreciate some ear destroying extended technique violin piece, you have a difference of opinion. If someone insists that the solution to the residents of the new brutalist tower block wanting to kill themselves is to educate them on the finer points of architectural theory, then you have a civic problem. (Incidentally, are there any other forms of art that require the destruction of old pieces?)

With food though, "just learn to like it" is absolutely good advice as, a childish aversion to, say, cabbage is an unnecessary barrier to eating arrangements that could be solved with a few meals. And because food is such a flexible art form, learning to appreciate new elements dramatically increases your enjoyment. Though I suppose these are really two sides of the same coin, like the OPs definition of art snobbery as insisting that art should not contain certain features that indicate the wrong culture: perspective, raw meat, any consideration for the surrounding space whatsoever, etc, etc.

The problem is that artists generally like to focus on reducing the number of features, partly because it makes it easier to compose but mostly, I suspect, because it makes it easier for other people to compare your compositions. This is most obvious in fashion (take one accessory off, even after accounting for the fact that you were going to have one accessory too many) but compare any home recipe to any cooks recipe, the former will have all sorts of pinches of this and that and the other added in which make it taste muddier, which is not necessarily worse but harder to analyses.

This is the blockbuster problem basically: if you want to appeal to a lot of people you have to do a lot of things, and then the quality of your work will just be an average of how each person thought you did on the stuff they cared about. So you insist that dance scenes aren't serious and a real director doesn't put dance scenes in their movie, and gradually the quality improves (from the artists POV) even as the appeal narrows.

There's probably an economic paper treating this like a market with artist surplus and consumer surplus, with the artistic surplus narrowing to nothing as you reduce barriers to entry for artists.

Comment author: Nornagest 27 October 2011 05:27:44PM *  6 points [-]

This is the blockbuster problem basically: if you want to appeal to a lot of people you have to do a lot of things, and then the quality of your work will just be an average of how each person thought you did on the stuff they cared about.

This can backfire, even for general audiences. I have a real problem watching a lot of anime for related reasons: it's conventional in much (not all, but probably a majority) of the format to jump promiscuously and without warning between slapstick, light slice-of-life cuteness, and serious drama, and it takes me a couple minutes to reassemble the scattered fragments of my suspension of disbelief whenever a particularly jarring transition happens. I can understand in theory that it's supposed to broaden the work's appeal, and any work will usually have a dominant mode, but despite the fact that I don't see myself as a particularly sophisticated viewer it still comes off as a mess more often than not.

Bollywood has similar problems for me.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 October 2011 09:09:40PM 2 points [-]

Robert Reed, the actor who played the father on The Brady Bunch, had similar complaints about that show, which he expressed in long memos that he wrote to the show's producer.

Comment author: taelor 15 September 2012 09:11:38AM 4 points [-]

If someone insists that the solution to the residents of the new brutalist tower block wanting to kill themselves is to educate them on the finer points of architectural theory, then you have a civic problem.

Is this hyperbole, or is people committing suicide because of ugly architecture actually a thing? Citation Needed.

Comment author: gwern 16 September 2012 12:36:21AM 4 points [-]

Brutalist architecture & housing projects have been blamed, at least since Jacob's Life and Death, for the disintegration of neighborhoods into ghettos and blighted areas. So I think the claim seems plausible.

Comment author: Nornagest 15 September 2012 09:51:12AM 3 points [-]

Almost certainly hyperbole, but architects -- especially of that era -- do have a habit of making surprisingly grandiose estimates of their work's social effects.

Of course, it's unlikely that any successful architect not working in set design for vampire movies would deliberately set out to depress people into suicide.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 October 2011 01:23:05PM 6 points [-]

Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste is a good little book about the formation of taste and learning to like something you'd been avoiding. It's by an indie rock critic/snob who decided to find out what there was of value in Celine Dion's music, and discovered there was a fair amount even if it wasn't the best thing ever.

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 October 2011 08:53:12PM *  0 points [-]

Celine Dion has done some songs that I like and some that I absolutely can't stand.

Comment author: Jack 21 October 2011 03:04:33AM 6 points [-]

I've found that a lot of music takes 5+ listens before I really start to enjoy it. This is particularly the case of complex, subtle music. This could be just me adjusting to social demands but I find it can happen even with music I want to dislike. Katie Perry grows on you.

As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested; like porn viewers who seek out movies with continually-stranger sex acts. (This is a cognitively-plausible variant of "there is no such thing as objective beauty".) If there were departments of pornography at ivy-league universities, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals.

Most of what I listen to is popular music and I find that a lot of the music I used to love just goes down too easily now. It's a very similar experience to eating sugary candy you loved as a child but is too saccharine now. When I listen to new music that is at similar levels of accessibility and ease of listening this manifests itself in a lower limit to the number of times I can hear the song without getting sick of it.

Comment author: Sarokrae 24 October 2011 07:07:09AM 3 points [-]

Rebecca Black's "Friday" became reasonably tuneful after 5 listens. (Perhaps that suggests I shouldn't have listened to it 5 times to begin with?)

Comment author: Desrtopa 21 October 2011 06:13:11AM *  2 points [-]

I've found that a lot of music takes 5+ listens before I really start to enjoy it.

I may simply have less musical sophistication than most (I've got more than a decade of choir experience under my belt, but have developed neither a familiarity with the mechanics of music nor a significant body of opinions,) but I more often experience the opposite. As a piece of music becomes familiar, it gradually loses its power to move me.

Comment author: Jack 21 October 2011 06:29:44AM 4 points [-]

That happens to me too. Enjoyment peaks between 5 and 25 listens.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 October 2011 08:12:14AM 2 points [-]

Does the ability to enjoy a piece of music come back if you haven't heard it for a while?

Comment author: 4hodmt 23 October 2011 03:03:05PM 16 points [-]

To understand musical consonance/dissonance, you must understand that consonance of simple harmonic ratios is an artifact of a much simpler underlying rule. The human hearing system does not analyze frequency ratios of individual notes, it examines the frequency domain clustering of partials of the sound as a whole.

If you listen to two sine waves of near identical frequency they sound consonant. Widen the frequency difference and they become dissonant. Further widen the frequency difference and they become consonant again. This was measured back in 1967 by R. Plomp and W. J. M. Levelt. The consonance of a musical harmony depends on the separation of the individual partials. We need a "critical bandwidth" of separation between frequencies to clearly distinguish them. You could think of dissonance as the unpleasant feeling of hearing different frequencies but failing to resolve them.

The majority of musical instruments used in Western classical music create sound by vibration constrained at two points, either the ends of a string or the ends of a column of air. Therefore the partials are all integer multiples [2] of the fundamental. It turns out that if these sounds are played together at small integer frequency ratios, the frequency of the partials align such that the quantity of dissonant, smaller than the "critical bandwidth", frequency differences is at a local minimum.

However, percussion instruments are not constrained in this way, so cultures with a percussion focused musical tradition (eg. Indonesian gamelan music) developed alternative tuning systems better suited to the timbres of their instruments. Early electronic musicians, eg. Wendy Carlos, also noticed how the consonance of different tuning systems depended on the timbre of the notes.

As far as I am aware, the first person to mathematically formalize this relationship, and develop a method to generate arbitrary tuning systems for arbitrary timbres and vice-versa, was William Sethares [3]. He has a great webpage at http://sethares.engr.wisc.edu/ , with many audio examples. His book "Tuning Timbre Spectrum Scale" should be considered the most important book on music theory ever written because it generalizes all previous musical theories, and solves the problem of the exhaustion of harmonic novelty in music without having to resort to unlistenable crap like serialism.

And now we get to the link to the main article, and the reason why Sethare's work was such a revelation to me. I shared a house with a music student for several years, and I became heavily involved in the classical music subculture. Back then I only knew of the Pythagorean ratio-based concept of harmony. I listened to a great variety of Western classical music, and attended several concerts. As my knowledge increased, I became disillusioned with pre-modern classical music, because each new composition began to sound like a reworking of something I had heard before. Traditional music theory simply didn't have enough scope for novelty. I studied the works of Harry Partch, who pushed ratio-based music theory about as far as it can go, and I wasted a lot of time attempting to extend his theory, but I never felt I had reached a satisfactory conclusion.

Of course I was exposed to atonal composition via my musician friends, and my initial reaction was the same as almost everybody's: I hated it. But both the obvious high status of this kind of music and my lack of knowledge of any alternative source of novelty slowly changed my preferences. I started listening to Second Viennese School composers and free jazz. The more I listened the more I liked it, and I gradually turned into an atonal music snob like my musician friends.

And then I left university and lost all contact with them. I forgot all about classical music for several years. When I listened to atonal music again I found I had reverted to my original preference. I'm now very certain the only reason I liked it was social signaling. I declared music to be dead and lost all interest in it.

When I later discovered Sethares's work it shook my beliefs about music to the core. My whole atonal adventure was built on a mistake. We're no longer limited by physical instruments and it's really possible to compose music simultaneously strange and beautiful. I now promote Sethares's work in the hope that more musicians will adopt it and create sometime great.

[1] R. Plomp and W. J. M. Levelt, "Tonal Consonance and Critical Bandwidth," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.38, 548-560 (1965). [2] Approximately. Note that octaves on a piano are tuned slightly sharp, because piano strings are not simple mathematical abstractions, but have thickness and other properties such that they don't produce perfectly harmonic sound. [3] Sethares, W.A. (1993), Local consonance and the relationship between timbre and scale. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 94(1): 1218.

Comment author: cousin_it 23 October 2011 03:29:55PM *  5 points [-]

Interesting! Examples 2 to 5 from here were particularly mindblowing. Thanks for the link!

Comment author: Swimmer963 24 October 2011 01:27:39PM 1 point [-]

That's fascinating, thank you! I will definitely check out Sethares' work, as a music listener and an amateur composer. It sounds very different for the type of music I have the most experience with (choral church music of various eras.)

Comment author: DanielVarga 21 October 2011 07:50:20PM 14 points [-]

I am reminded of this classic paper on wine-tasting:

Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.

Experts do prefer the more expensive wines, but this only means that for the non-experts, the negative correlation between price and popularity is even stronger.

In terms of a 100 point scale (such as that used by Wine Spectator), the extended model predicts that for a wine that costs ten times more than another wine, non-experts will on average assign an overall rating that is about four points lower.

Comment author: gwern 25 October 2011 05:39:25PM 5 points [-]

http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2011/10/mere-exposure-to-bad-art-experiment-results.html

In a 2003 study, psychologist James Cutting (2003, 2006) briefly exposed undergraduate psychology students to canonical and lesser-known Impressionist paintings (the lesser-known works exposed four times as often), with the result that after exposure, subjects preferred the lesser-known works more often than did the control group. Cutting took this result to show that canon formation is a result of cultural exposure over time. He further took this to show that the subjects’ judgements were not merely a product of the quality of the works. “If observers were able to judge quality alone in the image pairs, their judgments should not have been contaminated by appearance differences in the classroom. To be sure, quality could still play a role, but such an account must then rely on two processes- mere exposure and quality assessment (however that might be done). My proposal is that these are one-process results and done on the basis of mere exposure inside and outside the classroom” (Cutting 2003, 335).

...It could be that exposure is giving subjects an opportunity to learn what is good in the painting, and so does not by itself control preference, but rather facilitates evaluation, whether positive or negative. If this latter explanation were right, whether or not the exposed paintings are good or bad should make a difference. This is what our study examined. We replicated Cutting’s study exposing subjects to 12 little-known late landscapes of John Everett Millais, alongside 48 paintings by the American artist Thomas Kinkade, (again, half of each group of paintings were exposed four times as often). We asked control groups[1] and the experimental group to express the extent to which they liked each painting using a 10 point Likert scale. We found that with bad paintings by Kinkade, exposure decreased, rather than increased, liking in relation to our control groups. This is consistent with the Humean challenge to Cutting's conclusions.

...Comparing the ratings given by our experimental subjects to those given by the members of our philosophy control group, we observed almost uniformly lower ratings for the Kinkade paintings. 47 out of 48 Kinkades received lower mean liking scores from the experimental subjects than they received from those in the unexposed control group. This resulted in mean scores of 5.9 (control) versus 5.1 (experiment) for the single exposure Kinkade paintings, and mean scores of 5.74 (control) versus 4.75 (experiment) for the multiple exposure Kinkades....We conclude from these results that mere exposure will not always produce an increase in liking for paintings. This puts pressure on Cutting’s conclusions that canon formation is simply a function of cultural exposure, and that quality is not playing a role in artistic judgement.

Relevant is the experimental musical results: http://www.gwern.net/Culture%20is%20not%20about%20esthetics#the-experimental-results

Comment author: Prismattic 21 October 2011 03:20:32AM 5 points [-]

On further reflection, I don't think disliking any particular highbrow cultural symbol necessarily conveys low status. People in the know are only supposed to like the works of either Tolstoy or Dostoevskiy, but not both. Having an opinion either way is fine. Not being able to offer an opinion -- now that's low status.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:44:07AM 3 points [-]

People in the know are only supposed to like the works of either Tolstoy or Dostoevskiy, but not both.

I haven't heard that before. Can you give some evidence of that?

Comment author: Prismattic 21 October 2011 03:50:41AM 2 points [-]

I don't have an opinion poll to point you toward; however, if you ask someone who teaches Russian literature whether there is a split between "Tolstoy people" and "Dostoeyevskiy people," I expect them to confirm that this is a widespread belief.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 02:27:00AM *  18 points [-]

Posts like this are why I keep coming back to LW.

EDIT: More specifically, because more progress gets made on a particular topic in one evening than in four years of typical college classes on the same topic.

Comment author: potato 22 October 2011 04:39:51PM *  11 points [-]

All joking aside, I really mean this. Try listening to it as a solemn piece. I don't think it's that great of a fugue, but it has some nice stuff in there. The lack of rhythmic and tonal movement becomes more appropriate all of a sudden if you put on a sour-puss face. If you imagine that its torturous, repetitive nature, is an intentional part of the emotional experience Ludwig wanted to give you, it becomes less annoying and more powerful, to my ear anyway.

and also:

I could keep listening to the Great Fugue, and see if I, too, come to love it in time. But what would that prove? Of course I would come to love it in time,

Why not just make an earnest attempt to like all art in that case. You'll be better off. Is there some artistic merit out there which you would not be rewarding accurately if you liked all art? If you end up liking the great fugue after you listen to it a bunch, even though you didn't like it at first, sweet deal.

I got into jazz, essentially because i thought that it was cool to be into jazz. I did not like it when I bought my first jazz album, and I probably didn't like the next ten I bought either. But I'm really glad I thought it so cool that i was willing to torture myself for those hours at a time until i liked it. If I hadn't I wouldn't have the crazy good relative pitch I have today, nor the ability to mind-cream myself when someone rips Coltrane changes.

So, is my appreciation of jazz, then somehow shallower by virtue of my forcing myself to like it? Or perhaps in some way inauthentic? Well I'm not being inauthentic about loving jazz now. And I def have an above average ear for changes and improv. Ultimately, I don't think I should care at all what i did to like it now; who cares? I seriously doubt that someone who liked jazz from their first time hearing it, gets more happiness chemicals from jazz than I do by virtue of their being naturally into jazz, and my forcing myself.

The question is "if there's something new, and I don't like it, how much suffering should I be willing to put up with to learn to like it?" The answer clearly depends on juxtaposing the quantity of pleasure I should expect after I like it, and the availability of this thing , with the amount of suffering and time I'll have to put in to learn to like it.

Don't worry about why you like a terminal value. Just get it.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 22 October 2011 06:20:30PM *  8 points [-]

Don't worry about why you like a terminal value. Just get it.

So, I should acquire additional terminal values so I can have higher absolute utility?

That's either wisdom or absurdity. It goes against my current model of rationality. But it seems to lead to winning, at least from the starting condition of having no values at all and thus not even being able to win or lose.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that asking a question whose answer mystifies me leads to other questions that also mystify me. Maybe identifying a set of equivalent mysterious problems would be an advance.

Comment author: Sarokrae 23 October 2011 09:18:18AM *  6 points [-]

A real life anecdote on altering taste, which is a related to art really:

The first time I tried a strong cheese, I didn't like it much (I came from a place that consumed relatively little dairy). However, I could see that others liked it, and expressed REALLY STRONGLY how much they liked it. So I kept trying different types until I did - then a great new gastronomic experience was opened to me, and my overall appreciation of food increased as a result. I call this winning.

Nowadays, whenever I speak to someone who "dislikes" a certain type of food, I always try to persuade them to try enough of it to like it, even if they don't want to like it now - because if they did like it, then they would regret not liking it, and it would make them appreciate more things as a result.

I can see this functioning similarly music: by not liking something that other people like, and not making an effort to like it (or worse, making an effort not to like it), you could be missing something really great.

The problem with altering preferences is, of course, that before you alter them, you apply your current preferences in your thinking, so the act of altering a preference always seems different in hindsight. "I was so naive to like this before!"; "I was missing so much before!"

My personal preference is to have as rich a world of enjoyable experiences as possible. Therefore, I strive to never have the thought "I don't want to like this", since it puts a limit on my appreciation of a category of things. In general, I'm the kind of person who "likes things". I don't know what that says about me...

Comment author: MixedNuts 31 October 2011 06:09:03PM 6 points [-]

Note that other people are also acting like you, and people who dislike a commonly liked food may be sick and tired of having it pushed on them.

Comment author: bbleeker 23 September 2012 08:39:44PM 3 points [-]

I remember being in youth camp, volunteering every day to make the lunch packs so I could have something to eat without people discovering I was a deviant who hated butter/margarine.

Comment author: Vaniver 23 October 2011 03:58:42PM 5 points [-]

Nowadays, whenever I speak to someone who "dislikes" a certain type of food, I always try to persuade them to try enough of it to like it, even if they don't want to like it now - because if they did like it, then they would regret not liking it, and it would make them appreciate more things as a result.

One of the great ways to become a snob is do side-by-side comparisons (NancyLebovitz has links in another comment.) If you drink cheap bourbon immediately before expensive bourbon, the difference is highlighted compared to drinking them a week apart.

Many people who have done that have regretted it, though, because it ruins the cheap variety for them. Whenever they drink the cheap stuff, they think "this is so much worse than the good stuff," and so either their hobby becomes significantly more expensive or gets curtailed (because now they can only afford it a fourth of the time), and it's not clear that their overall experience is significantly better.

I, for example, have very picky tastes in food. The diet I choose for myself costs about $2-3 a day, and consists mostly of simple bread I make myself and water with a touch of lemon. I'm satisficed; would I be all that much better off if I made the investment to switch to steaks and cola?

Comment author: Sarokrae 23 October 2011 04:21:46PM 1 point [-]

Ah, but we know the difference there is that I'm sure you can appreciate the flavour of good steak and good cola if the situation calls for it, for example if you're treated to it in a restaurant. Choosing not to have something is a different matter to be simply unable to enjoy something that other people get great pleasure out of.

I guess I have the kind of personality which benefits most from the "I like everything" mindset, because I don't mind so much that something is worse than something else, as long as it's still good by my internal judgement. If I'm having supermarket shrimp, I know I could be having lobster, and even the shrimp would be tastier if it was freshly caught, but I don't really mind since I'm mostly thinking "mmmmmm... shrimp".

Comment author: Vaniver 23 October 2011 04:57:33PM *  1 point [-]

I'm sure you can appreciate the flavour of good steak and good cola if the situation calls for it

I am unaccustomed to carbonation, and thus find any colas distasteful. I have not been able to discern a quality difference between chicken and the few steaks that I have eaten.

Comment author: Sarokrae 24 October 2011 07:05:02AM 1 point [-]

As long as you wouldn't call a good steak "bad" and go "eww", I don't think you're missing out on too much. Being able to have the thought "hmm. Steak." is sufficient for my ideal.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 07:36:18PM 1 point [-]

I agree that good chicken is just as good as good steak.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 24 September 2012 03:09:00PM 3 points [-]

A word of caution. If, having tried something a few times, you still find it repulsive, drop it. Your body may be telling you "this is poison", and when it does that, it is wise to pay attention.

Comment author: Desrtopa 22 October 2011 10:46:30PM 7 points [-]

Why not just make an earnest attempt to like all art in that case.

That sounds like a tremendous time investment.

Comment author: potato 25 October 2011 01:03:04AM 4 points [-]

I've been trying it. You know you gain a lot from it. If you sit there, and try really hard to forget the social context you are used to, i'd bet something like 10$ you'll like britney spears. if you truly listen to britney spears with fresh ears, you'll probably like it. I think this might have advantages besides the ones i mentioned above.

You could maybe even use pop music and things of the like, to train yourself to think independently of groups. If you can sit there and like pop music, and your friends (being that you dig LW) are anything like mine, this will certainly be good training for how to make decisions and value judgements independent of cultural context.

Comment author: Desrtopa 25 October 2011 01:30:34AM 3 points [-]

I already know I'm capable of enjoying Britney Spears, but if musical taste or sophistication is an objective thing, I don't think I have very much of it.

I can no longer enjoy all the writing I once could though, and I would not choose to like it again if it would require me to sacrifice what I see as the refinements in taste that caused me to stop liking it in the first place.

Comment author: DanielLC 02 November 2011 11:30:35PM 1 point [-]

If you imagine that its torturous, repetitive nature, is an intentional part of the emotional experience Ludwig wanted to give you, it becomes less annoying and more powerful, to my ear anyway.

That reminds me of I Wanna Be The Guy. I find it much less frustrating than it ought to be because I know it was intended to drive you crazy.

Comment author: Manfred 21 October 2011 03:00:38AM 4 points [-]

Hm. If you put Jackson Pollock in the same category as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, maybe I should re-evaluate my opinion of Jackson Pollock.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 October 2011 08:44:09PM *  10 points [-]

The books we think we ought to read are poky, dull, and dry
The books that we would like to read we are ashamed to buy
The books that people talk about we never can recall
And the books that people give us, oh, they're the worst of all.
- Carolyn Wells

Comment author: Hawisher 24 September 2012 02:51:08PM 3 points [-]

As a freshman in college, I feel I am 'supposed to like' beer and parties. I don't. I like Cuba Libres, and relaxing in the dorm with floor-mates, but that's beside the point. As an avid reader, I feel I am 'supposed to like' the accepted classics of literature (Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, etc.), but I don't. I generally consume pulp fantasy and thrillers, despite being perfectly capable of reading said classics. I liked the Great Gatsby, Les Miserables, and Dracula, but that's beside the point.

In my opinion, when you feel you're supposed to like something, it's because a group of people with whom you strongly identify (lovers of Beethoven's music) like that thing, and you've adopted that group as a sort of label for yourself. It's easier to say "I am an aficionado of classical music" than "I like classical music of many types, in particular Canons, I love Chopin's nocturnes, I appreciate..." and thus one gets the feeling of "My feelings should more closely tie in with those my label would indicate."

We sometimes see the same thing with political parties.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 03:05:24AM 3 points [-]

Link to Paul Graham's take on the subject of what is good art.

Comment author: damang 22 October 2011 05:23:40PM 3 points [-]

Anybody else drink IPAs just cause they are cool? I know there's someone in here. I admit it: I hated it when I first tried it. And I would have never drank that bitter^10 garbage long enough to like it, if I didn't know it was hip first.

Maybe if it wasn't for people doing things cause they're hip, hard things to like at first with high future payoffs, would not even get as popular as they are today. AND THAT INCLUDES LW! Did you really love LW the first time you came across it? I did honestly fall in love with LW upon first contact, but I was already an aspiring rationalist with quite a radical take on the virtue of rationality.

So, should we care? I don't think so. Actually i think it might even be possible that we should make LW hipper. We perhaps should make EY the Fonz of rationality; and start wearing catchy uniforms; and start speaking a secret code, etc. if we really want LW style rationality to start to catch on in meat-space. The karma system already does well to motivate you and make you feel like a part of a community; but why not just go full on cult tactics? If it'll make people jealous, lets do it. Of course, we should always educate LWers about things you are supposed to like. But i see no good reason to turn down those that join LW because it's hip, or any reason why we shouldn't make it hipper, as long as we don't change the karma system it'll be good.

This feels wrong to me. But I don't know why. Wanna help me out.

Comment author: Nominull 22 October 2011 05:40:11PM 15 points [-]

When promoting the truth, if you value the truth, it is wise to use especially those methods that rely on the truth being true. That way, if you have accidentally misidentified the truth, there is an automatic safety valve.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 22 October 2011 08:18:17PM 3 points [-]

What you say is true; but associating the community for the search of the best way of looking for the truth (promoting truth? where would we take a fully-reliable truth?) with some irrelevant purely emotional symbolics doesn't affect this safety valve.

It is not a Bayesian Conspiracy, it is Less Wrong - so if our old methods are wrong, it is the hippest thing to cast them away and become Less Wrong!

Comment author: jhuffman 21 October 2011 01:29:03PM 3 points [-]

People say they hated it at first, but over time, grew to love it. One must be trained to like it.

This can raise a warning flag but I've experienced this myself with coffee and some other foods. It didn't take any training for me but a lot of people who like beer don't like the bitter, hoppy beers like IPAs without some training - and while pretentious beer snobs are annoying and amusing on several levels I can't quite doubt them when I have the same preferences.

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 23 September 2012 05:49:34AM 1 point [-]

Of course, training yourself to change your food preferences can be good for your health; for example, I've gone from "can't stand food that's touched broccoli" to "will eat broccoli if mixed w/ something strong-flavored to mask it," and I have trained myself not to like bacon.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 October 2011 08:40:51AM 3 points [-]

I think having the idea that one should like a work of art is going to distract from the chance of actually liking it.

If you're confused about whether or not you like it, there might be something interesting going on. Trying to find out what it is might or might not distract you from the music.

It probably isn't pretentious garbage, though it might not be the greatest thing ever.

For what it's worth, I liked the beginning, but find it hard to believe people think this is better than the more popular Beethoven symphonies. It seemed like bits of Beethoven, and Beethoven is pretty good. Then I got bored, and started reading while using the Great Fugue for background. Long about 11:00, the music got sweet and intense and grabbed my attention, and I stayed with it, really enjoying it till the end.

Comment author: Prismattic 21 October 2011 03:16:09AM *  9 points [-]

We're now basing judgments of highbrow status-seeking behavior by sampling YouTube commenters?

Oy.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 October 2011 03:20:18AM 10 points [-]

It might not be as off-base as you think. There's a huge selection effect for who would listen to the Great Fugue, and if there's one thing that YouTube commenters do in spades it's play signalling games.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:45:00AM 7 points [-]

Go look at the page. It may be the only YouTube channel on the internet without grammatical errors.

Comment author: dbaupp 21 October 2011 06:47:49AM 6 points [-]

YouTube channel on the internet

Surely there are unnecessary words in this phrase.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 October 2011 12:26:28AM *  2 points [-]

Well, without the phrase "on the Internet", the phrase might be mistaken as having a more limited scope. Someone once told me that Top Gear was "the most popular programme", and I wondered if he meant the most popular programme in Britain, the most popular programme on that TV channel, or what. I didn't ask, because I wasn't sure whether to call it a "programme", as he did, or a "show", as I normally would.

Comment author: Nominull 21 October 2011 02:04:36AM 11 points [-]

You can find just about any color in vomit, if you eat creatively beforehand.

Comment author: Solvent 22 October 2011 01:42:36AM 1 point [-]

For example, by eating pieces of clay colored in particular ways.

Comment author: Spurlock 24 October 2011 04:11:54PM *  5 points [-]

Just a couple of thoughts about this:

1) This paper by Juergen Schmidhuber was very helpful in un-confusing me about a lot of aesthetic things. But in particular, it accounts for things like subjectivity of preference and the way you can learn to like things with continual exposure. Whether you want to learn to appreciate a piece of art seems like a matter of preference, in general it doesn't seem like there should be any reason to get normative about it.

2) Like most people, I have experienced things that I was supposed to like and actually liked them, and things that I was supposed to like that I didn't end up actually liking. I see no reason to find this surprising. So when people say things like "if you don't like this then you MUST (have no taste|have no attention span|be a moron|etc), I feel confident in saying that these people are making the mistakes discussed in Generalizing from one exmaple, or doing related things we discuss on LW, like simulating me in their brain and jumping to conclusions based on the implicit assumption that we are virtually identical. In fact, I tend to do this with any statement of the form "you have opinion X, therefore you must have trait Y".

3) I think it's perfectly fine to see that something is praised highly and use that as evidence that you should at least check it out. From your post, it looks like the opposite might be true for you (that is, once praise surpasses a certain level, you can heuristically assume that you actually won't like it), but it works okay for me and many others. And in particular, I see no reason not to treat it as typical Bayesian evidence: If recommendations from Source A tend to correlate with your own judgements, use them, otherwise do not.

4) I don't think there's any absolute truth of "Great Art"-ness. We can dissolve the question down to things like "Is it enjoyable?" or "Is it historically significant?", but "Great" seems like one of those dangling, orphaned categories to me. Feels real, but probably isn't.

5) I see no reason that learning to like something is a bad thing, so long as you end up actually liking it. That is, if you will look back on it and be glad that you gave it a 2nd (or nth) chance, then this is probably something you should do. If you think you'll look back on it and still feel confused about why you occasionally decide to put this piece of music on, yet you'll feel pressured to continue doing so, then don't bother.

Comment author: JoshuaBK 27 September 2012 03:35:56AM 4 points [-]

I think whenever you have the scenario of other people enjoying a musical work (or an artwork) that you don't enjoy, you can reduce the explanation to three possibilities: (1) Everyone else is under some kind of mass delusion and you're sane (or stupid/smart) (2) Everyone else is correct and there's something wrong with me or (3) there's no objective "greatness" in music (or art or food etc.)

I think believing (1) is a symptom of extreme narcissism, and believing (2) is a symptom of low self esteem. But (3) is unsatisfactory and incomplete, although it leaves an opening to at least ask why we like certain things more than others, and why some people "like" differently than others. I don't think you have to submit to a world in which everything is as good as everything else and no qualitative judgments are valid, but you have to accept that there are just limits to how much we will ever agree on what's good. And there are interesting questions to study about how the human ear responds to certain sounds, and whether and how it can be "trained" to like things. And there's actual research on all that stuff, and I'm not an expert in that field so I won't try to get into it.

I will say this though -- your article implies that you find initial, "untrained" impressions of a work more valid than opinions that come from repeated listen or even study. I feel like there's a fallacy in this kind of thinking -- the idea that there's a pure essence of a piece, and of one's reaction to it, that gets somehow contaminated by repeated listen or study -- love at first sight or it's not love. What if music doesn't operate like this? What if it's more like a coded message, and it can take several listens or even study to decode the message?

If a class of 5-year-olds found Hamlet "boring" we wouldn't say "well, it must be so, because here is the pure honest reaction of unpretentious people who haven't been told they're 'supposed to' like this yet," we'd say that the 5-year-olds haven't acquired the language skills and life experiences to even understand the play and therefore can't properly evaluate it.

I'm not saying you're a musical 5-year-old -- maybe you just don't like the Great Fugue, and that's fine. Personally, I think it's an interesting piece of music. It's not my favorite, but it's striking, and worth listening to.

Most lovers of any artform eventually come to the conclusion that reasonable, well-educated people can differ about these things and that some of it is "taste," by which we mean some hard-to-pin-down combination of emotions and experiences and ear structure and brain structure and who knows what else. Most classical music lovers consider Wagner a great composer, yet some can't stand his music, etc. But let's not dismiss the idea that it might take some work and/or knowledge and/or skill acquisition to understand what's going on in some works of art.

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 12:31:08AM *  2 points [-]

W. H. Auden had an excellent heuristic for dealing with this problem:

"Between the ages of 20 and 40, the surest sign that a man has a taste of his own is that he is unsure of it."

I can like or dislike anything I want, as long as I'm willing to update. The space of possible art is huge, and I would cheat my future self if I excluded entire genres from consideration on the belief that they exist solely as pedant-bait.


I was slightly unhappy to see "Prufrock" mentioned in the same rhetorical breath as modern poetry that relaxes the demands of scansion, rhyme, and readability. I also dislike free verse, generally speaking, But "Prufrock" isn't even close to that! It uses some of the same metrical tricks as John Milton's "Lycidas":

I come to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc'd fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

--- John Milton, "Lycidas" (1637)

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

--- T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1920)

It's not as modern as it looks!

There are many places where prefixing the word "poetry" with the word "modern" signals that it can be dismissed off-hand, but I think that this is a bad way to categorize poetry. For one thing, it hides the way that new poems draw inspiration from older ones.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 23 October 2011 12:37:09AM 1 point [-]

There are many places where prefixing the word "poetry" with the word "modern" signals that it can be dismissed off-hand, but I think that this is a bad way to categorize poetry. For one thing, it hides the way that new poems draw inspiration from older ones.

That's common to every art, apart from perhaps cinema or literature. Modern art? Just a load of paint thrown at canvases and unmade beds. Modern music? Just a load of random notes strung together. Modern poetry? Doesn't even rhyme.

Comment author: GilPanama 23 October 2011 12:41:25AM *  1 point [-]

That's common to every art, apart from perhaps cinema or literature. Modern art? Just a load of paint thrown at canvases and unmade beds. Modern music? Just a load of random notes strung together. Modern poetry? Doesn't even rhyme.

I'm not sure which is worse - liking all modern art because one is supposed to like it, or hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it. Either way, the category lines are not being drawn usefully. As the original post notes, there ought to be more to this than just going along with social signals.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 02:29:32AM *  7 points [-]

hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it.

I don't think this actually happens. In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful. In my experience even the "good" pieces of modern art are only good compared to the absolute drek that is most modern art.

Edit: By modern art I mean "art belonging the the genre commonly called 'modern art' ", not "any art produced since the mid 20th century".

Comment author: Vladimir_M 23 October 2011 05:34:37AM *  8 points [-]

Another crucial issue is that art nowadays is financed to a large degree by the government (either overtly or via its formally "non-governmental" organs such as large tax-exempt foundations, academic institutions, etc.). This creates the same perverse incentives as government-financed science: the work is optimized for the bureaucratic process that determines who gets funding and official recognition, not for any direct measure of quality.

Even the money that enters the system from private buyers doesn't change these incentives much, since these buyers want to buy high-status art, not low-status kitsch -- and people in charge of sorting these out are nowadays, for all practical purposes, government bureaucrats just as much as those in charge of renewing your driver's licence. (Which makes their attempts at a "rebellious" image only more farcical.)

Moldbug once wrote a hilarious (and yet highly insightful) article about how this system works in poetry.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 06:43:29AM 6 points [-]

I think the bureaucratic aspect is more important than the government aspect. After all most classical and renaissance art was also funded by governments.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 23 October 2011 06:47:45PM *  6 points [-]

Yes, that is certainly true. I didn't mean this as a general denunciation of government patronage, but as a comment specifically about the modern bureaucratic organization and financing of art. Clearly, the patronage of arts by, say, Renaissance popes or classical Greek rulers was a very different story.

Comment author: sam0345 24 October 2011 08:53:16AM 9 points [-]

Patronage by a patron works - indeed, there is no other satisfactory way of funding art. Patronage by a bureaucracy, by a committee, does not work so well.

The big problem is regulatory capture. Being an official artist becomes disconnected from any artistic talent.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 October 2011 07:19:26AM 6 points [-]

I think the hatred of all modern art is such a common meme that there are a good many people who repeat it without knowing anything about modern art.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 23 October 2011 07:02:40PM *  3 points [-]

On the other hand, sometimes cursory knowledge of a subject is sufficient for forming an accurate opinion about it. For example, I think my opinion about healing crystals is completely accurate, even though my knowledge about this practice is extremely rudimentary. Similarly, I think a cursory glance at the output of modern art is entirely sufficient for making correct sweeping judgments about it -- and it's hard to imagine how anyone could live in the modern society without having at least some exposure to it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 October 2011 08:00:26PM 8 points [-]

You've probably got an argument from physics about healing crystals.

However, in the case of modern art, you might contemplate people who think they know enough about science fiction to condemn it even though they know almost nothing about it.

Bruce Pollack, a contemporary abstract artist I like a lot. A little discussion of his work-- the first picture is presumably something more current from the gallery where he was displayed-- I think it's the sort of modern art neither of us like.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 09:57:51PM 2 points [-]

Bruce Pollack, a contemporary abstract artist I like a lot.

He appears to be an example of what I called a "good" modern artist, which is to say, he's still worse that just about all pre-20th century western art.

Comment author: RomanDavis 28 October 2011 03:51:45PM *  2 points [-]

Wait. Huh? Pre 20th century? What about

Nikolai Fechin

Frank Frazetta

Andrew Jones

Geoffrey Mimms

James Gurney

There are lots of guys making art these days. You really don't like any of them?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 29 October 2011 04:20:51AM 2 points [-]

What Desrtopa said.

Comment author: Desrtopa 28 October 2011 04:43:51PM 3 points [-]

I'm pretty sure he wasn't saying that; he's saying that prior to the 20'th century and the advent of "Modern Art," hardly anybody was making art that he considers as poor as the works of even those he considers to be the best participating in the genre of Modern Art, which is not the same thing as the works of all artists who produce art in the present day.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 October 2011 04:52:45PM 1 point [-]

Some people really don't react well to the experimental nature of modern art. This trait has been shown to increase in the face of thinking about death, and individuals described as having a high need for structure display an amplified response under these conditions.

source discusses the data as well as the limitations of its useful interpretation

A lot of people in the West also don't seem to grok that the aesthetic movements surrounding our own artistic traditions are not deeply-underlying human universals (representational art is very common, but not universal, and our focus on it is certainly not), or that there are entirely different approaches to the creation and function of art. The Modern and Postmodern movements in Western art are largely defined by their break from a lot of traditions.

A lot of people seem to also think "Art" means "highly-involved production of images for the sake of creating scarce aesthetic value" and don't like anything that fails to conform to those rules, or appears to be "cheating" (Andy Warhol comes to mind). Which makes it really deliciously funny when such people consider Shakespeare's works literary classics, or who just fail to grasp how many artists were not critical successes within their own time.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 October 2011 11:43:33PM 4 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, until modern art, all art showed a high mastery of craft. It might not be realistic representation, it might not be representation, it might not be pretty by Western standards, but no one could reasonably look at it and say "My five year old could do that". Any exceptions?

Or is that what you meant by "highly involved"?

Comment author: [deleted] 29 October 2011 01:26:09AM 2 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, until modern art, all art showed a high mastery of craft.

Do you really think that prior to the 20th century, there was no neglected, unremarkable, in-style but sub-par art, or art that might succeed on its own merits but failed to impress for other reasons, or art that just failed to ever catch on with those who had control over funding/critiquing/displaying it? Do you think that there was no prettying-up of mundane items, creating aesthetically-pleasing but not-terribly-formalized objects and images, no creative commission of form and image to medium for the sheer hell of it, regardless of what high society was upvoting as "the in thing" this year?

What you're calling "art" is a small subset of the actual collage of human creative endeavor of art generally, and is better termed "fine art" (and in the context of this thread, you seem to be confining yourself to visual arts). Most of art made by humans throughout history and prehistory has been decorative and utilitarian in its impulses rather than created by highly-trained individuals working within a well-defined tradition and its strictures for the sole purpose of aesthetic expression -- this is still the case today.

Modern Art itself is largely within the "fine art" category, and it includes all kinds of things you may be familiar with as "good art." Could your five-year old do a van Gogh? A minimalist or Futurist building? A photorealistic painting? Salvador Dali? Matisse? Picasso? Monet? The buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright? Those things are Modern Art too.

Yes, some things labelled Modern Art look like a box of crayons exploded, or they're almost absurdly simplistic, or they break from tradition but fail to do anything interesting with it. Especially given it's a movement strongly influenced by breaks from tradition, one oughtn't be surprised -- and it's easier than ever for a given work to find space, or be sent around on tour, or to be created essentially because someone wanted a thing there and didn't have a lot of specifics, felt like leaving it up to the artist they hired. There's more art, period, than there was in previous eras -- more people making it, more people comissioning it, more people interested in displaying it, more people trying to get into it with varying degrees of talent, more people finding something they like and going "here, this is pretty awesome."

And because you're living here and now, you have a much higher chance of seeing something made recently that flops, or just doesn't do it for you personally, from within that timeframe. The flops and failures and embarrassments of centuries past are, by and large, not widely-circulated today -- unless they found a niche later on.

How many execrable pieces of old and even ancient art are you not seeing because time has marched on? How many things you find to be the height of aesthetic refinement couldn't get an audience in their maker's lifetime? How many have gone on to be considered classics despite their reception at the time?

And how many things that entirely meet the general definition of art are you not even considering because they don't at least pretend to emanate from one of those establishments?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 29 October 2011 04:37:35AM 0 points [-]

The Modern and Postmodern movements in Western art are largely defined by their break from a lot of traditions.

And that is precisely the problem with them. They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake.

A lot of people seem to also think "Art" means "highly-involved production of images for the sake of creating scarce aesthetic value" and don't like anything that fails to conform to those rules

If "art" doesn't create aesthetic value, what's the point of making it.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 29 October 2011 09:53:16PM *  7 points [-]

They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake.

In modern art, there hasn't even been any real rebellion in a very long time. What we see is a pretense of rebellion by doing the same old tired épater la bourgeoisie act that has lost all its shock value many decades ago, or "creative" breaking of long-gone traditional norms. At the same time, these people would never dream of touching any real taboos of the present day, and are bending over backwards to signal their unreserved allegiance to every single respectable high-status belief -- and their professional world is a dreary pyramid of bureaucratic patronage that makes the bureaucracy of a typical government department look free-spirited in comparison.

To take only one illustrative example, even in Catholic Church -- an institution that is often considered as the very epitome of hidebound reaction -- a preference for traditional church art and architecture is likely to mark one as a contrarian these days.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 October 2011 07:37:36AM 0 points [-]

And that is precisely the problem with them. They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake. If "art" doesn't create aesthetic value, what's the point of making it.

We do not agree on these things, and I do not highly rate either of our odds of being able to make headway in this argument in a rational sense. So instead I will aim for transparency of content:

Boo thing you said. Yay thing I said.

Your turn.

Comment author: DoubleReed 28 October 2011 02:09:50PM 2 points [-]

Isn't the idea that modern art is "uniform" in any way just ridiculous?

In the early 20th century we had a huge mix of different ideas. The idea that it's all just a big swath of 'generic modern art' is just silly. I'm better at music in terms of knowledge, but I find it odd to immediately denounce Stravinsky's works simply because it's 'modern.'

I mean I don't denounce John Cage because it's 'modern.' I denounce it because it doesn't sound and makes no aural sense and things like that.

Comment author: pedanterrific 28 October 2011 05:56:33PM 1 point [-]

Contemporary art != modern art.

Comment author: DoubleReed 29 October 2011 07:41:29PM *  1 point [-]

I believe he was using 'modern art' in a nontechnical sense, but my point doesn't really change. Just replace John Cage with a Total Serialist composer.

I mean modern art (that is, early 20th century art) was the time period where we had an explosion of different ideas in all the different artforms. Dismissing them as 'uniform' in any way is crazy. Many of Stravinsky's works are perfectly accessible to non-music people. It's not like Realist Artwork or Tonality just vanished or something. There is Modern Realism and Modern Tonality.

Edit: Besides, isn't this aggression towards modern art a "curiosity stopper"?

Comment author: pedanterrific 30 October 2011 05:29:26AM 1 point [-]

I suspect the colloquial use of "modern art" in this thread is perhaps better described as some unholy conglomeration of abstract expressionism and minimalism. Think Pollock, Rothko, Mondrian and Malevich. (Yes, I know they seem quite distinct to you, but the common link for most people is "my five-year-old could do that.")

And I can't speak for others, obviously, but I actually quite like modern art. Sculpture and architecture more than paintings or music, though.

Comment author: komponisto 29 October 2011 10:38:32PM 3 points [-]

By modern art I mean "art belonging the the genre commonly called 'modern art' ", not "any art produced since the mid 20th century".

Specifically, what you mean is "high-status art produced since the mid 20th century that I don't like".

Comment author: antigonus 29 October 2011 11:32:41PM *  2 points [-]

I don't think this actually happens. In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful.

In my experience, most people who hate it do so because it's extremely unfamiliar to them, because they've only experienced a handful of examples of it (often the most difficult or "shocking"), and because they mentally associate it with snobbiness.

Also (at the risk of sounding snobby!), it's generally referred to as "contemporary art." "Modern art" refers to a period of art history that's been over for several decades.

Comment author: lessdazed 30 October 2011 04:38:56AM 1 point [-]

Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"

Huizi said, "You're not a fish; how do you know what fish enjoy?"

Zhuangzi said, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

Comment author: Mercy 27 October 2011 04:03:40PM *  1 point [-]

In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful.

Ah no but you see, modern art is good. Your move.

Seriously though, would I be right in saying you come from a background where most people can be expected to have an educated opinion on art? Because that's the only way I can imagine you've never met someone who claimed to hate modern art but folded completely after waiting to meet someone inside the Tate Modern, or catching a documentary one day. It's just too common in my experience, and yet I've never seen or heard of anyone doing the same thing with modern academic music or painting. I'm left to assume that they are genuinely lacking in the qualities which make naive audiences enjoy them and their reputation is reliable for everyone.

That just won't fly though for modern art, which was frequently very popular. Rather I think that what's happened is that the Young British Artists were not even trying to be good, especially as the bubble went on, and their output was as much confirmation as people needed to assume that they are also part of the down to earth sensible people who only like "representative art", when frequently they aren't.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 23 October 2011 01:49:59AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure which is worse - liking all modern art because one is supposed to like it, or hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it.

I think both are equally bad, to be honest, but that the latter is less common than the former. I think that people, given enough exposure to a diverse selection of some medium or some category, will eventually come to like at least a section of it. The widespread hatred of "modern X" is probably more often down to ignorance than signalling. Most of the signalling that goes on here is from people trying to demonstrate how hip they are; familiarity with current art is good for the image they are trying to promote. I think anti-modern signalling is largely from people who are trying to prove how conservative or old-fashioned they are, as a way of reinforcing other parts of their image.

That said, I move in circles that are more artistic than academic, so this is an obvious way in which my results could be skewed.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 22 October 2011 03:21:12AM 2 points [-]

I think this helped me enjoy Godel, Escher, Bach more, on my second reading, after reading lesswrong. I am happy about this.

Comment author: Michaelos 21 October 2011 02:28:37PM 2 points [-]

I am afraid to listen to the Great Fugue. I would come to like it, whether it is great art, or whether it is pretentious garbage. That would not rule out any of my theories. How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

Do you want to know enough to administer a musical taste test for this?

If you give people links to two fugues (unlabeled and untitled at the link source), and do not tell them which is which, and they aren't familiar with either, enough responses of which is better might give you at least a rough idea of to what extent it's actually great or whether it's just riding on reputation. Although, if they've heard either, we would need to discard their results because of likely bias.

Comment author: DanielLC 21 October 2011 03:28:25AM 2 points [-]

My suspicion is this:

You can learn to appreciate anything that requires creativity if you understand what they're trying to do and stuff like that. It starts out that they're creatively trying to accomplish something, like making a soothing sound in this case. Once people start appreciating it for the art, rather than just sounding nice, people will then create it for the art, rather than to sound nice. After a while, you end up with an art form that's very different than what it started as. It's still good. It's just something completely different, and each will look bad if you don't realize it's what you're looking at. Never read a literary masterpiece if you want a nice story. Never read a popular story if you want a literary masterpiece.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 06:47:09PM 5 points [-]

Never read a literary masterpiece if you want a nice story. Never read a popular story if you want a literary masterpiece.

Shakespeare's ghost would like to have a few words with you...

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 03:39:23AM 3 points [-]

Never read a literary masterpiece if you want a nice story. Never read a popular story if you want a literary masterpiece.

I think it's the job of storytellers to wind up exactly in the middle. They should tell useful, nuanced truths in a way that doesn't exclude anyone who might benefit from them.

Comment author: atucker 21 October 2011 04:03:08AM *  2 points [-]

I like variance on both those axes existing. That way there will be stuff in that middle for me. Not everybody will agree on where that middle is.

What's a nuanced useful truth to some may be obvious to others. What's an oversimplification to someone can be hopelessly complex to someone else.

If you try to please everyone you end up pleasing nobody, yadda yadda.

(Though some people probably can write really awesome and universally accessible stuff. I just don't want to hold everyone up to that standard because then I'd have waaaay less stuff to read.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 08:59:35PM 3 points [-]

I think that a significant component of the enjoyment of certain kinds of art comes from subverted expectations. When, for example, what begins as a lighthearted romantic comedy ends up with both leads killing themselves. Or when the killer turns out to be the last person you'd have suspected, even when you take into account that the author was trying to trick you.. You can't have subverted expectations, however, if you don't have expectations in the first place - which is one reason that some works need "experience" in order to appreciate.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 October 2011 09:49:43PM *  7 points [-]

I think that a significant component of the enjoyment of certain kinds of art comes from subverted expectations. When, for example, what begins as a lighthearted romantic comedy ends up with both leads killing themselves.

Subverted expectations? It's Shakespere. He tells you they are both going to die right there in the prologue. Twice. Your just so story just isn't so!

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 October 2011 06:49:41PM 4 points [-]

Okay, point made. ;) It's still a genre-bender, though. even if Shakespeare does indeed warn you ahead of time. (It's the "lighthearted romantic comedy" part that people don't expect, these days.)

A more direct example in Shakespeare's work exists in King Lear. Audiences in his day, who would have been familiar with the story Shakespeare adapted, would have been expecting a much happier ending.

Comment author: shminux 21 October 2011 02:36:00AM *  3 points [-]

The real question is, why do you care about peer pressure?

EDIT: I just listened to it for the first time, and really liked it. Still, tastes differ.

Comment author: Hariant 21 October 2011 02:40:27AM 7 points [-]

Because not everyone we'd want to associate with are people who can mentally just up and decide to not be status signalling creatures. And thus we want to model how and why the status signalling happens, both to understand how to react normally as well as how we can act without falling into the same traps. Not to mention this is something just glossed over in everyday status signalling interactions; maybe we can optimize the situations.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:50:05AM *  6 points [-]

How did you think of it compared to a Bach fugue, or Beethoven symphonies 3-9?

I do care about peer pressure, and it is irrational and self-destructive not to care about peer pressure. But in this case it is not peer pressure as much as my desire to have confidence in my own judgement.

Comment author: jhuffman 21 October 2011 02:34:17PM 20 points [-]

The real question is, why do you care about peer pressure?

Because all my friends do.

Comment author: Jack 21 October 2011 02:54:43AM 6 points [-]

We want people to like us.

Comment author: Kutta 21 October 2011 09:29:38AM *  2 points [-]

You can draw a lot of motivation from peer pressure; the trick is to expose yourself to specific kinds of peer pressure that propel you towards some desirable goal.

In regards to art, once I made a considerable effort to like extreme metal, because a respected art-geek friend recommended me to do so. He's a professional poker player with little to no social engagement in art circles, and thus his tastes have remarkably social-pressure-free origins. I figured that'd make his social pressure on me more valuable. Currently, on reflection, I believe that some extreme metal is extremely good, and I also enjoy such music immensely, and the fact that I could manage to reach this state only via peer pressure doesn't matter that much.

"Try to minimize information cascades regarding art recommendations" seems to be a good heuristic in general. Another would be: "value the recommendations of people who have complex boundaries of liked-disliked art". Someone who likes some classical music, but not most, and also likes some extreme metal, but not most, maybe considers the actual music more carefully than someone who likes most music from one genre but completely dismisses certain other genres.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 04:29:29PM 2 points [-]

This post has generated enough interesting comments that I would ordinarily move it to LessWrong at this point. But I posted it to Discussion because it is a discussion; I don't have answers. What do you think - should I move it?

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 21 October 2011 05:24:52PM 1 point [-]

Yes. Make it into a new sequence!

Comment author: lessdazed 21 October 2011 05:33:22AM *  2 points [-]

I have an experience that seems relevant.

I was assigned several chapters of the high-status The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War for a class, and fell in love with it, reading it over and over. I don't say status had nothing to do with it, for every effect has multiple causes (and every cause affects multiple things).

When the translator finished the similar-status and somewhat similar content The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, I bought it and began reading it with the expectation I would find it stimulating on multiple levels. I found it very boring and randomly meandering, in the same way so many people say they find all of history, which I was finally able to relate to.

Perhaps I was sabotaged by high expectations that I only noticed not being met, but on the other hand I was primed to consider the book favorably and confirm that opinion.

Regarding your point 5., these are two of the earliest works of the art form, which is also a mark of something one is "supposed to like".

A meta-status theory would be that I validated my appreciation for Thucydides by disparaging Herodotus.

As for the Fugue, it was quite pleasant, though I thought the thirty seconds after 11:48 were silly.

Comment author: magfrump 21 October 2011 05:12:53AM 1 point [-]

I've been listening to the Fugue now while reading Less Wrong and enjoying it! Thanks!

I hate bitter cabernets though.

Comment author: Hyena 23 October 2011 01:10:02PM *  1 point [-]

I will submit two things first: (1) Jackson Pollock paintings are excellent, that you don't like them just demonstrates you're not in their audience; (2) the normal way for Burning Man to change someone's life completely is through drug use.

Over the course of my art history degree, not once did anyone insist I had to like any work. I had to recognize its importance--either as inspiration others drew on or as an exemplar of some type--but never actually be attached to any of the work. I think this tendency to demand others like a work is unserious. But this is where I wonder about the work "like" is doing.

I'm not a fan of Bouguereau, for example, but I actually "like" his work in the sense that I often trot it out when I need an example of late academic painting. In fact, he might actually be my most-referenced artist and I admit that, while I wouldn't hang any of it on my wall, I have a certain affinity for his work borne entirely of my distaste for it. I think you should consider this possibility: experts "like" a work in this sense--it is useful to them in explanation--but not in the "hang it on my wall" sense but others posture using the term but not really understanding what is meant by the expert.

Naturally, I think the posturers are fairly useless and have since my seminar days.

Comment author: potato 25 October 2011 03:52:16AM *  0 points [-]

I am afraid to keep listening to the Great Fugue. I would come to like it, whether it is great art, or whether it is pretentious garbage. That would not rule out any of my theories.

How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

Can't believe I didn't notice this. Who cares man? Caring about whether its "pretentious garbage" or "actually complicated hard to like art", is just as silly as liking something cause you think it makes you cool to like it. That;s not the point. The question is will you dig your time here more, have more musi-gasms, if you keep listening, or less.

Comment author: MagnetoHydroDynamics 11 September 2013 12:11:07PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 September 2013 04:33:51PM 1 point [-]

I like the puddle in "panel" 4.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to, though.

Comment author: CronoDAS 25 October 2011 09:01:07PM 1 point [-]

This is probably relevant: Mere exposure effect