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Things you are supposed to like

66 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 (364)

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: 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: 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: Armok_GoB 29 October 2011 07:52:16PM -1 points [-]

As someone who considers himself an unusually general art connoisseur, I can simply tell you the answer as more or less fact from personal experience:

While within at least some art forms (taste based ones seem prone to it, probably due to how taste works biologically...) all of these might exists, most of them only do so as rare exceptions.

The main mechanism behind the vast majority is a combination of something very similar to your 4, and that MAKING art changes your evaluation relative someone who has merely consumed and studied existing works. The reason they become so high status is because working towards this specific niche audience with the handicap of not being able to use common tactics because they're bored of them, and not being able to cut corners without it being spotted by someone because they have been cutting those same corners themselves, and still being able to make something enjoyable, is much harder. Sort of, there are some confounding variables and additional effects and other random details I've skipped over to save space.

And don't attempt to learn likening something you don't naturally. Not only will you get spotted as an imposter by anyone who ACTUALLY know something about the field, it's also a negative sum game creating noise and more of those nasty exceptions. If you want high status you have to work for it: consume lots of the art form, with variation, including historical ones that are strictly less enjoyable but are referenced by later works a lot, read up on the history of the field, and try MAKING rather than just consuming.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 29 October 2011 07:55:45PM 0 points [-]

EDIT: Just realized I'm very tired and remembered I tend to be WAY overconfident and unable to calibrate when I am, but I still am both those things so I can't fix it, so I'll just write this and let the reader calibrate.

Comment author: DoubleReed 28 October 2011 02:41:48PM *  0 points [-]

This brings up another issue that is more extreme. Here we find the piece boring, which is certainly a bad thing for artistic ideas. But what if the piece is the other way: actually unappealing?

Anyone who hears Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfEye2YBGTM) for the first time gets an idea of what I mean.

Like anyone, my first reaction to the piece is negative. And I think with any work you can find legitimate criticisms of it in terms of form or construction or whatever. But I just don't see it as simple as that. The fact is that this piece is insanely influential on all work that proceeds it. Just listen to the soundtrack to any recent horror films. Hell, even the soundtrack to Lost gives many impressions that Michael Giacchino must have been familiar with the piece (and it's obviously a famous piece). Quite frankly, I love the soundtrack to Lost.

But this may be a difference of execution, rather than of musical ideas. Perhaps I think the execution of Giacchino's music is more appealing and so I like it more. People are suggesting that it's a matter of social stigma, but having been exposed to some of the crappier portions of classical music I would have to disagree. I would honestly say if you took a blind test of Salieri's music (or really anyone of the same time period) and Mozart's music, with somebody who knows little of classical music at all, you have an overwhelming amount say Mozart is better, because there is a matter of craft and execution to take into account.

Comment author: gjm 29 October 2011 08:37:55PM *  2 points [-]

Anyone who hears Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima [...] for the first time gets an idea [...] Like anyone, my first reaction to the piece is negative.

Anyone? For what it's worth, my first reaction (I'm listening as I type this and it's just finishing) is positive. I think it's entirely appropriately evocative of desolation, menace and destruction, with hints of aircraft engines and weaponry and so forth. (All of which are negative things, of course, but I assume that isn't what you mean by having a negative reaction to the piece. It's not supposed to be nice.) My only complaint would be that if it has much structure then it isn't apparent, but it's not clear to me that this sort of piece requires much structure and there's no reason why it should be clearly discernible on a first listening anyway.

(Also, when you wrote "proceeds" you were probably going for "precedes" but actually wanted "follows" :-).)

But maybe my sophistication-signalling habits are just too deeply ingrained or something. I quite enjoy the Grosse Fuge too, though I haven't listened to it intently enough for my opinion to be worth anything.

Comment author: DoubleReed 29 October 2011 10:45:19PM 1 point [-]

Honestly, I know a lot of people who have listened to piece, musicians and everything, and almost none have positive reactions to it at first. Not many people would listen to this in their spare time. (I suspect if I said "this piece is awesome you'd totally love it" you may have reacted differently. Is there a cognitive term for that?)

Actually the structure of the piece, which isn't totally apparent at first, is one of the most intriguing part of the piece for many composers and theorists. The piece is famous for many reasons.

Comment author: Mercy 27 October 2011 05:00:28PM *  5 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: 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: Nornagest 27 October 2011 05:27:44PM *  5 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: gwern 27 October 2011 06:24:20PM 0 points [-]

I can understand in theory that it's supposed to broaden the work's appeal

I don't think that's always the purpose, or even the main purpose. Usually the purpose is a mix of trying to build rounded characters which the viewer can relate to such that one actually cares about the drama, and giving the viewer a chance to cope. Appeal-broadening sounds a bit odd to me - who watches Fullmetal Alchemist going 'ho hum another death/battle to sit through, when are we going to get some more jokes about Ed's height?'? If someone wants pure comedy, there are plenty of 'pure' series which cater to that, they don't need to watch a mixed series - and this applies to serious drama as well; that mixes keep happening suggest that there's some synergy there.

You complain about your suspension of disbelief being broken by the transitions - for me, it can be the opposite: Saikano shattered my suspension by being so purely grim and dramatic without any real intervals in between dramatic moments, so that it was pure bathos; while series like Evangelion or Madoka space out the shattering moments so they actually do impact the viewer.

Comment author: Nornagest 27 October 2011 06:51:14PM *  2 points [-]

I don't think that's always the purpose, or even the main purpose. Usually the purpose is a mix of trying to build rounded characters which the viewer can relate to such that one actually cares about the drama, and giving the viewer a chance to cope. Appeal-broadening sounds a bit odd to me...

Maybe "broadening appeal" is the wrong phrase to use, but I don't find it much more likely that the device is used to round out characters: do Ed's comically violent reactions to short jokes really add something to his character that a more grounded reaction wouldn't? Giving viewers a chance to cope sounds closer, but still not quite on target; the sense I get is that these transitions are included mainly as a sort of counterweight to the dominant mode, so as not to intimidate or overwhelm viewers (especially younger viewers) that might find the tone oppressive if more conventional emotional pacing was used. Note that they seem a lot more common in shows targeted at teenage audiences and younger.

I thought Madoka handled its emotional pacing fairly well, incidentally: it spaces out its intense moments, but the relief never struck me as jarring. I wasn't able to sit all the way through Evangelion and I haven't touched Saikano, so I can't comment on either.

Comment author: gwern 27 October 2011 08:50:00PM 0 points [-]

do Ed's comically violent reactions to short jokes really add something to his character that a more grounded reaction wouldn't?

For any reaction to serve character development, the reaction has to be funny; whether the humor must be over the top or more subtle depends on the particular work, creator, and audience but doesn't change the basic point.

Giving viewers a chance to cope sounds closer, but still not quite on target; the sense I get is that these transitions are included mainly as a sort of counterweight to the dominant mode, so as not to intimidate or overwhelm viewers (especially younger viewers) that might find the tone oppressive if more conventional emotional pacing was used.

What is 'conventional'? Otherwise, basically what I said...

Comment author: Nornagest 27 October 2011 09:59:49PM *  1 point [-]

What is 'conventional'? Otherwise, basically what I said...

By "conventional" I meant the kind of emotional pacing you see in most Western television, or in most anime aimed at adults: less abrupt changes in tone, more emotional consistency, and a slower pace overall. I don't buy "coping space" as a complete explanation because that's a basic element of competent emotional pacing no matter how it's executed; the slapstick interludes in FMA et al. are a distinct (and fairly unusual) mode and need additional explanation. The demographic considerations in the grandparent are my best guess as to what that is.

Comment author: Desrtopa 27 October 2011 09:16:26PM 2 points [-]

For any reaction to serve character development, the reaction has to be funny

Could you explain? This sounds false to me, both in general and with respect to Fullmetal Alchemist specifically.

Comment author: gwern 27 October 2011 10:12:14PM 0 points [-]

Hm, not sure what I was thinking there. I'll try again: teasing Ed about his height is intrinsically humorous, so any reaction which builds his character will be humorous, so the only question is how the humor will be treated and it's pointless to criticize whether the humor is over the top or moderately broad or very subtle - which kind of humor is best will depend on the audience. That there will be humor must be the case for any decent author, as Arakawa most certainly is. (Notice Nornagest didn't criticize all the other character-building repeated elements/motif/themes which range from humor to philosophical to tragic, like the watch, which suggests to me that he simply doesn't like the jokes about height, not that he is making any real point about the general desirability or functionality of these mixed genres. And come to think of it, the height jokes are why any reader is paying attention to how tall Ed is, which ultimately pays off for the reader when, towards the end, he realizes Arakawa has been subtly drawing Ed taller and taller - he is a character who literally grows.)

Comment author: Nornagest 27 October 2011 10:16:02PM *  2 points [-]

Notice Nornagest didn't criticize all the other character-building repeated elements/motif/themes which range from humor to philosophical to tragic, like the watch, which suggests to me that he simply doesn't like the jokes about height, not that he is making any real point about the general desirability or functionality of these mixed genres.

Hey, that was your example, not mine. I was actually thinking of some of the silliness in Seras Victoria's scenes in Hellsing when I wrote my original comment, although that particular style of comic relief is common in the genre and FMA isn't terribly shy about using it. The other repeated motifs don't bother me because they aren't incongruent with the local tone of the series.

Comic relief also isn't the only place this sort of thing shows up, although it's probably the most common: a lot of anime takes a similar approach to erotic fanservice, for example. Although now that I think about it, that version does happen fairly often in Western media...

Comment author: gwern 27 October 2011 11:57:19PM 0 points [-]

Although now that I think about it, that version does happen fairly often in Western media...

Yes, yes, think about it more...! :)

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

This is probably relevant: Mere exposure effect

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: NancyLebovitz 25 October 2011 01:23:05PM 5 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: 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: Swimmer963 24 October 2011 08:45:04PM 8 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: 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: 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: 4hodmt 23 October 2011 03:03:05PM 15 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: 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: cousin_it 23 October 2011 03:29:55PM *  4 points [-]

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

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: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 03:05:24AM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: Prismattic 23 October 2011 02:29:04AM *  1 point [-]

I had forgotten about this until just now, but there are examples where the connoisseurs actually are on to something that the average viewer/listener is missing. In a class I once took on Russian art, we watched a wordless documentary that was meant help one see the world the way avant-garde artists like Malevich or Kandinskiy did when they were painting. It changed my appreciation of this kind of art considerably -- I would now tend to dispute claims that these sorts of paintings are not representational. (I still have to regard this as a joke, though.)

Also, I genuinely, non-ironically like Russian Primitivism even though it often sort of looks like "my seven-year-old could do that".

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: bbleeker 23 September 2012 03:36:37PM 1 point [-]
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: Mercy 27 October 2011 02:40:12PM -2 points [-]

I think worries about status seeking false preference formation start to break down when you apply them to comedy. For one thing laughter is involuntary, so you should know if you are faking in the teenager pretending to like spirits sense- you can't half convince yourself you find something funny if you don't.

For another the social aspect is often inherent to the form. Saying that you don't really like Steptoe and Son because you wouldn't find it funny if there wasn't a laugh track, or you didn't really like that Stewart Lee because if you were the only person in the room you wouldn't have laughed, doesn't to my mind make any more sense than saying you don't like dance music because you wouldn't listen to it on your own or you "only" like a song because of a happy memory associated with it.

Comment author: Prismattic 28 October 2011 12:55:07AM *  1 point [-]

For the benefit of those of us born in a different country and in a subsequent decade, useful context

Steptoe and Son

Stewart Lee

Seriously, as a 30-something American, I had no familiarity with either of these.

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 7 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: 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 *  5 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: NancyLebovitz 23 October 2011 07:19:26AM 5 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 *  2 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 7 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: [deleted] 28 October 2011 04:52:45PM 2 points [-]

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: Eugine_Nier 29 October 2011 04:37:35AM -1 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: 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 23 October 2011 09:57:51PM 1 point [-]

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 1 point [-]

What Desrtopa said.

Comment author: Desrtopa 28 October 2011 04:43:51PM 2 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: Vladimir_M 23 October 2011 05:34:37AM *  7 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: DoubleReed 28 October 2011 01:50:19PM -1 points [-]

This depends on where you are and your government. In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts. The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well. However, the vast majority of arts in the US is privately funded.

In other countries I don't think this is true though. In a lot of European countries the government does the majority of arts funding.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 30 October 2011 03:10:50PM *  5 points [-]

In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts. The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well. However, the vast majority of arts in the US is privately funded.

Maybe the money doesn't look that big when you count only funds specifically earmarked for "art." However, it's not that small when you count the money given to all sorts of academic institutions and non-profits that provide the infrastructure for the whole art scene nowadays. Above all, this infrastructure has a monopoly on career tracks that enable one to achieve the status of an esteemed artist and art critic, as opposed to a peddler of vulgar kitsch.

Moreover, "government" probably wasn't the best choice of word in my original comment. As I noted, I used it in a somewhat idiosyncratic way, which encompasses various formally "non-governmental" institutions whose organizational, financial, and decision-making structure is, for all practical purposes, inseparable from the de jure government organs. What I wanted to emphasize is the contrast between a true elite of artists, artistic connoisseurs, and rich patrons dispensing patronage based on their own taste versus patronage dispensed by vast, self-perpetuating, committee-run bureaucracies -- even if the former were often rulers in the past, and the latter can exist in the form of theoretically "non-governmental" foundations, academia, etc.

Comment author: sam0345 31 October 2011 11:55:20PM 2 points [-]

Mencius has issued a wonderful post on this topic, skewering a example of bureaucratically generated pseudo art.

Comment author: DoubleReed 01 November 2011 05:10:21PM 1 point [-]

Actually that post made me question the entire idea of poetry. How else could poetry possibly work? Does it take training? Do you 'practice' poetry? Is poetry skill-based at all? I really don't understand.

The only way I could see it making sense is if there is no way to make a living as a poet and it's just something that is attained after fame.

Comment author: DoubleReed 30 October 2011 10:48:18PM *  2 points [-]

I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. The amount of money given by 'bureaucracies' in the US is vastly inferior to the money given out by rich patrons. Almost all of our arts is funded by individual people. Some larger organizations have some corporate sponsors, but I don't know if that counts as bureaucracies.

Look at any theater, gallery, or orchestra in the US. More than 90% of their money comes from individual donors.

We have a lot of rich people in the US.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 01 November 2011 05:59:39AM *  4 points [-]

Private people nowadays fund art, either directly or indirectly, for two main reasons: because it's tax-deductible and/or to buy status. The tax-deductibility already implies significant government involvement -- who gets to dispense money, patronage, and status from tax-deductible funds is by no means a simple and straightforward question.

But more importantly, there is the question of status. Note the immense status contrast between people shopping for home decorations in a big-box store and someone buying something generally recognized as a "work of art" for a hefty price. The former is about people indulging their honest aesthetic preferences in a way that's likely to be low-status; the latter is as close to a pure money-for-status transaction as anything gets -- even if the actual "work of art" contains no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all. So who are these "artists" who get to have such high status that a whiff of it is readily paid for with piles of cash?

The key point is that nowadays the hierarchy of status in art is essentially a vast and sclerotic bureaucracy. Within this system, there are still some classic forms of art that have been traditionally high-status for many generations, such as classical music. However, these are rarely (if ever) tremendously profitable, and also require a lot of skill to practice. On the other hand, the modern art scene is almost purely about bureaucratic careerism. Those on the very top are laughing all the way to the bank, getting vast sums for random junk, sometimes made by hired low-wage labor and just signed upon completion. For those in the lower levels, it's the standard dreary bureaucratic fight over small stakes but with no alternative life prospects.

Overall, the point is that artistic status itself has been monopolized by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has led to its almost complete disconnect with skill and aesthetic value (as measured by satisfying people's honest aesthetic preferences). If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 November 2011 06:01:05AM 1 point [-]

If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

You'd think some of them would attempt to counter-signal by doing just that.

Comment author: DoubleReed 01 November 2011 12:52:08PM *  2 points [-]

The former is about people indulging their honest aesthetic preferences in a way that's likely to be low-status; the latter is as close to a pure money-for-status transaction as anything gets -- even if the actual "work of art" contains no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all.

I didn't say anything about modern art or art that contains "no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all" or whatever. I said bureaucracies do NOT fund the majority of art in the US. And it doesn't.

Your claim is that basically it's either art that's low-status or art that people like. And that's just blatantly false. Not all art today is modern you know. There are still ballets, operas, shakespeare theaters, orchestras, realism galleries, and independent film theaters. These are high-status but high-quality. You have a warped view on the art world today.

Within this system, there are still some classic forms of art that have been traditionally high-status for many generations, such as classical music. However, these are rarely (if ever) tremendously profitable, and also require a lot of skill to practice. On the other hand, the modern art scene is almost purely about bureaucratic careerism.

Yea, I think you overestimate the power of bureaucracy here. Maybe if you showed that modern art makes way more money than non-modern art you'd have a case.

Those high-status individuals are the ones supporting the art system because they want to. It isn't because they're part of some invisible bureaucracy. It's because they have money and they see something they like and give their money to it. That is the way it works. Have you ever worked in art development? Everything is individuals.

Overall, the point is that artistic status itself has been monopolized by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has led to its almost complete disconnect with skill and aesthetic value (as measured by satisfying people's honest aesthetic preferences).

And I call bullshit. There is nothing "bureaucratic" about what you're talking about. Rich people like the art they support. It is not just about status. Or else it wouldn't matter what kind of organization they donate to, but that's not true (donors typically have very specific preferences). Many rich people care about status but don't support the arts at all (they can always donate to churches and charities after all). Many donors are heavily involved in the organizations that they donate to.

If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

Uhm. No? I mean there are artists that have became wildly famous and everything, but high-quality artistry is still around and still high-status. So I don't understand where you get this idea from.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 29 October 2011 04:14:03AM -3 points [-]

The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well.

In my experience they tend to select the ones with the worst taste.

Comment author: lessdazed 28 October 2011 02:22:20PM 4 points [-]

In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts.

You mean, less per-capita funding than there is in other countries?

I have seen lower than average state cigarette taxes described as "encouraging smoking".

Comment author: DoubleReed 28 October 2011 08:49:55PM 0 points [-]

Yea, I believe it's per capita, but I wouldn't be surprised in general as well.

It's more about public vs private funding. Not discouraging or encouraging art. Though I have heard from my friends in art development that it is more difficult to find private donors in countries with more government funding due to it. Quick google search yielded this, but there's probably more to the debate.

Comment author: lessdazed 28 October 2011 09:06:49PM 1 point [-]

As a separate point, what "simple boundaries around concentrations of unusually high probability density in Thingspace" exclude the military from being "art"? The best I can think of is that it's not intended as "art".

Most of it is bad art. But when members of SEAL Team Six, from concealed positions on a rocking boat, simultaneously fire at pirates, on a different, distant rocking boat, who are holding hostages, and achieve one kill per shot, and the hostages are unharmed, what else does one call that?

Comment author: nshepperd 29 October 2011 04:09:25PM 3 points [-]

Whether or not a round semifurry purple object is really a blegg, I would be surprised if the aesthetic value of a special ops team would be large enough to justify its price relative to more conventional forms of art (which normally get larger audiences, too).

Comment author: Bugmaster 28 October 2011 09:12:21PM 2 points [-]

"Skill" ? Or "craft", maybe.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 06:43:29AM 4 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 *  4 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 6 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: 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: Kaj_Sotala 22 October 2011 08:44:09PM *  9 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: PhilGoetz 22 October 2011 06:16:59PM 0 points [-]

The SkyTopia site that grouchymusicologist dislikes posted its raw survey results here. It would be interesting to break the survey results down according to whether or not respondents believed in God or the soul.

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: 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: 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: [deleted] 24 October 2011 12:36:36AM 0 points [-]

Is "change" a technical term in jazz?

Comment author: arundelo 24 October 2011 01:41:46AM 1 point [-]

Yes. To be specific, the plural form, "changes", is short for "chord changes".

"Coltrane changes" are a type of chord progression created by John Coltrane, with the most famous example being his Giant Steps. (Lots of key changes!)

Comment author: Desrtopa 22 October 2011 10:46:30PM 6 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 2 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: 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: analyticsophy 24 October 2011 07:07:54PM -2 points [-]

As long as my average expected utility over all choices available goes up, I'm down to get more goals, and even loose old ones. But if my average expected utility goes down, then screw getting a new value. Though in general, adding a new value does not imply getting rid of an old one; as long as you keep all your old values there is no danger in adding a new one.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 24 October 2011 10:51:00PM 3 points [-]

But - this is your utility using a new function. If you can get more utility by changing your utility function, just change it to something easy, like "I value lying on my back in bed."

(Wait, I already value that pretty highly...)

Comment author: potato 25 October 2011 01:07:12AM 1 point [-]

I agree with dlthomas. Certain modifications are certainly easier to make than others. It's much easier to start liking britney spears (which i've recently been working on) than to start liking being dead, or sickness.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 October 2011 01:14:13AM *  0 points [-]

It's much easier to start liking britney spears (which i've recently been working on)

Ok. I can't help but wondering why of all the things to hack yourself to enjoy you would pick that. Never mind. I see that's part of the point.

Comment author: Bugmaster 25 October 2011 01:18:10AM 2 points [-]

It's not that bad of a choice, really. Liking or disliking Brittney Spears's music doesn't really matter much in the long run; she has a large corpus of performances for you to pick from; this corpus is freely available; and testing your success or failure is relatively easy.

Comment author: dlthomas 24 October 2011 11:33:11PM 1 point [-]

Why do you assume that the difficulty of a modification to one's utility function does not depend on the nature of the modification? This seems unlikely to be the case.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 October 2011 06:21:13PM 1 point [-]

It's not a question of difficulty. It's a question of whether it makes sense to adopt a new utility function in order to have higher utility.

Comment author: Sarokrae 23 October 2011 09:18:18AM *  7 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: RichardKennaway 24 September 2012 03:09:00PM 2 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: PhilGoetz 06 December 2011 04:59:47AM -1 points [-]

If what you are saying makes sense, then the distinction between instrumental and terminal values is fundamentally wrong.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 December 2011 05:24:29AM 0 points [-]

How committed are you to the distinction between instrumental and terminal values?

I continue to be unconvinced that humans actually have terminal values in any meaningful sense.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 08 December 2011 10:39:24PM 0 points [-]

I'm not committed to it. But the SIAI conceptions of FAI and CEV are committed to it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 31 October 2011 06:09:03PM 5 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 2 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: NancyLebovitz 22 October 2011 10:55:53AM *  10 points [-]
Comment author: Hedonic_Treader 22 October 2011 09:16:32AM *  1 point [-]

I watched the video, and I must say I like the colors and shapes and the way the light is moving through them.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 22 October 2011 06:28:31PM 1 point [-]

Watch some of the other videos by smalin - esp. the Bach fugues and Beethoven symphonies. They are IMHO a lot more fascinating.

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: Daniel_Burfoot 22 October 2011 01:43:48AM 17 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 14 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 3 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: 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: DSimon 25 October 2011 04:43:21AM *  0 points [-]

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

Comment author: wedrifid 22 October 2011 09:17:01AM 10 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: Konkvistador 22 October 2011 08:20:45AM 17 points [-]

Probably because of the moralfags.

Comment author: DanielVarga 21 October 2011 07:50:20PM 12 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: 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: prase 21 October 2011 08:11:30PM 1 point [-]

Interesting enough to be moved, but it is essentially discussion. Hard to tell.

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

Yes. Make it into a new sequence!

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: Craig_Heldreth 21 October 2011 01:48:09PM *  6 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 *  3 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: 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: datadataeverywhere 22 October 2011 12:22:26PM 1 point [-]

I agree (have had the same experience), although I argue that mustard, sauerkraut or other bitter/sour foods are better examples than coffee or beer, simply because drugs change the way we process surrounding stimuli.

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: FiftyTwo 29 November 2011 03:54:01AM 1 point [-]

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

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2011 12:59:24PM *  4 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: orthonormal 22 October 2011 05:46:33PM 16 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: 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: 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: Jayson_Virissimo 22 October 2011 06:27:17AM 4 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: Spectral_Dragon 24 September 2012 02:41:09PM 0 points [-]

As a fairly new member at Lesswrong, I've not until now taken to reading Eliezer's fanfiction Harry Potter and the Arts of Rationality, but the manga/amine Death Note gets taken up there, seemingly on par with any other form of media. It's the second time manga/anime's hinted at as a source of inspiration.

You COULD solve the FAI problem, but you need time to do other things too, and then the medium is of far less importance than the message. After all, if another medium can be more effective in delivering the same message - a film as opposed to a book, wouldn't READING be worse than anime since you could be spending that extra time working instead?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2011 03:35:23PM *  1 point [-]

Anime references seem to be part of the common currency here, although I haven't seen much and what I have has not awakened my enthusiasm. I even watched all of Fate/Stay Night on YouTube, and The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya on DVD, since Eliezer had mentioned them from time to time; but I found less in them than he did.

Comment author: taelor 22 October 2011 12:45:47AM 2 points [-]

I personally found the original Haruhi Suzumiya novels and stories to be superior to the anime.

Comment author: Prismattic 22 October 2011 12:01:12AM 7 points [-]

The only anime I've really enjoyed is Fullmetal Alchemist . I suspect there are, in fact, plenty of people on LW with no interest in anime -- that just passes unnoticed because they simply remain silent when the subject comes up.

Comment author: cypher197 27 September 2012 05:43:21PM 2 points [-]

If you're a Transhumanist, you should give Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex a try. It's excellent Postcyberpunk in general.

Comment author: bbleeker 23 September 2012 03:10:13PM 1 point [-]

Do you like anime?

Submitting...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 21 October 2011 03:51:46PM 1 point [-]

The "true" Fate/Stay Night is an interactive videogame, which has never been translated into English in an official release.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2011 03:59:20PM 0 points [-]

I know that what I've seen is only part of the F/SN canon (and the same goes for Haruhi Suzumiya), but Eliezer hasn't mentioned speaking Japanese, so what did he watch?

Comment author: gwern 21 October 2011 04:16:54PM 4 points [-]

Goetz said 'official'; very popular VNs often get fan translations. It's a safe bet that anything by Typemoon has been fan translated.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 October 2011 01:20:18PM 5 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 2 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 2 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: siodine 21 October 2011 09:49:22AM *  22 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: Jayson_Virissimo 21 October 2011 09:11:28AM *  8 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: CronoDAS 23 October 2011 07:10:24PM 0 points [-]

There's a lot of boring crap being taught in English classes. The Scarlet Letter is very skillfully written, but it's boring as hell.

Comment author: taelor 23 October 2011 08:52:18PM 1 point [-]

The Scarlet Letter would have been improved greatly had about a fourth to a third been cut out.

Comment author: lessdazed 21 October 2011 10:45:13AM 9 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: 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: [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: Desrtopa 21 October 2011 05:29:56PM 1 point [-]

Catcher in the Rye was actually the only book I was ever assigned to read in school which I wholeheartedly enjoyed, but I gather that it's significantly a love-it-or-hate-it work.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 22 October 2011 12:31:56AM 3 points [-]

I read Catcher in the Rye is high-school, at the time I found it reasonably mediocre and certainly nothing memorable. Later, when I was in grad school, I found out that apparently it was a huge deal when it was released. I can only assume that this is some combination of Seinfeld is Unfunny and possibly that I don't remember it very well.

Comment author: Prismattic 22 October 2011 01:05:05AM 2 points [-]

Off-topic, but I think a better name for the Seinfeld is Unfunny trope would be Actually, You Can Do That on Television

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: 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: grouchymusicologist 21 October 2011 04:47:23AM *  58 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.