Thursday, 17 June 2010

Is Music The Most Affecting Art Form?

I love to read, I'd do it all day if I could; I adore a good film and watch my favourite TV box sets over and over; some pieces of visual art have actually made me feel faint with emotion, but the effect that music has upon my mood and feelings is, I think, generally more powerful.

Baba in Edna O'Brien's The Country Girls makes me seethe with rage, I always cry with great heaving sobs at the end of The Railway Children, the squadroom banter in Homocide: Life On The Streets delights me greatly and I once had to sit down whilst looking at a Howard Hodgkin painting (see above) but none of these experiences compare to the thrill of Tim Buckley's howled "ne-ver think of meeeeee" at the end of Dolphins, the poignancy of River by Joni Mitchell, the pure, ridiculous joy of dancing to Patti LaBelle's New Attitude, the first bit of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, the bit in Wake Me Up where Nadine sings "Dressed up and put on my make-up", the intro of Love Will Tear Us Apart, the harmonies in Eternal Flame etc. etc. ad infinitum....

I know from bitter experience that many people do not feel this way about art, a lot of people have never read a book for pleasure (or at all... I know! I've met some!) and many people are not that bothered by films but if somebody says "I don't like music" then a glass smashes to the floor, the jukebox is unplugged and the whole room stares in disbelieving silence (like in Eastenders when someone says something shocking in the Vic.). I have met people who said they didn't like music. Two people. And one of them meant that he didn't like pop music, just classical. So that is one person I have met in my entire life who did not like to listen to music, saying it was "just noise."

Why is this? why does pretty much every human being enjoy listening to, singing, humming and possibly dancing to tunes? They maybe do not obsess about music or listen to much more than the charts, but if you asked them "do you like music?", then they would look at you like they thought you were weird and say "well, yeah."

Is this universal appeal why mainstream, lowest denominator music is not as bad as its counterparts in other art forms? I do not buy or greatly esteem the music of Westlife,  The Saturdays (apart from the ludicrously catchy Work) or ballad-mode Pixie Lott but I cannot deny that there are pleasant sounds and some accomplished songwriting to be found beneath the layers of lazy production, troublingly marketed young women and/or emotionless singing.

I cannot afford the same good humoured acceptance towards misery memoirs, sequels to gross-out frat boy misogynistic comedies or that crappy 'modern art' that is sold in department stores and makes me want to put my foot through the canvas. Even Jedward are better than all those things. (I'm serious, I laughed so hard during their performance of 'Oops I Did It Again' I was worried that I'd burst a blood vessel in my eye. Joy is joy.)

Does the fact that most people have a reasonably strong opinion about music drive up the standards of pop? While you ponder this question, why not listen to old Patti singing about her attitude which is new. Point to your clothes when she sings "new dress!", frame your head with your hands when she sings "new hat!", point with your index finger at "point of view" and wiggle your arms side to side for the "ooh ooh ooh-ooh-oooohs". I can't promise you'll feel better, but I defy you to feel worse:


  1. I love that gorgeous Hodgkin! I am extremely visual; though I love music, I quickly reach sensory overload. I think I apprehend the world mostly through my eyes!

  2. That's interesting, my artist friend said a similar thing to me. I wonder if we all have a sensory bias of some kind?

  3. I think you´re right about music, although for me it´s very much about the voice of a singer. But good literature has the same effect on me. It´s more difficult with art (as in paintings and the like) and I often tell people that I´m not much of an art person, which doesn´t mean that I don´t like any but that it doesn´t impact me emotionally as much as literature or music.

  4. I agree. If someone's voice is harsh,or just not to your liking, then the song they are singing shall never move you.

    I think that a lot of people feel the same way as you do about art and I wonder what it is, are we just exposed to less art as we grow up, is it seen as elitist or do people generally just not respond as emotionally to visual stimuli as they do to a melody? It's really interesting!