Here I am linking to, and commenting on, Brian Olewnick’s blog, Just outside, and it isn’t to weigh in on his Vision Fest criticism.
He posts to recommend a couple of Korean music recordings, but does so with exceedingly prominent caveats. Actually the caveats take up more space than the recommendation.
I don’t know the first thing about traditional Korean music. Well, maybe I know a thing or two, but not very much and certainly not enough to even remotely tell whether a given performance is up to snuff.
I will say that I understand the urge to disqualify oneself before making an aesthetic judgement. If I say, “I like this,” then I open myself up for someone else to say, “but that stinks and you are an idiot.” If I say “I think I like this, but don’t really know enough to judge it,” then I am immune from any possible “you don’t know a kodo from a hole in the ground” comments.
So, if I report to some interested acquaintance that this music is “great”, it’s with the nagging knowledge that I’m basing this judgment entirely on my own history, my own superficial knowledge of the genre, not in any understanding of the music or culture from which it arose.
My own history is the only thing I can base any judgement on. If I don’t know the culture that produced a music, I can still enjoy the music, and there is no need for me to feel guilty for enjoying it without proper pedigree, or even recommending it without having completed my “Korean music for white guys” course.
Why do we feel that we need to be qualified to make a personal value judgement on art. If the art moves us, then it is good, at least to us. I have heard very spirited and very technically sloppy musical performances that were great, because of their spirit and soul, not because of the performers perfected skills. The whole New Orleans brass band industry survives on this theory (and much of the rest of the scene too).
This idea that we need to “understand” art to enjoy it properly is very dangerous. It is the perpetuation of this idea that keeps busy folks from the suburbs from discovering lots of great music and art. They are afraid that they will be called out as frauds because they haven’t done their time in the study hall of Bird, or Braxton, or whoever, when in reality those who desire to put up the walls of qualification are often the most fraudulent in terms of actually getting the real spiritual connection of the art.
I challenge us all to explore something we know nothing about, and go into it with open eyes and ears. Let the spirit of the creation get into you, and don’t be afraid to like it, even if you have no idea where it comes from or how it is made. Don’t worry about whether or not the insiders think it is up to snuff, just enjoy it, or don’t enjoy it, but know that your own taste qualifies you to make that judgement for yourself.