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In Search of a New Aesthetic

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In Search of a New Aesthetic

I am so concerned with the problem of aesthetics because, in the last century, the overwhelming aesthetic principle has been, in the phrase of Ezra Pound: "Make it New!" That is, aesthetic quality has been almost exclusively based on technical innovation. Of course, over time, as technical innovation got more and more difficult (what do you do after Stockhausen, Cage and Kagel?), composers resorted more and more to gimmicks. Counter trends developed such as minimalism and however you want to describe what people like Arvo Pärt are doing--mystic minimalism?

The problem, as I see it, is that technical innovation is not an aesthetic principle. Simply not. And neither is the idea of music written to a political agenda such as environmentalism or gender equality. Aesthetics are aesthetics. But not necessarily "aesthetics" as defined by the 18th century philosophers who brought the term into general use.

I don't usually think of myself as a multiculturalist, but it turns out I might be. My search for a better aesthetic foundation has led me to the principles of Chinese and Japanese painting and woodcuts, to the Poetics of Aristotle and recently, to the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas. That might be a promising avenue because it links us to the earlier aesthetic practices of Western music. I notice that, according the Wikpedia article on Arvo Pärt:
When early works were banned by Soviet censors, Pärt entered the first of several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th to 16th centuries. 
The spirit of early European Polyphony informed the composition of Pärt's transitional Third Symphony (1971); thereafter he immersed himself in early music, reinvestigating the roots of Western music. He studied plainsong, Gregorian chant and the emergence of polyphony in the European Renaissance.
We may actually have to re-engage with the concept of Beauty, one of the transcendentals of the ancient Greeks and the Medieval philosophers. It's funny, the idea of Beauty, even when not capitalized, seems to be among the most terrifying to contemporary artists. It is associated with kitsch and shallow sentiment. However, for millennia, beauty was not only respectable, it was a cherished ideal. How odd that we chose to dismiss it. Of course the challenge is to create beauty without creating derivative, sentimental kitsch. But that is pretty much the eternal challenge of art anyway.

This is Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt:




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