I don't know if it still happens, but when I was starting my so called professional life in the big city, a small detachment of youngish folks would come into the office bearing some merchandise (usually leather goods, if I remember correctly) and tell us that their boss wanted to help us out by giving us a good deal or some such palaver. One Friday afternoon, it was always Friday afternoon, such a crew came into our offices bearing copies of paintings that you have probably seen prints of, but might not know the names or titles, though the term impressionist could cross your mind. No one bit and they headed toward the elevator to leave as I was going in the same direction to get to our other floor. I was cornered as the leader of the pack began a strong sales pitch on his one victim.
Now, I am ashamed to say, as a young man, I was a rude and obstreperous fellow. In one area of my life, however, I have always tried to be unfailingly polite. Telemarketers, salespeople and the like I have always done my best to indulge. Call me up at dinnertime and offer me a mortgage and I will apologize that mine is paid off and wish you every success. I know such people are not earning big bucks and for some reason unknown to myself, feel compassion for them.
Trapped as I was, I wanted to escape with manners intact. So when the pitch got to the point where I was actually asked if I wanted to buy, it would be important to not hurt their feelings while ending the sales pitch. My response, "Nah, I hate art."
Their first reaction was a look of shock. I am certain no one ever had said that to them before. We are a nation of philistines, but it is criminal to admit it. As I kept a wide grin on my face, they quickly realized I was having them on and each actually let out a small guffaw and I was able to exit the elevator on good terms.
so why am I prattling on about this. Well, Asia Times columnist, Spengler went on about it too and shallow fellow that I am, I take that as vindication. His January 30 article, Admit it - you really hate modern art, spoke truth to art.
When I was in junior high, Pablo Picasso donated a painting to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. On some school field trip, I got to see his great work. Wishing to appear sophisticated, well, not completely unsophisticated, I kept my mouth shut. I knew it was junk not because I know art, but because it looked like something I might have painted in the parochial school art class when they told you to do your best because your work might be picked to be exhibited and judged at the Diocesan school art fair. My efforts were never chosen.
Herr Spengler avers that people are okay with going to a museum and passing by the work of such heavy hitters as Pollock and Picasso and others as they don't have to stay all that long. Not so with modern atonal music. Spend a bundle to hear some atonal masterpiece and you are stuck. Get up to leave and you brand yourself as a yokel. Better to just stay at home and rearrange your sock drawer.
Of course, Spengler is talking about Arnold Schoenberg, pioneer and poster boy for atonality. Now all I had ever heard by Arnie, until a few years ago, was Verklärte Nacht as that is all that is ever played on the Boston commercial classical radio station. To be honest, though they play it periodically, I have no memory of it. Then again my knowledge of the arts would make a dilettante look serious.
A few years ago, a local NPR station, an outlet of our nation's ministry of information, played your man's opus magnus, Moses und Aron. There was, of course, no dearth of pretentious gushing. Again, I am no expert, but does Alberto Gonzalez know about this? Forget waterboarding, just expose the malefactors to this one opera. They will soon be singing their own arias.
Spengler ties the decline in Symphony attendance to the muted loathing of modern music. If that is so, James Levine, successor to Seiji Ozawa as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, must be a kamikaze as he has taken it as a mission to promote Schoenberg. Banzai.
Speaking of pretentious gushing, I would like to say, last week, the Ministry of Information, outdid itself, but, I can't. It is their practice to highlight some mediocrity as something special. You know, "cutting edge," "Ahead of his/her time." This time it was a poor, dead English guy named Nick Drake. There must be something culturally backward about me, as I never heard of him. Supposedly, he is enjoying a revival. Of course, If he is actually enjoying it, one cannot say. The term revival is wrong as well as he never had much of a vival to have a re of to begin with. They went on about his sad, depressed, druggie life and how it effected his art. I do tend to get hooked by these stories. Then, they play the music and the spell is broken.
It is not that NPR is completely horrible. The stations do have some great music and their treatment of news is better than the five seconds newsradio will give a story, though the bias is obvious a mile away. Most of my countrymen and women believe that classical music is on the oldies stations, but at least they are not snooty about it. Spotlighting a Nick Drake or, say, a Suzanne Vega as high culture is a joke. NPR is welfare for a section of the middle class that perceives itself an intelligentsia, and who am I to judge.