Old Words #8: Music and Social Change

Re-reading this text, it struck me as rather dense, perhaps because it deals with questions I have thought about for many years and might have needed more pace and time to explain fully. It’s mostly concerned with the false assumptions about art and people that lead funders (and often artists) to conceive, plan and evaluate arts projects in ways that are misleading or worse. At the heart of it is Socrates’ undeniable perception that ‘it’s beyond [people’s] capacity to make anyone either wise or foolish’ (in Crito). Artists don’t control the outcomes of their creative activity, thank goodness, but too often they behave as if they did, with very problematic results. The text questions the very idea of ‘impact’, and the inequality it embodies. It concludes by making a case for moving towards probability as a way to monitor and understand the outcomes of creative work.

Here’s an extract about the subjectivity of artistic experience – not from me, but from E. M. Forster:

It will be generally admitted that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the most sub- lime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it. Whether you are like Mrs. Munt, and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come–of course, not so as to disturb the others–; or like Helen, who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music’s flood; or like Margaret, who can only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed in counterpoint, and holds the full score open on his knee; or like their cousin, Fraulein Mosebach, who remembers all the time that Beethoven is ‘echt Deutsch’; or like Fraulein Mosebach’s young man, who can remember nothing but Fraulein Mosebach; in any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid, and you are bound to ad- mit that such a noise is cheap at two shillings.5

E. M Forster, Howards End 1910