Take a picture, sweetie; I ain’t got time to waste

Romantic music had Gothic landscapes. Symphonic jazz had Art Deco. Postwar serialism had Abstract Expressionism. (Bebop had it, too.) Hip-hop had graffiti. Surf rock had Ed “Big Daddy” Roth; psychedelic rock had Rick Griffin. Minimalism had minimalism. Expressionism had expressionism. Impressionism had impressionism.

So here’s today’s exercise in prognostication: what will be the visual artistic style that history will glue to the current era of new music, post-minimalism, non-pop, the new eclecticism, whatever you want to call it? Keep in mind that there doesn’t necessarily need to be any direct connection (many of the early graffiti artists in 1970s New York weren’t even aware of hip-hop or rap) and that, yes, today’s plethora of styles will inevitably be shoehorned into a crude generalization (the association between the 1950s and serialism, for example, ignores Barber, Poulenc, late Hindemith, early Rorem, Cage, etc., etc.). So what’ll it be? Conceptual installations? Video? Graphic novels? Damien Hirst? Komar and Melamid? Gerhard Richter? Jeff Koons? None of the above?

You could also probably divide musicians, composers especially, into those of us who like to think about this sort of thing and those who couldn’t possibly care less. I personally enjoy pondering the historical perception (and future historical perception) of music because that’s part of what attracted me to classical music in the first place: the idea that there was a repertoire that was completely of its own time and place, but had the possibility to be reinterpreted for each subsequent era and yet remain vital. And yet so much of the music I love was created by artists who regarded the past as deadweight baggage to be pitched overboard in the interests of speed and navigability. It works the other way around, too: the scorched-earth Boulez took his cues from the early-music-editing Webern, for instance.

It’s odd that music and the plastic arts are always paired up in terms of stylistic designations—the relationship between music and literary movements has always struck me as both temporally and intellectually closer. Then again, music is pretty odd all by itself, so what’s the use of getting worked up about it at this late date, right? So make a frame out of your fingers and see what you see—Gehry or Grand Theft Auto?


  1. Whatever happens, we will see it in a documentary one day when we are old and complain that they got it completely wrong. Will today’s trends even count? Or will history lose us between turn of the century holy minimalism and whatever is coming next?I’ve got it: something deep, worthy and angsty sounding playing over film of the World Trade Center. That’s us pinned. Someone will come along later and find the music to match the image for us.

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