Posted on “Vanishing Critical Engagement in the Arts and Musical Differentiation”

Composer and pianist STEFAN LITWIN joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor to discuss the contemporary situation of music with MA students and faculty at Critical Theory and the Arts at SVA NYC.

A peculiarity of the contemporary situation in the visual arts as much as in music–and there is an exactly homologous situation in the political situation of the nation–is that, while strong feelings and no less intense opposing tendencies are involved, thinking controversy is rarely engaged. There are, of course, exceptions. But in public, the effort to talk seriously and discerningly is often met with outright distress, as if a presumed treaty and solidarity has been unfairly shattered.

Why the situation is thus, is not obvious. But one aspect is clear: the terms and concepts in which controversy was once joined have withered. They seem archaic, forgotten, and wearingly inapposite. The struggle between ‘modernism’ and ‘post-modernism,’ for instance–to take several of the most obvious–or “representational” versus “non-representational” art, not only did take place a century ago, but might as well have happened many centuries ago.

In music, similarly, the struggle over “popular” and “classical” music—words at whose mention generations of critics once tumbled to the grappling mat to struggle over the perceived fate of music—-are now inertly obscure. Which is “popular,” which is “classical” music? What even can be presumed of the idea of “music” at all? We could barely say what “radio” is, let alone what “music” is.

Perhaps this vanishing of a critical language amounts to an achievement and an arrival at the proverbial open, Elysian fields of making and fashioning, where anything might happen and does. Or, perhaps, it represents an absolute loss of tension in what anyone is prepared to think or make. Certainly, this is not a question to be answered in any single afternoon.

But, all the same, is it possible, in this loss of critical language, to make distinctions in–in this case–musical composition? What are the possibilities for critical perception that can be made by a listening, examining, musical sensorium and intelligence keyed to nothing else than an impulse for, and obligation to, musical differentiation?

This is the question that composer and pianist, STEFAN LITWIN will consider when he joins program chair, Robert Hullot-Kentor for a discussion with faculty and students in the program in Critical Theory and the Arts, this October.

What the department looks like
Full program description
Paul Chan interviews Robert Hullot-Kentor
Breixo Viejo interviews Robert Hullot-Kentor about the One-Year MA Program