Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Music Isn't a Fine Art?

"Many birds...and many sea shells are beauties in themselves...So also delineation a la grecque, foliage for borders or wall-papers, mean nothing in themselves; they represent nothing...and are free beauties.  We can refer to the same class...in music phantasies, and in fact all music without words."
-Emanual Kant, Critique of Judgement

Obviously Kant viewed music without words as a certain kind of beauty, a beauty of the senses, but a beauty without meaning.  This lead him to believe that music was not a fine art.  I believe today a few people would heartily disagree with this idea.  I actually have a friend going to DePauw university who is majoring in Music Education.  She is currently studying Elgar's Enigma Variations and the meaning, or story, that he is trying to tell in music without words.  True, music tends to evoke more emotions as opposed to critical thinking inspired by other 'fine arts', but there is still a valid thought process required to understand and make beautiful musical compositions. So, in my personal opinion, music can be considered a fine art, but maybe it's just really low on the totem pole of fine arts.

Thoughts? Opinions? Arguments?


  1. Nice post, Michaela. Kant on (instrumental) music presents an interesting conundrum, as he regards it as both capable of great beauty and, as you point out, strictly speaking "meaningless" because it is incapable of expressing "aesthetic ideas." Interestingly, when Kant discusses birdsong he seems to suggest that we enjoy it because we hear a kind of meaning in it (such as the bird being contented or cheerful). I suppose the problem is that such a projection of meaning is entirely indeterminate. John Cage, by the way, approves of Kant's view of beauty as "purposiveness without purpose" and completely rejects the notion that music should attempt to express something.

  2. Since I'm not the biggest fan of instrumental music, I tend to lean towards that thought process of music being meaningless. However, maybe Scharfstein is inspiring me, and I'm trying to keep a more open mind. So I got to thinking, composers and musicians put a great deal of effort and emotion into their work, and that often comes through. Whenever you watch a conductor, you can see how much emotion they put in to unifying all the instruments. Can that be grouped into the "flow" that Scharfstein describes most artists getting lost in? Can someone's "genius" only take the physical form of painting or sculpting?