5.0 out of 5 stars
Fear of Art, Love of Music, Sept. 29 2011
'Fear of Music' made me splutter cartoon bubbles at David Stubbs: 'What the!.. Why you!..' It begins with the sub-title 'Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen.' I mean, that's not true is it? Or if it is then it's like comparing wine with beer, essentially irrelevant. I'd love the opportunity to invite Stubbs for a pint so I can wave my arms about while I tell him how wrong, wrong, WRONG, he (mostly) is. Having said that, this is a book I'd unhesitatingly recommend, especially for anyone teaching art or music at senior high-school or first year university level as it's one of the most stimulating introductions to aesthetics you could wish for.
And in all honesty he's right, more of us probably do 'get' more out of Rothko's works, than those of Karlheinz Stockhausen. But would it still be true if the comparison was with Mark Tobey rather than Mark Rothko? Or if Rothko was compared with Gavin Bryars? It's the broader assertion, that modern and post-modern art has greater acceptance than experimental music of a similar period that I, and others, would dispute. There is also the implication ' which in fairness is inferred not stated ' that in the broadest sense the visual arts are held in higher public regard than music. I'd assert this is empirically not true. A decent music blog will have no shortage of hits but a similar quality art site generates tumbleweed. Also how many millionaire visual artists as opposed to musicians has our culture created in the past half century? Is it any easier for a painter or potter to make a name for himself, or even a living, than it is for a musician? Stubbs may rightly say that his book's scope is more specific, yet the duality he sets up in it's title invites such conclusions at the same as it obliquely subverts his thesis, 'Fear of Music' after all is an album by Talking Heads, are many titles of a paintings so readily recognisable? Nevertheless this is a book that's coherent, provocative and exceedingly well written (though it could use a copy-edit) Stubbs overview of 20th century experimental music is worth the price of admission alone. That is where his passion lies and it shows. He's curious and knowledgable about art but advocates for music and obviously cares deeply about it. I'm maybe the opposite and, at bottom, it's where our differences lie. After all books on the arts are essentially propositions and disagreeing with them is half the fun. Once again if you want to start an argument in a student bar or energise a classroom then 'Fear of Music' is an unbeatable catalyst.