If youth were not ignorant and timid, civilization would be impossible.

Honoré de Balzac in daguerrotype

It has forgotten art’s lofty mission: instead of raising the crowd to its level, it has lowered itself to the crowd’s.

So says Honoré de Balzac, referring to the populist nature of the Italian music contemporary to the looming titular character in his Gambara. It’s an interesting sentiment, and one which I can well see defining the age-old question: what is art?

I like that it’s referring to music, for a start. This is something I can get my teeth into. And it segues nicely from the preceding Unknown Masterpiece in my edition, apparently Balzac’s desire. Both deal with the private madness and obsession of art, with perspective and opinion as central themes. I love the way that the mission of art is described here, not to dumb itself down to meet the simple tastes of the great unwashed proletariat, but to raise their level of expectation higher, to improve them. Art should make people better, should make them more aware and give them more desire to grow and become better.

Such was Balzac’s opinion, or at least that of Count Andrea Marcosini. And I’m inclined to agree. Art, in all it’s forms, should not be lowest common denominator. Though those in the book conducting this conversation were derided, sometimes I think it’s acceptable to take a subjective, hardline approach to this sort of thing. Music that is made to appeal to as large a demographic as possible is barely music any longer – that’s why X-Factor, American Idol et al, while entertaining, are essentially pointless. Music doesn’t have to be elite: witness deep southern soul, the music of the people (as Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan would probably have it), but it’s still wracked with emotion, with no edges shorn off to prevent certain subgroups getting upset.

Music shouldn’t be made for an elite, either, that’s just as bad as trying to appeal to any market area. Music should be made for its own sake, never dumbed-down or diluted, it is what it is and you have to make yourself better to appreciate it. I guess in essence that’s why hardcore music fans inevitably narrow their outlook so far that they can dismiss great things because they are more interested in searching out the better and the best, the Platonic ideal in their own chosen sphere. And that’s fine. It’s great. Art was never meant for the morons, the morons were meant to attain to the art, and that’s where the best work succeeds, and why I remain happily committed to slating sell-outs and frauds and Simon Cowell and faceless suits who churn out vacuous sounds for vacuous minds. I’m happy to remain pretentious, aloof and proud of the music I listen to, just like Marcosini, just like Gambara, just like Balzac.

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