I was at a jazz club yesterday listening to mediocre jazz. I have to confess up front that I don’t like modern jazz at all since I find it aimless and unstructured. It occurred to me that, over the past 500 years, there’s been a dramatic decline in structure in the world of arts. Here are a few examples, which I’ve put beneath the fold, because the images and videos take a lot of space.
In painting, we went from this:
We see exactly the same trend in classical music as we go from, say, Bach:
To Phillip Glass:
And that decline in structure is mirrored in popular music, from the traditional melodies of the Civil War:
To the early years of the jazz/swing era:
To the kind of stuff I saw last night:
Still doubting? Think about the parallel changes in popular dance, starting with the formal line dances that were the norm in England (and America) more than two hundred years ago:
Then we hit the jazz era:
And, of course, our own time:
I could go on and on. There are also parallels in the literary world (from Gibbons, to Virginia Wolfe, to Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac). It’s obvious that the increasing lack of structure in our world is not a product of the modern era, but reflects a very, very slow change that has taken place over hundreds of years. As someone who likes comfortable shoes and soft clothing, and who is very informal generally, I can’t say that I mind too much (at least if I’m not forced to listen to jazz or modern symphonies). However, I can’t help but wonder what it portends. Where do we go from here? Is there even less formality possible in all these areas, or are we at the bottom of the pendulum’s 500 year fall, with our only societal option being to head back to more structure and formality?
I have no answers, of course, but these thoughts did keep me from lapsing into a painful coma induced by last night’s show.
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