A MODERN UNDERSTANDING OF ART
When I was 16 years old, I had listened to the complete cycle of the 7 symphonies of Sibelius. At this young age I had a small understanding of work that a had taken a man a lifetime to accomplish. It was mind boggling.
Now at age 57, I only just realized after watching the marvelous TV program "Howard Goodall's Big Bangs" that I was in the right place at the right time: the 1950s was when recording technology, at least for long classical pieces, came of age.
Even wealthy aristocrats rarely heard the same piece twice in a year when they went to live concerts in Paris or Vienna in the 1700s or 1800s. Here I was a poor student in 1960 who was able to buy inexpensive long playing recordings of a composer's work and listen to them over and over.
The technology is important. Recordings had been getting better since Edison's invention of recorded sound in the late 1800s. But the short duration made them more appropriate for popular songs or opera arias. Prior to the early 1950s there were some excellent classical recordings, but the state-of-the-art 78s were a chore to constantly switch after a few minutes -- plus having to change records broke up the continuity of the music. When I started listening to classical music in the 1950s good long playing recordings had finally become available followed closely by the invention of stereo.
For me Sibelius was just the beginning. He showed me that there was a door into the world of an entire artist's work. Next I tackled Beethoven whose body of music was much larger than that of Sibelius. Yet for just a few dollars I could buy a complete set of "Vox Boxes" of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas.
I am seeing the same thing happen now with film. When I was growing up, you either saw a movie when it came out or you missed it. Sometimes in the big cities you would find a festival which repeated older work but it was rare and you still had to show up on time!
Now I simply rent a video, or even record a movie off cable. I can create a library of a certain actor. I can study the range of work of a particular director. I can play a favorite movie over and over and catch all the nuances I would have missed. How many times can you watch The Godfather or North by Northwest? I don't think there is a limit.
This also holds true for painting. I own inexpensive books that contain quality reprints of much of an artist's output. I am able to study the complete work of Monet or Van Gogh or Pollock. Even more intriguing is that I can be familiar with an entire era or movement such as the Impressionists or Moderns. So in addition to knowing one artist's work, I can know a number and understand how different ones fit and relate.
Now, of course, none of this is perfect. Movies look much better on the big screen. A good live concert is a joy to experience. And to see a real Van Gogh in front of you is something you will never forget.
Nevertheless, when I go to a live concert and hear a Sibelius symphony, I have the pleasure and the advantage of being very familiar with the work. There is nothing like seeing real paintings, but how often do we get the opportunity to see a full retrospective?
I had always assumed that interested people in any period could do what I have done, and yet it is a gift of our time.
Those who want can now gain a perspective and have a in-depth understanding of the incredible work that has lead to and created our modern age.