Origin of Art and Esthetic Perception

01 January 1982
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The topic for the 1982 Taos Aesthetics Institute was the "Origin of Art and Esthetic Perception". The composer-in-residence that year, Mauldin responded by quoting and commenting on Leonard Meyer.

The topic for the 1982 Taos Aesthetics Institute was the "Origin of Art and Esthetic Perception". The composer-in-residence that year, Mauldin responded by quoting and commenting on Leonard Meyer.


Is music a pleasurable, even therapeutic, aesthetic activity of a temporal nature, or a reflection of life, with its tensions--many unresolved--and its search for meaning and value?  Could it not be both at the same time?

According to Hebb, the difference between pleasant and unpleasant emotions lies in the fact that pleasant emotions...are always resolved.  They depend on 'first arousing apprehension, then dispelling it.'  But were this actually the case, we could only know whether an emotion were pleasant or unpleasant after it was over.  Yet, surely, we know more than this while we are experiencing affect.  The pleasantness of an emotion seems to lie not so much in the fact of resolution itself as in the belief in resolution--the knowledge, whether true or false, that there will be a resolution.  
-EMOTION AND MEANING IN MUSIC, L. Meyer, p. 19

...in everyday experience the tensions created by the inhibition of tendencies often go unresolved.  They are merely dissipated in the press of irrelevant events.  In this sense daily experience is meaningless and accidental.  In art inhibition of tendency becomes meaningful because the relationship between the tendency and its necessary resolution is made explicit and apparent.  Tendencies do not simply cease to exist: they are resolved, they conclude.  
-EMOTION AND MEANING IN MUSIC, L. Meyer, p. 23

Perhaps part of the creative process of being a composer is to "play" with that belief in resolution, satisfying it in part, or part of the time, but thwarting or delaying the resolution (or choosing to merely "dissipate" the musical tension) at other times.

Music does "reflect" experience (for example, in sonata-allegro form by the slight change in the thematic materials in the recapitulation--after the "experiences" that the themes have had in the development section).  But, perhaps music is also an attempt to "change" experience, since our esthetic perception of it can give us a "wordless" but powerful direction--only sensed, yet somehow known.