The Power of Music... do standards actually exist?

Posted by Andrew Groves | Posted in | Posted on Sunday, June 24, 2007

Music can be compelling, unique, or downright awful. Or... can it? What determines if music is essentially "good" or "bad?" (Just a quick note: Those quotation marks are to pacify any disagreeing readers' strong opinions.) If I decide to purposefully play my guitar with only two strings instead of the typical six, or drum on pots and pans instead of drums, is my music still "good?" How about an entire album of kazoo playing?

Often I drive home from work in the evenings to the tune of artists like Andrew Peterson, Caedmon's Call, and Derek Webb. Their albums offer something more substantive than the typical, overrated pop music pervading the airwaves today. "Good" music paints pictures, illustrates truth, and carries with it a significance yet undiscovered by most. I long for the times when I can get stuck at a railroad crossing just as a "good" song begins to play. A sense of fulfillment comes over me when a "good" song finishes just as I pull into the driveway of my house. Can "bad" music do that? I don't think so.

Now, I know what you skeptics are thinking. "Art should be judged subjectively... Who are you to say what music is 'good' or 'bad?'" My response to that argument would be to ask a simple question: How would you determine what music is "good" or "bad?" Most likely, your response would be that every individual makes that determination for themselves... i.e. music that's "good" for me may not be "good" for you. But that means that no music is "good" or "bad"... it's all just out there in musicland somewhere waiting to be categorized by someone's individual opinions. My kazoo playing is musically equal with a Beethoven symphony. But if I decide that mine is better, then it is... for me, at least. This flawed thinking cannot serve to judge music with a critical eye.

I'll end with this. I know that we all like different styles of music, and that's great. But some music is just plain "good" and some is just plain "bad." That doesn't mean we all have to like the same music, but we should all make an effort to recognize "good" music when we see it.

Comments Posted (3)

  1. Nice post Andrew- you're right to ask this question, and I think that while it's nice and fuzzy to say that art is subjective, objective standards do and must apply somewhere. Certainly Ben Folds, an artist I enjoy and one that is very talented, still doesn't compare to Handel's Messiah. I loved Live Free or Die Hard but it's no Citizen Kane! Poop smeared on a canvas does not equal the painting on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. Is there room for interpretation? Certainly, and some people don't like the things listed above. However, how art makes us feel is only one component of what makes it "good." It's important to remember that just because defining what "good art" is means a difficult process that excludes or hurts the feelings of some doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. Bottom line, some art is wonderful and beautiful, and some of it is just bad, and the sooner we stop worrying about offending people's tastes, the sooner we will begin to recover the true value of good art. Not every viewpoint is valid. It's worth considering as well that the focus of art has a great deal to do with it's value; art that focuses on truth and the great works of God, on his holiness and omnipotence and portrays that beautifully and accuratelly, this is the art that we should be filling our hearts and minds with.

  2. Thanks for the insight, Jonathan... although you mispelled the word ACCURATELY near the end.

  3. And only you would be the one to pick up on the misspelling of words. Typical child of an English teacher.