Thursday, April 06, 2006
You Can't Take it With You - So Where Does it Go?
Our new ex-neighbor, an old painter of 80 something years, is now in a nursing home. Her apartment is being emptied; the work of her life is being temporarily stored in the basement of our shared Brooklyn Heights 19th century mansion. This is more than expected. We expected to see hundreds of paintings, drawings, prints tossed dis-organized and pitifully on the street in ready to pick up string-tied masses. We expected to see a brief flurry of interest as our neighbors 'discovered' that the old lady had been an interesting, but repetitious painter of Pierrots, carnival scenes, nudes, and quasi-surrealist assemblages of spooky characters. We expected a brief outcry finding all these hundreds of works on the street and then we expected silence.
As somebody who himself has tossed years of paintings into the garbage because I had to leave town (after I left the Juilliard Masters program I was, for a period, an abstract painter) it tears at the soul to see art dispensed as garbage.
When I heard the American Music Center was going to abandon its role as a musical archivist it became clear to me that American composers would now also, time and again, find their life's work on the street. When our musical culture has absolutely no way of filtering through the tens of thousands of compositional works created each year, how can we be sure that the absolutely astounding works of music that SOMEBODY is writing are preserved and enjoyed by the future.
On the one hand, we have digital archiving solutions, like Archive.org, that are great for recordings, but I'm not sure about scores. There are score archives, such as Werner Icking's score archive, but there is no guarantee that these will be maintained. I believe we need some organization to commit to creating a giant and presumably everlasting digital archive of sheet music. Possibly, Archive.org is doing this already, but the issue remains, how can we be sure, that the great works of our 21st century are maintained.
I'm sure there are those that will say, if the work has failed to garner sufficient resources to be preserved, then so be it. But that to me seems defeatist if not downright delusional, believing that our musical systems equitably judge quality is a mind-boggling assertion.
Mrs. Dunning worked hard her whole life on art that some might think is beautiful. I'm sure that in 6 months, the landlord will say, 'Well, we couldn't find anybody to take it - put it out on the street.' Will your neighbors find your music, or maybe an old computer filled with your life's work on the street someday? Waiting to be digested into meaninglessness? Does it matter? Why does it matter?