You are in Vineland, Ontario at a fruit farm in late August. Summer is in full swing. The birds are out. The fragrant smell of peaches is in the air. These are yellow-flesh peaches with more of a tang of the clingstone variety, perfect for jams and pastries. Nearby, you see apples flying into a large bin in the back of a pickup for processing. Harvest season has fully arrived. There is the sound of machinery in the distance at the barn cleaning and preparing the produce for the market. On the radio you can hear St. Catharine’s Newstalk CKTB 610 AM. Today is a break from the daily news for a poutpourri of Glenn Gould, Justin Bieber, Bill Street, and Celine Dion. Today, it is your job to pick the peaches. You have to take care not to pick unripe peaches because they only get soft—unlike bananas, they never ripen with time. Most importantly of course, you learn to trust your nose and not your eyes. If it is fragrant, it will be ready. You have to work smart and fast because you’re on the clock while make sure you don’t damage the tender flesh; peaches dent quite easily and your boss is watching.
When you finish your day, you take your pay and say goodbye to your coworkers. You also took something a little extra: 4 ripe peaches. When you get home, you promptly deliver them to your mother. The next day when you get home from work there is nothing less than a rich, succulent, steaming peach pie cooling off on the window pane. It’s enormous. The crust has that golden brown color between too much and too little with criss-cross layers just like the italian artisan chefs would bake a pie. There’s enough butter to show on your teeth. The kitchen smell of cinnamon and peaches is overwhelming.
The word is synthesis: the combination of ingredients to form a creation or system that could not exist without each individual component. Noone would, under normal circumstances, eat a stick of butter or snort cinnamon together on a plate. In like kind, eating a peach is wonderful, but the experience of eating peach pie with vanilla ice cream is completely distinct. A baking transformation, thanks to each individual ingredient, has occurred. It’s unique in its own right, but still follows basic human taste preferences.
The world of the arts is quite similar. The individual, whether that be the painter, composer, or performer, is the oven. It is their job to observe and process all these sensory inputs we have in life and generate something that synthesizes, or creates a reflection of those moments. The result, much like a peach pie, is complex and requires practice to perfect. It cannot be separated back into its original components but stands on its own. Sometimes, highly talented people come together to work and perform. They are from different backgrounds, but most importantly they have different aesthetics. They perform on a straightforward level, and each does what they excel at to wildly popular acclaim. The public oohs and ahs about the exotic multi-cultural affect of these cosmopolitan geniuses.
They’re completely wrong.
I will not argue that they have no human or emotional appeal. To the contrary, this is often their strongest suit. Their simplistic use of various art forms is easy to recognize and even easier to appreciate. It’s fun and obvious. What I would argue, however, is that such artists do a disservice to the general public by taking advantage of clichés and jamming them together into the limelight as if they are creating something new and elaborate. Before anything else, art must have an aesthetic. A Bach courante needs a strong downbeat so people can dance to it. Ellington absolutely must swing. Being new and inventive is overrated.
Here are three examples of cheap commercialized art.
1. Pub Citroën DS5 2011-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVEirvEH-w4
This is a French car commercial promoting Citroën’s latest model, the half hybrid, half diesel DS5. The ad consists of the famous Marilyn Manson song from his 2003 album, “The Age of the Grotesque,” played against images of a classical orchestra concert. The conductor jumps around, the cellists are lively. Duo persona, duo car, duo bologna.
2. Spike Jonze Presents Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzT_-kkCjOk
Here we have the Saint-Saens cello solo, Le Cygne (the swan), from the 13th movement of the Carnival of the Animals played by one of the legendary cellists of our time, Yo-Yo Ma. His music is interpreted by Memphis-born hipster Charles Riley A.K.A Lil Buck. Each are incredible, together quite forgettable.
3. Ping pong pour piano et koto-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwBaI4744PU
Exhibit C: 21st-century composer François Rossé plays newage tearjerker with Mieko Miyazaki. When I listen to this video, I find myself transported to a different time when life made simple sense. Then I open my eyes and realize a traditional Japanese music medium is being manipulated into the service of a contemporary art snobfest. There is no coherence here, only forced originality and a stillborn respect for the arts.
When I was in college in Tulsa, Okla., my favorite (non-alcoholic) drink was the Naked fruit juice. Their slogan was too long to remember—”We only add the best, all-natural ingredients to our juice. Oh, and a label.” Nevertheless, it’s a healthy breakfast for people on the go (or late to class) and costs about $5 a bottle. With a peach pie, the cost is more significant. A legitimate slice at any decent restaurant could run you $8. Why is it that the cost of synthesis can be more easily recognized in our cuisine than our cultural taste?