Rock music as it is known today is a widely popular musical art form that has evolved considerably resulting in the development of different types of rock music. Ranging from Pop Punk from artists such as Avril Lavigne to Rap Rock from Eminem, Synth-rock from Skrillex, Hard Rock from bands such as Led Zepplin and AC/DC to Soft Rock music from bands such as The Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It is due to its different incarnations that defining rock music in its entirety is quite difficult due to the necessity of understanding how it has evolved and the different styles that are present within this genre. One of the main questions though regarding rock music is whether or not it is a rational type of art form. While it is considered an art form due to its origin as a type of musical genre that is developed and interpreted by various artists, the fact remains that the sheer level of diversity inherent in its development coupled with the fact that many types of rock music are considered wayward and simply chaotic (i.e. the band KISS), has cast considerable doubt as to whether or not rock music follows a rational means of development and output.
The main philosophy behind rock music is freedom, it encourages people to focus on the development of the self through exploration and understanding that the social structures that they adhere to at the present are not entirely all that there is to living. Such a philosophical outlook was originally anti-establishment in origin in that it focused more on rebellion against authority, however, as the music evolved its inherent philosophy evolved with it. While it may be true that rock music at the present, as exemplified by Synth-rock and artists such as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, has considerably devolved the genre due to their focus on appealing primarily to their teen fans through commercialized songs that focus on romance, the fact remains that a vast majority of present-day rock songs still focus on a variety of social issues and personal experiences that this musical genre attempts to express through song. It should be noted though that through its evolution, rock music has incorporated several elements from genres such as rhythm and blues and country music, however, at its core, the music still focuses on exemplifying the experiences of the “self” and the need for freedom from societal ties that bind people into prisons of their own making.
Understanding Rationality in Art
The concept of rationality in art was defined by Moore (2012) as being the result of three specific factors, namely:
- Organization. An art form must have a certain degree of organization behind it whether in the concept of creation, design elements, or means by which the art is produced. This entails the art form being developed as having a certain set of “rules” that it follows resulting in a completed piece of art. For example, different categories are ascribed to paintings (i.e. classical, abstract, modern, interpretative, landscape, etc.) (Moore, 2441-2452). These are meant to denote the stylistic elements inherent within a particular piece of art. Rationality in an art form in this particular case entails that a piece of art adheres to the organizational structure of rules inherent in the style that was chosen by the artist (Mumford, 17-19). For example, in the case of landscape art, an artist is expected to produce a landscape based on his method of interpretation; however, the end product should still be a landscape that can be recognized as such by the viewer (Moore, 2441-2452). To suddenly change the stylistic elements from a landscape-based painting to one that incorporates abstract art, for instance, can be considered as both disorganized and illogical since it strays from the intended organizational structure of that particular piece. Based on this, it can be seen that the concept of art is an adherence to a chosen set of stylistic elements which incorporates the personal interpretation of the artist resulting in a unique type of artistic output. Thus, rationality in any art form is based on how well it adheres to the stylistic elements that are inherent in that particular form of art. When examining the case of rock music, it can be seen that there is a certain level of organization inherent in its creation (at least in the case of good rock music produced by talented professionals). There is an adherence to tonal symmetry, the application of complimenting lyrics and timings in the production of music as well as the incorporation of a planned layout of the song’s structure and how it is meant to be played. This denotes a considerable degree of organizational implementation from concept to output. By implementing the definition of rationality in art by Moore (2012) and utilizing it in this description of the process that goes into rock music, one assumption that can be developed is that due to how rock music is created and the processes that go into its output, rock music can be considered as a rational type of art since it adheres to an intended organizational structure.
- Continuity. Popescu (2009) defines rational art as having continuity from onset to completion wherein it follows the intended output it was supposed to develop into. While similar to the case of organization in art as explained by Moore (2012), continuity is somewhat different in that it focuses more on the outcome of the work rather than on the process that went into it (Popescu, 201). For example, if a sculptor was creating a statue meant to mimic the human form and this was their intended outcome, it would not be rational to start with the intent of creating a human and end up changing your mind halfway and creating a centaur instead (i.e. a creature with a human torso but the body and legs of a horse). Unless the intended purpose from the onset was to create a centaur, creating one when the goal was to create a human is the mark of an irrational piece of work. This is all the more exemplified within the context of music wherein the tonal quality and lyrics found in many songs follow a predetermined layout and structure. Rock music in particular, despite its cacophony of different lyrics and tones utilized, has a certain degree of continuity, repetitive tones, and pitches in the various popular songs that have been created within this genre of music. Popescu (2009) explains that repetitiveness in music (rock or otherwise) is an inherently necessary quality due to the need to incorporate harmony into the produced musical output. Popescu goes on to explain that audience appeal to music is based on continuity from start to finish and is one of the reasons why songs do not just jump from one sent of tones and notes to another without some means of repetition being incorporated into them. This is one of the characteristics inherent in many different types of musical genres and can be considered as a characteristic of “proper” music. Even modern-day incarnations of music such as Dubstep (i.e. a series of technology-based music) incorporate considerable levels of repetition and continuity into the music produced. It is based on this that when taking into consideration the definition of “proper” music along with the description of Popescu regarding the necessity of continuity in the art for it to be considered rational, rock music can be assumed as being a type of rational art. This is due to how many rock songs produced by professional artists follow continuity and repetition in how a song is produced and played.
- Intended purpose, goal, and message. Through the work of Ross (1908), it is explained that any form of art must have a clear intended purpose, a type of goal, or an intended message for it to be considered rational. At times abstract art is considered an irrational work of art since the intended purpose, goal, or message within the art itself is often not immediately apparent resulting in the necessity of deep introspection and an understanding of the time it was created and of the artist to understand the intended purpose of the work (Ross, 721-728). The same can be said for music wherein the produced output must have an intended purpose, goal, or message to be considered rational. To better understand irrationality in music, one way of doing so is to examine two different poems which showcase rational and irrational forms of writing to understand the difference between the two. The main theme in the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, is an argument to fight against the encroaching arms of death. This may be due to unresolved issues, the love of a son for his father, or an assortment of other factors that are not evident within the poem itself. Other interesting symbols utilized throughout the poem are references to day and night as well as lightning and meteors. This is particularly interesting to take note of since such methods of symbolism imply that the author acknowledges that all life must end yet before it does it must do so in a spectacular fashion. This shows a rational method of construction in an art form with an intended purpose of reflecting upon death. Thus, if rock and roll music is to be considered rational, it should have an intended purpose in what sort of emotion or memory it is attempting to coerce from the listener. When examining the Love Song by T.S. Elliot, one cannot help but think that the author wrote it while he was drunk or not in his right state of mind. While seemingly rational, the intended purpose, goal, or message of the poem is not immediately apparent which can be an argument towards classifying it as irrational. What these two examples show is that an art form can have different iterations which can be described as being rational or irrational. In the context of rock music, most of its songs can be seen as having an intended message which classifies it as a rational form of art, however, some of its iterations are simply nonsensical and do not make sense. However, as seen in the differences between the two poems that have been shown, the rationality or irrationality of an art form should not be determined based on a few examples, rather, on the art form as a whole. In the end, rock music can be described as a rational type of art.
Moore, Henrietta L. “Laughing Out Loud: Art, Culture, And Fantasy.” Cardozo Law Review 33.6 (2012): 2441-2452. Print.
Mumford, Lewis. “Irrational Elements In Art And Politics.” New Republic 130.15 (1954): 17-19. Print.
Popescu, Adina. “Rational/Irrational.” Artforum International 47.8 (2009): 201. Print.
Ross, Edward Alsworth. “Rational Imitation.” American Journal Of Sociology 13.6 (1908): 721-728. Print.