The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 5

Artistic Talk about the Arts

The academic study of the humanities is full of secondary and tertiary talk about the arts, but there is more than one way to comment about the arts. During the writing of this essay, I have been enjoying the performances of pianist Valentina Lisitsa. In a video, while hearing Lisitsa play Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (18th variation), she tells the story of meeting an old man after one of her concert performances. He told her that he played in an orchestra when Rachmaninoff played with them. After the concert, the man went up to Rachmaninoff and paid him a complement saying that the piece they played was the most wonderful piece of 20th century music. Rachmaninoff replied (quoting Lisitsa's telling), "This is not 20th century music. This is my commentary on 20th century music."

Artistic talk about the arts is different. There is quite a difference in the knowledge of the aesthetic invoked by Rachmaninoff's commentary on twentieth century music and that, which is brought into being from the reading of a PhD dissertation. Yet, it is important to note that the propagation of commentary, which Steiner sees in a negative light, is not unique to academic writing. The propagation of academic commentary has an artistic analogue. Artists often speak with pride about their artistic influences. Rachmaninoff's artistic commentary on 20th century music has influenced other composers and musicians in their artistic creations and performances. When artistic influences are translated into new artistic works and new interpretive performances, we have similar structure of secondary and tertiary "talk" in the communities of artists who's commentary takes forms that are much less accommodating to the academic habits of the footnote and the bibliography.