…the hallmark of great art is generosity (the artists themselves may be self-involved sonsofbitches), but the work has to give something, make a vital connection with the souls of others….
And from Brian:
When a pianist is about to sit down and play Clair de Lune in concert, someone with a microphone doesn’t first come out on the stage and explain that Debussy was known as an Impressionist, that this work, the translation for which is “Moonlight,” may have been based on a poem of the same name by Paul Verlaine, and that the arpeggios were meant to convey the “impression” of moonbeams illuminating a garden.
Although Debussy’s intention was to suggest moonlight, what if you, the listener, are inclined to think of waves of water, or silk rippling in the wind, or the music evokes an emotion or sensation you feel inside your body, or reminds you of a dream? Are these responses not valid? And would you be more or less likely to think of other ways of interpreting the music, once you’ve been told what it’s supposed to be about?
Also, why do we want to hear this piece again and again? Is it because Debussy was important in providing a link between romanticism and modern music, and the composer happened to be successful in his intention of making music that sounds like moonlight—or because it’s an exceptionally beautiful and expressive piece?
With music, any information about the artist and his/her intention is not an element in the performance but is available—or not—in the program; there’s no assumption that it’s essential to the enjoyment of the music. Why should visual art be any different? When placed on the same plane as the art itself, explanatory text assumes authority, becomes part of the experience, and narrows the lens through which it will be viewed.