Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The poet on the bulldozer

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I want to defend literature. It’s a poor man’s art…Artists and composers are usually poor until they are no longer poor, that is, until they are successful. At least for a season or so. After that they can always un-teach at this or that university, and confuse a sufficient number of students to supply the country with personnel for useless ferment and vacuous bitterness…Poets are what they will, are free to be trained for anything. “Composers”—those trained for the calling—seldom are masters of their trade, however craftsmanly they may be. Composers of the Higher Art can’t grind out rock ‘n’ roll arrangements, usually, because they tell themselves it isn’t serious. In college, Stockhausen played in a jazz band, but he once wrote to Henry Flynt that jazz wasn’t serious music in the Western sense. Still, orchestras have to be supported: bread and circuses for the intelligentsia. But poets are people and can often run bulldozers. They make good pop musicians too…

[Most funding for the arts] goes to museums, to display the past or present fashions. Quite often it goes to flash plastic artists of one sort or another—especially if they’d like to spend a year in Rome or Florence or Paris, or some other living mortuary. It goes to dancers. Dancers are poorer than plastic artists, richer than composers, but much richer than writers or poets. Dance is harmless, therefore harmless to “Our Society.” Of course, that’s in practice, not in theory. An attitude of universal dancing and choreography would be very revolutionary, but dancers would probably call it “too literary” and dismiss it…The money goes to theaters [like]…the Beaumont Theater in New York for their production of Twelfth Night, one of my favorite of sixteenth-century plays. This is not supporting choreographed literature; it is supporting the tuxedo-rental industry.

Dick Higgins, “Seen, Heard, and Understood”

Written by nevalalee

July 27, 2018 at 7:30 am

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