You won’t see many experimental composers up there

You won’t see many experimental composers up there


norman lebrecht

September 11, 2015


Meredith Monk receives the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.


  • John says:

    Brilliant! Kudos to Meredith. A great career, a great body of work.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Who would not love the sophistication of endless variety and subtlety?

  • william osborne says:

    It is interesting to google a phrase like “Meredith Monk, social criticism” and notice that nothing relevant appears. Almost all of the listings have the word social crossed out to indicate the word does not even appear. Or social is referred to, but not in any critical manner. This makes her a truly authentic post 70s American composer. And of course, exactly the sort of composer the American establishment truly appreciates, hence her award. Be obedient and proper boys and girls, careerism comes first, nothing else counts. Be apolitical, except for a few areas deemed acceptable, a bit of environmentalism, a little feminism, support Tibet against the evil Chinese, don’t talk about the embarrassing political details of Sistema, etc.

    One would think that at least some untoward statement made by Monk in a moment of weakness might appear, a comment about our racially informed classes system, police brutality, something about the contiguous ghettos that stretch from D.C. to Boston, Wall Street corruption, militarism, illegal and murderous invasions, the lack of public arts funding or national health insurance, etc. But no, not a word. Perhaps Google missed something, but if so, it must not have been a very notable pronouncement.

    In the 50s and 60s, the CIA infiltrated the boards of MOMA, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and many other organizations, and it set up its own phony-front organizations like the Congress for Cultural Freedom to disempower the American left. At the same time, the left was further weakened by the HUAC purges, especially in Hollywood. By controlling funding and promoting an apolitical abstract expressionism, and through creating an atmosphere of intimidation, artists inclined toward social statements were marginalized. Even Aaron Copeland was hauled before HUAC and was never the same afterwards.

    We see the results today in artists like Monk and many others. An irony surrounds minimalism as it moves beyond its apolitical nature to the self-absorption and torpor of an inner world that stands as an antipode to social engagement. So it’s not surprise to see Monk there with the President. She has behaved.

    • william osborne says:

      And of course, there’s a man in a military uniform standing with her and Obama…

    • John Borstlap says:

      Is Mrs Monk supposed to be a composer or a social critic? Is an artist who sees ‘engagement’ not in political terms, a ‘well-behaved’ and thus ‘rewarded’ artist, and automatically a pawn in the service of dictatorship?

      • william osborne says:

        There has always been a strong relationship between the arts and politics, and particularly between various kinds of art and power. This is observable throughout historical epochs and cultures. The subversiveness of art is demonstrated not only through overt political statements, but also by many forms of original or creative thought which is seen as revolutionary, or as something upsetting an established social order.

        In general, artistic talent is associated with a free spirit that challenges authority that is clearly unjust (as in the USA.) It is the lack of such activity in the arts in America that is notable, a fact made all the more troubling by the forms of suppression I mention in my first post.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      The blubbering about McCarthyism would be more poignant were Mr. Osborne’s progressive pals not trying to replicate it so faithfully. For the modern Left, the problem with McCarthyism isn’t its methods, it’s who it was directed against. Outmoded concepts like freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process and equality under the law are now derided as bourgeois affectations.

      Speaking of the current “campus rape” hysteria, Congressman (may I use that term?) Jared Polis (D-CO) said, “If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people,” adding, “We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about them being transferred to another university, for crying out loud.” So maybe Aaron Copland should have just gutted it up; it wasn’t like depriving him of life or liberty, for crying out loud.

      What would happen if Meredith Monk were to use her artistry to address issues like the Left’s assault on civil liberties and Constitutional governance, the excesses of the Administrative State, the fraudulence of “transgender” politics, the destruction of the Black family by progressive policies, the power grab represented by “climate change” or the shameful surrender of the Iran nuclear deal? Would Mr. Osborne’s friends on the Left applaud her engagement in the political sphere? Just ask Brendan Eich how that works out.

  • Richard says:

    Meredith Monk is a unique and visionary artist, and it speaks well of President Obama that he recognized her talent.