On “Lockhart’s Lament”

This is, by necessity, a brief comment. The piece in question is a short rumination on what happens if everyone is to learn standardized music – sheet music, mind you; not guitar chords or drum patterns or even computer production techniques. Its message for us, however, is less than clear. Might it attempt to make us think what happens if everyone had to learn the same thing – Westernized musical notation -, and creativity were thus confined to its narrow boundaries?

Clearly, we are inclined to say, that would be disastrous. But would it? Let’s say we apply this warning to what everyone of us indeed has to learn in elementary school: words and letters and sign systems, basic math, basics of history and society, basic sports, and so forth. Is it tragic that everyone learns English (or Spanish, or Chinese, or German, or…) and learns to write latin letters and arabic numbers? If we say it were tragic – does that not mean we argue that immediate individual inspiration, such as a child babbling or speaking in tongues – both of which, alas, are incomprehensible to us because they do not stick to the standardized sign system – were superior to what we learn in school?

That would scarcely be an argument that could reasonably be made.

What if we apply the critique of standardization the piece invites us to consider to college education? Well, first problem: not everyone is forced to go through it; hence the example is lacking in the important aspect that is indeed still possible – though admittedly getting harder and harder – to get by without a college education. Not everyone is forced through standardization, then. And the second problem, more pertaining to music: art critics and artists, from Hegel to Baudelaire to the New Yorker‘s columnists, agree that art, far from being a product of sheer inspiration like the divine tongue or the babbling baby, is in fact a question of hard work and precise measurement. That is, a form of creativity based on standardization.

So what does the example tell us?

This entry was posted in GEDI 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.