ntang (ntang) wrote,
ntang
ntang

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Creativity and music

There was an interesting show tonight on PBS, Downside Up - the story of North Adams, Mass. and MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (the largest one in America!).

North Adams was a town on the decline - well, practically dead, really - the only big industry had left in the early 80's, taking almost all of the jobs and life from the town. It was looking like the town would just be a loss, when the concept of taking that huge, old industrial complex and turning it into a museum, a huge museum suddenly came up.

It took years - something like 14, I believe - to raise the money and get it done, but eventually they did. At first, no one was sure what it would do, but after a few years, the town's having a renaissance, and MASS MoCA apparently gets nearly as many visitors as the Los Angeles MoCA - impressive considering it's just a few miles past Bumfuck, Mass, on the map.

Part of the interesting part of the show, though, was seeing peoples' reactions - this is a small, sheltered American town, and most of the people there had never (or rarely) been to a museum, never been to a gallery opening, never had any exposure to that aspect of culture... and here, suddenly, they had the largest contemporary art museum in the country plopped down in their town. A lot of them thought it was pointless, that the art was silly or worthless, etc. Some of them appreciated it, found it interesting, a new experience. Seeing their reactions, though, and hearing the tone of their voice as they talked about it was interesting - honestly, none of them seemed all that fond of it, or the artwork.

Part of the problem, of course, is that so much of modern art is arbitrary - art done for the sake of "doing art", with no real purpose, no message, no sense of aesthetics, nothing that you'd normally turn to art for. It's there as much as a masturbatory exercise for the "artist" as for any other reason, and that sort of art is really hard to appreciate unless you really enjoy diving headfirst into someone's creative ejaculate. Most people lack the attitude necessary for it (me included) - and it just seemed like an odd choice to bestow upon the small town.

In the end, though, people learned to accept it, and some of them even to enjoy it. If nothing else, it was something new - and something that drew life back to the town, slowly but surely. The town's main street went from 30% occupancy to 70% occupancy in the first three years since MASS MoCA's opening, and the entire town just feels different (at least from the perspective of the camera and filmmaker).

So anyways, my father and I were talking about creativity, and music too (I forget how we got to the topic of music, but whatever) and he mentioned at one point how he used to blast the music when he was working, and lost himself in the moment. That reminded me of a really interesting study that I read about, where they took two groups of people and gave them some problems to solve, and let half listen to music and had half work in silence. What they found is that both sides were able to solve the problem - but the half without music tended to be more creative in their attempts to find the solution, and many of them saw the "trick" to the puzzle, whereas many of the music listeners never saw the trick and had to work through the puzzle step by step.

What they found, after study, was that listening to music actually cuts down on peoples' creative thoughts. My dad and I discussed it, and agreed - when you're really thinking hard, really brainstorming and trying to solve a problem, the music gets in the way. The flip side, though, and what made it interesting - is that once you've solved the problem and are focusing on execution, creativity becomes less important - perhaps even detrimental. At that point, having the music on focuses you, takes away the idle thoughts which are so critical to the problem solving process, but just get in the way of executing the plan, and let you concentrate on doing the work. So the "answer", if there is one (and was there even a question?), is that "it depends". ;) Music seems to be a good thing when you want to focus, but truly creative work is actually hindered by too much focus.

So, there was really no point to this post, it was just an interesting conversation and I felt like writing about it. I'm missing a lot, but I'm really tired, so deal. ;) It's not my most coherent post ever, but I can barely keep my eyes open right now. The study of thought, though, is really fascinating - thinking about how people think, about how people work, about how they learn - it never fails to grab my attention. I can understand how people get into psychology or the various behavior sciences or the study of something like anthropology, even. Maybe it's a bit vain, in some ways, but what's more interesting than how people work, how we think, communicate, learn, observe?

I think at some point I'd like to take some classes on all of this sort of thing - not sure where, or when, or what classes exactly, but I'd love to get to really focus on learning about people.
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