Culture / Economy / Kitsch / Music / Philosophy / Quality

A Note on Quality

I am observing, in our global culture, a trend away from quality. Film, music and other parts of culture are turning more and more into a colorful, but bland flicker.

In our growth-economy, attitudes and values that increase fast turnover and profit tend to be promoted. And the fastest growing businesses and economies push everything else aside. Attitudes and values that do not help to increase turnover are not promoted or are even suppressed. Quality is among these. You can see this in many parts of culture. You can observe it even in museums or other institutions that ought to be places of education (for instance, I have written about this in the case of planetariums before).

To take the example of film: to make the most profit, a production must appeal to the greates possible audience. This can be achieved in two ways: make the production less demanding, so it can be consumed by a larger number of people, and lower the taste of those people, i.e. “educate” into accepting kitsch and low quality. The result is the replacement of quality by effects. Content is replaced by superficial visual fascination and by fast action. “Aha”-experiences” are replaced by “Aw”- and “wow”-experiences. Gone is the art of making the most of a limited medium.

There is also a trend in the opposite direction, at least among some. For example, I notice young people coming back to very old music because they observe it was “somehow better”. I see people who are culturally active again, instead of just consuming, creating music and film themselves. I am just afraid that many of them will be sucked into those commercial machines that will disappoint them and put an end to their creativity and their ability to produce quality. The commercialized and “consumerized” world of today is not a good place for talented young people, despite of (and to some extent because of) all the technology that has become available.

The ability to recognize and to appreciate quality can only be gained through exposing yourself to quality. To appreciate quality requires educating and cultivating yourself. This requires time and effort. It requires work. It is like investing time and effort to learn a language. But this time is worth to be spent and this effort is worth to be invested. There is so much to be discovered…

(I am currently spending some time on listening to and learning about the Vietnames music style of Ca Trù, for example.)

32 thoughts on “A Note on Quality

  1. More than 3/4 of the music produced by upcoming artistes in this country, I can’t listen to. The remaining 1/4 is just as bad. Quality was thrown out of the window ages before I was born. Nietzsche wrote all the music that sells is bad music, I think he was right.

    • I have a record with some quite good Kenyan music (Benga music sung in Luo), but that is from the 1980s. I am not so up to date about what music is produced in Kenya at the moment.
      I think there are exceptions to what Nietsche wrote, but basically, he was right on that.

    • Have you been cursed with Funk there? This “style” (which contravenes everything that is good and great about Brazilian music) is pure and perfect noise. It’s almost like these people have gone out of their way to make something that is not only unlistenable, but maddening.

        • Some of the original funk from the 1980s is not even so bad. The problem is that everybody is trying to imitate a few styles, like hip-hop and reggae. Africa was extremely rich in traditional music and in its own styles of popular music, starting with high-life music in West Africa, a musical tradition whose roots go back to the beginning of the 20th century, more or less as old as jazz. Today, everybody is trying to do hip-hop and some kind of lifeless computer generated stuff. Instead of being proud on their rich traditions and of the vast amount of quality music, including popular music styles like Soukous, Makossa, Benga, etc, etc., young Africans seem to be suffering more than ever of some kind of cultural inferiority complex, trying to identify with Americans (especially American gangstas). There are some exceptions, but this seems to be the general trend (and in South America, it is probably similar). People seem to be afraid of developing their own taste. They put peer pressure on each other and accept such pressure.
          It is like removing a rich buffet of a large variety of hundreds of delicious dishes and replacing it with potato chips with tomato ketchup, and nothing else.
          The best of American hip-hop might not be so bad, but must everybody try to imitate that, instead of doing their own thing?

  2. How subjective is the notion of quality? I’m sure in each generation people acquire different expectations on the media they consume – what is good, what was better. Is it just a matter of getting old, of experiencing nostalgia? Also, are there still great things on the level of classics being made but are drowned out in bigger and louder productions?

    • I am sure there is a generational factor here: the kind of things I liked when I was young are disappearing.
      The funny thing is that as some of the old music is becomming available again on internet platforms, I am observing young people to listen to a lot of old stuff. My 17 years old daughter is listening to some of the same music that I listened to when I was young, and she did not get that from me.
      Is quality subjective? Well, tasts are different, of course. However, my experience is that if you expose yourself to something again and again, e.g. listen to a music that might be totally foreign initially, some things will become more and more boring and some wil become more and more interesting (e.g. when I first listend to that Vietnamese music, it appeared quite chaotic to me, but bit by bit, I am discovering its “grammar” and it is becoming more and more interesting and also more and more emotionally touching. You cannot judge the quality of something that is very different from what you are used to at the first time, but the quality things will be increasingly interesting. That does not necessarily mean you must like them. There are kinds of music I do not like so much, but I recognize their quality.
      I think great things are still being made. What seems to be decreasing, mostly through commercialisation, is the average quality. At least that is my impression. The marketing power of big companies might play a role here.

  3. While I agree with your points, I think this perceived notion of a decrease in quality, particularly in the arts, is due to oversaturation. I would argue that there is in fact more quality music, books, etc. being produced, but they are buried beneath piles upon piles of commercialized mainstream garbage.

    • Absolutely true. The good things are there, however, the average quality seems to be going down (I suppose due to commercialization).

  4. I recommen the Banksy film of OUT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. Banksy a street artist has some interesting artistic concepts but in this documentary things just took an unexpected turn when one fan, an obsessive filmer, became the shadow of those artists and became a self made artist who sold stuff for a million to all museums and collections without having the depth of knowledge what he did. This man calls himself Mr Brainwash and somehow it is a fascinating story.

      • I googled MR Brainwash ans some people even thinkhe wasnot real but maybe is an art project by Banksy., I can imagine that MBW might be a real person… 🙂 crazy

        • Who knows if Banksy is a real person. Maybe he is a collective of artists. I don’t believe so, but as far as I know, his (or her?) identity is not publicly known with certainty. In any case, very interesting art, and very influential, since several other street artists startet doing similar things.

  5. Seems to me that the first step to quality is to have your own vision and to work to express it. Inner direction. Trying to figure out what others want is a sure step to insanity (art-wise, I mean!) and dissatisfaction, or at least it was for me…

    • … and I am sure you have a lot of fun doing the things you do, or at least that is my impression (and I am having fun with them too 🙂 )

      • I think you are totally right. I very much enjoy myself and I’m glad others, including you! feel the same way. In my art-selling role I have come across a lot of people making art but not enjoying it or making very much or originality or sometimes quality because of the pressures of making sales and profits, and that can mean standardization of process, materials, etc. and a striving for uniformity.

  6. Is quality in the eye of the beholder?

    I think our sense of quality is connected with our sense of beauty and it probably depends a lot on the examples and ideas we’ve grown up with.
    The other day a friend of mine was telling me that her 9 years old child is learning «entrepreneurship» at school. She was happy with that while I was chocked. That’s the kind of ideas children are growing up with – not how to seek for quality, enjoy Art and appreciate Nature, but how to run a business, be successful and make money.

    There even are on-line courses on how to «make art that sells»! And there even are «artists» that are happy with that (here again I was chocked…)!

    On the other hand, in our materialistic way of living / thinking, quality is also somehow related to wealth and most people will easier associate it with a rich man’s life rather than with inner well-being: it is more important to know clothing trade marks and styles than artists’ statements and works. But it is true that quality is more likely to be expensive (Art included), and therefore it doesn’t go along with mass-consumption and less people can have access to it.

    • I think beauty is highly subjective, depending on the (cultural and personal) background. Quality is a little bit more objective, I think. If you think of music, for example, you might not be able to understand a piece of music in an unfamiliar style on first listening. If you expose yourself to it again and again, you are beginning to learn the rules or the “grammar” of the style and then you become able to understand more and more of the structure. Bad music will become boring when you listen to it repeatedly, good music will become more and more interesting. This is not really an objective criterion, but I think it is a bit more objective than beauty.
      The quality thing in that sense has a potential to reveal rich (I mean that not in the monetary sense), interesting or beautiful experiences, if you make the effort to get to know it.
      That probably requires an equally high effort on the side of the maker, but I don’t think quality is only for the rich (and there are a lot of tasteless rich people – to get rich, you have to have other priorities than having a really good life, in the sense of inner wellbeing.)

  7. Nannus… This is such an excellent post…
    I particularly think that your insights as to Films are ready witted … When you state that
    To take the example of film: to make the most profit, a production must appeal to the greatest possible audience. This can be achieved in two ways: make the production less demanding, so it can be consumed by a larger number of people, and lower the taste of those people, i.e. “educate” into accepting kitsch and low quality.
    Well I am still amazed by the increasing number of films that are released each year… Hollywood has become a whole new industry by itself… Not to mention the red carpets so as to say , the backstage of the movies… All this process entrains a considerable amount of money spent… Too much is never enough…
    The paradox here is that the product , meaning the low quality movie, is most times a bad one, and that it just serves to ephemeral purposes…. fun moment, just a blink!.
    Thanks for sharing. All the best to you. Aquileana ⭐

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