Lionel Trilling cooking quality cheese
Italo Calvino love cats humour
John Cage composing Beethoven silence
Richard Serra designing New York Venice

Lionel Trilling

Lionel TrillingThe column that represents ‘thinking’ in this magic square contains people that I look up to. Lionel Trilling was a cultural philosopher. His most important remark can be found in Sincerity and Authenticity: “The work of art is itself authentic by reason of its entire self-definition: it is understood to exist wholly by the laws of its own being.” That is such a brilliant statement. People are always trying to define art. Just like Trilling, I think that art is indefinable because a work of art defines itself, and that it provides its own rationale.

For example, in Atlas Eclipticalis by John Cage the notes are not that important. These are composed by means of chance operations — how the notes are played and stacked up is also subject to chance. It is as much a snapshot in time as the star-spangled sky that informed the work. For Atlas Eclipticalis the criterion of ‘the right notes’ does not hold water. Conversely, for some photorealistic painters skill plays an important part in the reception of their art. The painting in question is partly judged on the basis of how well the work has been crafted. There are many other types of art where this aspect of workmanship is not relevant at all. For instance, Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. Which does not mean it is bad art.

Trilling attempts to formulate a universal proposition about all art. It does not hinge on the intention of the work itself, but on the way it is perceived by the audience — as part of the world, and in relation to other pieces of art.

Some composers believe that we should return to tonality — in fact, what they want is to incorporate a banister for the public to lean on. However, I think that every new work of art needs to make its own banister from scratch. It should enclose its own ‘instructions of thought’. As for me, I strive to create music that leaves an imprint on the memory of the listener. Not something that goes in one ear and out the other, but music that leaves a lasting impression.