August 18, 2019
Grayson Perry has called modern art “rubbish”, claiming to like “very little” contemporary work. The Turner prize-winning artist said that the art world was “happy to dig down in the lower regions of society” but was “frightened of the middle classes with good taste”. Perry added he was fearful of the “trendies” liking his work. He said: “When the trendy, fashionable people like your work there’s the inevitability of becoming unfashionable.”
We can also argue that today’s music sucks, and when we do we are accused of being generational, people who simply like their own generation’s music and can’t make way for the innovations of the new kids. You know I’m right, but if you don’t, well, you can take a number, get in line, and accuse me of being old.
Let’s take music, as an example and see if there are real objective measures of quality degradation as time goes by. According to studies:
1. Pop music has become slower — in tempo — in recent years and also “sadder” and less “fun” to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word “I” in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. It was found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.
Based on the above, could we assume that artworks in general suffer of quality degradation?
Well the proof is in the pudding, they say.
The majority of paintings that have stood the test of time are those created between 15th-19th Centuries, and not from the 20th or 21st Centuries. I seriously doubt that Piet Mondrian’s “Composition with Red Blue and Yellow” from 1930 will be on the list in the 22nd Century. But Leonardo, Goya, or Vermeer will likely still be on the list.