“The Application of Matisse’s Cut-Outs to Music Education”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Music teachers often cringe at the idea of applying hip-hop music, or pedagogy to their classroom instruction and/or curriculum. I have been thinking long and hard about how do we approach “relevance” and “critical reflection” within the domain of the music classroom. Its a battle of tackling the topic, and really investigating the music, culture and group from which it all sprang from. Authenticity is a dangerous word that people use to give perfection power. If its not authentic then why do it, is often spewed from unaware mouths. The concept of “Authenticity” gives power and privilege to those that are in a position to judge the validity of the performance or product. I always suggest that educators focus more on digesting the actual music and investigating the places in which it inhabits. What are the concepts that are within the music, rather than what we can reduce it to and say embodies it. Lets continue to take the ethnomusicological approach to teaching music that Barbara Lundquist (ethnomusicologist) suggests. A lot of knowledge can come from challenging yourself, as an educator, as well as the students we work with. Teachers learn twice.
Speaking of teachers, I recently took a visit to the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) where I saw the Henri Matisse’s “Cut-Outs”, “Cut & Swipe” and Elaine Sturtevant’s “Double Trouble”. I really felt like I was in the midst of a showing of the hip-hop aesthetic at the MoMA, but I soon realized that what I was witnessing was the aesthetic of “DIY” and “Appropriation”. I started at the top (6th floor) and walked down stopping at the various artistic wonders housed in the MoMA. This aesthetic, that Henri Matisse shared in his work, was about simplicity and simply “doing it.”
We as artist, and educators often complicate what art is, and how it should be done. We often make art about mastery, when it is actually about communicating, expressing (emoting), sharing (community) and most importantly honesty. Matisse, was in decline (physical health) when he started to explore with cutting paper, using glue and color paper to fashion the delicious ideas inhabiting his mind’s eye, and spewing forth from his imagination. Why do we think that music and art needs to be mastered before we can allow students to birth wonderful works of art? Did Matisse, who was in the end of his physical prowess need to balance a brush in his feeble hands to create great works of art, and if he could not do that anymore was he no longer a artist, or master? Does it matter?
What I found wonderful about Matisse and the other wonderful pieces of art in the various exhibits in the MoMA is that each reach out to you in a variety of ways and speak their own truths. Hip-Hop does the very same thing. Hip-hop tells its truth(S) simply with its paper, glue and scissors. Cut and paste are the tools of the music, and critically reorganizing pre-made material are the primary function of the hip-hop culture. Like Matisse, disenfranchised urban youth have been remixing the elements of their existence into new diversity ways since the beginning of society. The unprivileged are typically more interested in reformatting and re-organizing their lives to reflect a better tomorrow in anyway possible. They too, like Matisse, take the same shapes and move them around until they feel right.
Elaine Sturtevant’s posthumous exhibit “Double Trouble” calls for examination of the process and the reasons why these artist produced the art they did, when they did. Hip-hop music is an amazing medium that music teachers, educators and teaching artist need to challenge themselves with digesting. Hip-hop has captured the public’s imagination for the last three decades. I am apart of the hip-hop generation and the children I work with regularly, are members of the post-hip-hop. They have been surrounded and bathed by the beats and flows of hip-hop all their lives. I liken it to seeing the pop art of Andy Warhol and Keith Haring all of my life, but never studying it formally in school. However, I do remember studying the art and history of Europe more than I ever dissected the American experience in class. Hip-hop, like many American folk arts, begs for the examination of the society in which is resides. It asks the participants to critically think about the messages found in the prose, and the motifs found within the ostinatos. Music educators should take a critical look at their own practices and reasons from implementing them in their classrooms. Why do you use the music you are using to teach students? Why are you uncomfortable with hip-hop music? These an many more questions should be coursing their your mind, hopefully, as you read this and other blogs about hip-hop in education (music).
As I moved from one section of the MoMA to the next I saw a Jean-Michel Basquiat piece, a Van Gogh, a Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and a variety of other artist from modernity that figured out the template concept. “Cut and Swipe” is a great example of appropriation and the profundity that can be found within it. Often, people are dismissive of the “Copy & Paste” aesthetic that is found in hip-hop music and culture. The simplicity is often where the complexity is disguised to seem easy, and that is actually the genius. Take a moment and use a MPC, Apex, turntable or other digital device to capture, edit, and perform music…without formal training. Its really hard, and takes an intuitive understanding of musical form and content. I implore all music teachers to treat hip-hop music like all other forms and hold it critically to the light and be objective about the impact it can have in your classroom. I want to clarify what critical means. I don’t mean be a critic without having knowledge in or about the topic, but I mean you should investigate and analyze the form before dismissing it. It has a utility and the ability to be a bridge, a lens or a practice from which teacher and student can connect. It is a space of inquiry that is contemporary in nature, that’s a good thing!
So, suggestion… take the idea of Template, Cut & Paste and apply them to your research in music, as well as research artist like J-Dilla, Matisse, Van Gogh, Warhol, Kanye West, and Romare Bearden with your students.
I recently read a student’s blog that discussed the Matisse Cut-Outs at the MoMA, and she used the idea of using appropriation to explore new territories, new mediums. This is exactly what I’m suggesting music educators to use popular arts forms in their classrooms for. Start where the student is, and the world they live in to help foster their exploration of the many lives worlds and shared realities hat exist. Hip-hop music is only one of many paths to enlightenment, that both teacher and student can sojourn together on.