I’m watching a video on John Cage right now and it has a very good (paraphrased) quote about laughter amidst serious art:
Cage’s art did not mean to be funny. If people laughed, it was acceptable. After all, laughter’s better than tears. The danger was being foolish. He wanted to be free without being foolish. He was not trying to be superior, he only tried to show something new.
It really gets me thinking about when I listen to pieces such as these. I’ve come to accept absurdities in music, or things considered absurd in relation to what would be considered normal at the time. My feelings are somewhat hurt, though, every time a composer decides to share his work and is believed to be joking, or not serious. Then again, I’ve constantly been guilty of laughing at those who try to portray art in a certain way and, in my eyes, fail miserably.
The quote is very important because it shows that all art, no matter how different or half-assed or serious or non-serious, generates different emotions in everyone. Such is the power of Cage’s piece, 4’33”, where no notes are played on a piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds – the real music comes from coughs, laughs, and other noises from the audience and other surroundings. So the next time I hear people laughing at some work of art, I intend to interpret it as a human reaction given the social circumstances – besides, that’s what everyone is always doing, whether they intend to or not.