My previous post about parody songs is of course a much too transparent and potentially exceptional case of the role of associations in music appreciation, since the joke in question is about style, meaning the art is "about" its style in an obvious way, whereas you might argue that art more typically works within a style but the style is not itself the subject matter.
While Goodman argues convincingly (in chapter 2 of Ways of Worldmaking) that the style/content distinction is fuzzy, in that, for instance, in literature, what aspects of the narrative the author focuses on, i.e. part of his content, is a matter of stylistic choice, I think the this distinction can certainly still be helpful in many situations for analytical purposes, so long as we don't insist that style and content are fundamental axes along which all works need to be plotted.
As our reader Gary Chapin pointed out, references to other works are our pathways into appreciation, and are in fact usually part of our experience of artworks, not just something that goes on implicitly at some psychological level.
In this way, Goodman provides support for my general view of tastes, which I went into at some point during our Danto discussion: people are generally "correct" in their appreciation of a work, in that they've made an actual connection with it, and usually clueless in their rejection of a work, in that they just don't "get it," which doesn't mean that there's nothing to get or nothing that the rejector himself couldn't get with proper preparation and effort. On this view, people don't just have different musical tastes (this applies to other art forms and activities, but I typically think about music in these terms), and to each his own. Instead, many factors go into whether someone can appreciate a work and to what degree.
Some of these are cultural, in that I may not be able to relate as easily to music from another country or from someone with a different background even here. Some of these are temperamental and/or have to do with maturity level: I'm just not the target audience for Miley Cyrus and am just not despairing enough (or gleeful enough) for some music to resonate with me for long. However, I think most of these barriers can be overcome with proper empathy, imagination, and education; I may not end up being a bit Miley Cyrus fan, but if I wanted to, I could figure out what the fuss was all about and probably enjoy myself rather than wanting to die if it were blared at me in a public place. Do I always want to do this kind of research? No. Sometimes snarky is fun, or it's just too much effort.
There's more to the phenomena than this, though. I think that even between bands (again, you can generalize this view yourself) that are from the outside very similar, there are different intentions and stylistic maneuvers involved: between (and here I'll actually use one of the references that was current as of 1991 or so when I started thinking this way) the Call, the Clash, the Cure, and the Cars, there doesn't seem to the outsider (someone not into 80s rock) much difference, but there are very distinct personalities to each of these bands that rub various people very different ways, and unlike the effort involved for someone who likes the Clash to get into Miley Cyrus or Schoenberg or music from Bali, if you like any one of these bands, I feel like it's very doable to adjust your sensitivities to appreciate all of them.
How exactly do you do this? Well, you just do: you just listen to things attentively, and you figure it out. However, maybe some intermediate steps would be helpful, so if you like the Cars and don't get the Sex pistols, maybe you first spend some time with Blonde, and the Clash, and then the Ramones, and then the Sex Pistols won't feel so strange, or alternately move from Cars to Cure to P.I.L. to Sex Pistols (which though different than P.I.L. stylistically has the same singer, which makes it a matter of figuring out why one guy would do both kinds of music).
I apologize to those of you for whom these references are meaningless (though you should take this as a challenge to go on the web and listen to all the above bands!). I think the detail here helps to make a point I want to make about Goodman: his terminology of "worlds" (or even "schemes") conjures up the image of discrete realms. Maybe we can say that world A is more similar to world B than world C is to either of them, but that still makes all of these into different worlds. This seems to me to involve significant ontological profligacy: does each style have to involve a whole "world?" Isn't it more reasonable to actually talk about concrete stylistic differences that correlate with different standards needed to judge a work? To say that Ric Ocasek has developed a "world" in the Cars' music is to a) impute more coherence on the body of work than there is; there's a lot of variety within that pile of songs, some of which has to do with focusing on one standard of quality rather than another, b) make his works unnecessarily insular from others' works: sure, no one else wrote in exactly that style, but do we have to say that he was "worlds away" from Sting or Joe Strummer or Bob Geldof?
We were struggling on the episode with the question of what exactly is necessary to create a world? Can a single work be sufficient to create a new one? Can't we talk about the various different phases with different emphases and hence standards for judging of a single artist, yet still allow that the artist's work as a whole is distinctive (this would make it sound like there could be worlds within worlds)? How much innovation is required in a work for it to posit a new world? The more I try to apply Goodman's terminology to these concrete cases, the less helpful it seems, while at the same time his views about exemplification and other forms of reference within artworks seem to provide a good framework for talking about the phenomena I've described: works exemplify various stylistic techniques and (metaphorically) express certain specific personality traits, and becoming able to discern and appreciate these is a gradual process not entirely unlike navigating a new circle of social acquaintances with their own ways of talking, their standards for what is cool, their outlooks on life. For pop songs this comparison is especially apt, as often what you're judging, beyond the musical techniques involved (happy major chords or no? distorted guitars or no? frantic drumming with odd time signatures or no?) are the personalities of the singers, in how they sing and what they choose to sing about.
(Comic by Natalie Dee.)