Charlie Parker and the Notion of Wine as Art
I remain quite interested in the nature of wine and winemaking. Often this fascination of mine finds expression in the consideration of whether wine is art and winemakers artists. I was returned to this theme this weekend while watching the seventh of the ten episodes in Ken Burns' documentary "Jazz", which focuses on the emergence of Be-Bop in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
There are a number of ways to define "Art". With the help of Wikipedia we see these definitions:
"Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions and intellect. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings."
The use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others."
"A skill is being used to express the artist's creativity, or to engage the audience's aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the finer things."
"Purposeful, creative interpretations of limitless concepts or ideas in order to communicate something to another person."
"Art may be to communicate ideas, such as in politically, spiritually, or philosophically motivated art; to create a sense of beauty; to explore the nature of perception; for pleasure; or to generate strong emotions. The purpose may also be seemingly nonexistent."
By these and other definitions, it can appear that wine is an art and winemaking an artistic endeavor.
Yet these various definitions do not include what has always been two vital elements of the nature of art:
1. Art's ability to track, interpret, communicate and represent the movement and changes of a culture.
2. Progress through individual artists' innovations.
This second element of the nature of art that I cannot find in wine was foremost in my mind as I watched the description of the impact of Charlie Parker on the world of American Jazz in the early 1940s. Parker, the great Kansas City Alto Saxophonist, gave to the emerging Be-Bop artists a new harmonic paradigm that filled in the sound that progressive jazz artists were exploring as they moved away from the swing genre. Parker's great innovation was his discovery, out of his own imagination, of how to play any note and resolve it in the chard so that it would sound harmonically right. Upon hearing Charlie Parker's new way of playing, Dizzy Gillespie declared, "We heard him and knew the music had to go his way."
I'm trying to imagine any innovation in wine and winemaking that so fundamentally moves wine forward into a new direction through the result of creative genius a la Charlie Parker. I cannot identify such a thing. Is there in the last 50 years a new movement or new paradigm in the "art" of winemaking that moves the endeavor forward to new heights or at least into a new paradigm? I can't find the act of creativity that does this in the world of wine.
In querying my community of friends and followers, some have suggested that it is the art of blending wine that is the true artistic element in winemaking. Yet, blends have been created by winemakers for literally 1000s of years. That this blend of grapes or vineyards might be something new I don't think offers any significant paradigmatic shift or creative leap. Rather, it seems to represent an alteration in what is common.
Charlie Parker and his contemporaries such as Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke created something that wasn't simply an alteration, but something really new in jazz. We see this kind of leap in innovation across various artistic fields. Yet, we do not see this fundamental kind of leap in the world of wine. At best, what we see in wine are new cultures and people picking up the the traditional methods of others. Hence, "Old World" and "New World" wines.
Of equal importance in considering the idea of wine as art is the notion that art reflects a culture and, particularly, the evolution of culture. This is for me among the most fascinating elements of art and art history. By observing the timelines and movements of various artistic endeavors, we seek how cultures are evolving over time. Jazz, a genre within the musical arts, is another good example.
To again use Bebop as an example, many commentators have explained the emergence of bebop in the 1940s among black American musicians as a response to the continued existence of a Jim Crow culture in contemporary music (swing music for example being adopted by whites often to the exclusion of black musicians in the big bands that exploited was was clearly a result of African American culture). In this respect, bebop is a re-appropriation of jazz by progressive black musicians in response to a dominant white culture and can be placed in context of the beginnings of the modern civil rights movement in America.
Changes and advancements in winemaking in America simply can't be used to amplify changes in the American culture, or any significant sector of the American cultural landscape. Winemaking does not reflect the evolution of of culture the way music, painting, film or literature do so well. If anything, an examination of winemaking might be used as way of representing technological changes over time. Perhaps winemaking also can be used to represent economic transformation or changes in America, but again this kind of analysis is far removed from the idea of "art".
I remain convinced that despite the aesthetic and symbolic nature fo wine, it is not art, nor is winemaking an artistic endeavor of any significance. I don't mean to belittle wine with this conclusion, nor belittle the focus so many of us put on wine or the important role it plays in many of our lives.
It is simply an observation.