Throughout the years I have seen many mediocre television shows, and for the most part I am not too bothered by them. When I was a child I watched television mostly to quell the constant boredom I felt, and even when there were no shows worth watching I would sit through infomercials. However, there was one show that I couldn’t stand, and that was The Lawrence Welk Show.
For those people who are not yet retired, The Lawrence Welk Show was a musical variety show that originally ran from 1951 to 1982, with continued reruns on PBS well into the 21st century. The reason I knew the existence of the show at all is because I am a regular viewer of PBS, and in my opinion it was one of the worst shows ever on that network (and I’m including Barney and Friends).
The terrible thing about the show is that all the musicians and performers on the show are very talented, but they were all incredibly boring. All of the music on the show are performed in a very similar style, so by the time you hear more than two songs you become completely bored. Even when the show tries to play more contemporary music, the style they play it would transform it from enjoyable to mediocre.
Another thing I couldn’t stand is the show’s unrelenting cheerfulness. Everyone on the show puts on an unnatural smile, as though they have been lobotomized, all of the songs are either incredibly sugary or sentimental, and everyone dressed like they were stuck in the past. None of the performers seem to have any kind of personality, except in that 50s conformist kind of way. I would go as far as to say they were more than automatons than real human beings, but even robots would create music with more personality than the “musical family” of Lawrence Welk. I would much prefer to listen to Kraftwerk, who literally built robots to perform their music.
The Lawrence Welk Show is a fascinating example of art that is excellent on a technically level but is devoid of creativity or imagination. Many musicians do not have level of talent of the people on that show, but many of them are better musicians because they express their imagination or personality in their music. On the other end of the spectrum are garage bands who may not be talented but nonetheless can be creative.
I think this lesson extends to all forms of art. You can achieve a high level of technical mastery and yet be missing crucial elements. I have been calling these elements personality, imagination, and creativity, but to be honest I think what makes art good is still quite mysterious.
All forms of art depend on science, but cannot be reduced to science. Painting, for example, requires (some) understanding of geometry, color and even some small amount of psychology. However, even understanding all the science will not allow you to produce a masterpiece, only by combining science with imagination will produce something interesting.