Artists Inspire Cultural Revolution
Paris was once the center for art, literature, and music in the world. Exploding in the world with a new sense of self, Impressionist artists questioned everything. Painters like Pierre Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas saw the world differently, delighting in vivid colors. Composers began using discordant chords and diverse musical arrangements to convey impressions and moods.
A century later, the Impressionist influence was still alive and well in music. Beatle mania achieved a popularity and a following that was unprecedented in the history of British show business. Like Impressionism, The Beatles’ revolutionary music inspired a generation. Forever having a political dimension, music became the single-most important means of artistic expression in the sixties. It was rock’s first golden decade of acceptance; an exciting revolutionary; a time of radical revolution in music, art, politics, lifestyles, technology, and fashion. Musicians became major cultural icons.
The Beatle music inspired change. The Beatles’ album Revolver was a breakthrough experience. That same year, the Beatles Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band revolutionized rock music. The Beatles incorporated the expansion of consciousness into their songs. They weren’t alone. Bob Dylan expressed the spirit of the political protest in powerful poetry. His music became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements.
The spirit of the sixties birthed a reaction to material secularism and caused a movement toward a new spirituality and a questioning of authority. The American civil rights movement demanded that Black citizens be included in the political process, the free speech movement at Berkeley and student movements at other universities throughout the United States and Europe demanded the same for students.
In the summer of 1964, the issue of integration was heating up. Ninety minutes after President John F. Kennedy was shot, Vice-president Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. The next year, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act; Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and that summer, black and white students went to Mississippi to work with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in voter registration drives, in what was called “Freedom Summer. “
Later, the “free jazz” of John Coltrane and others shattered conventional forms of jazz and gave expression to spirituality and political poetry. Classical composers such as John Cage broke down conventional musical forms incorporating sixties’ spontaneity into their music.