When 15 Questions asked Dutch lutenist Jozef Van Wissem for his opinion regarding the tasks that face a composer today, his response was blunt. “The task of any composer or artist is to change the world by great art. Most artists are not political however. They don’t care. And that’s a goddamn shame.”
It seems like a very 20th century response, spoken by a man who favors a 16th century instrument. Van Wissem might have just been learning his letters during the upheaval of 1968, but he is the right age to know people who lived it. He is certainly old enough to have lived through, and been touched by, punk; before he devoted himself to learning the lute, he spent years running a punk rock bar. In the 20th century, the world seemed as ripe for change as it was in need of it, and artists as diverse as Bertolt Brecht, Mark Rothko, and Joe Strummer thought that art might lead the way. In this century, it’s hard to find an aspect of art that hasn’t either been neutered by commodification or been sidelined into a niche that cannot make a sound loud enough for the mainstream to hear.