So I had a conversation with my friend about his music. I started out by asking for help in understanding what was going on and mentioned something about music being accessible. He replied that one of the pieces in his recent symphony was one of his most accesssible, and I wondered why they weren't ALL accessible, since, isn't that the point of the music?
We then discussed art in general and how the audience shapes and influences the art. Throughout history professional artists have struggled with the balancing act of making art for themselves, which expresses exactly what they want to express, and making art for their fans/consumers/patrons. Making a work of art which communicates to different people is challenging. It's like writing about theoretical physics: you can write a paper which communicates an advanced concept so that an expert can understand it, or so that a layman can understand it, but usually those two modes of writing have little overlap. Sometimes, when writing for a layperson, you even have to simplify to the point of being technically wrong in order to get the point across. The similarity with artists is that they too are making a work that will either be consumed by the masses or by experts and often those groups do not intersect.
My problem with this line of reasoning is that I feel that an artist, like a technical writer, should strive to make the work as accessible as possible despite the limitations. A physicist who writes something that only the top 10 people in his field can understand is not communicating properly. His paper can not be peer-reviewed properly if he has no peers. Part of his duty in writing his findings is to communicate them effectively. Artists, however, are not constrained by duty in the same way scientists are, but the same underlying principle is true: if an artist makes a work of art that nobody understands then its value is purely in its aesthetics (until someone figures it out, I suppose). The communication part of the artwork has failed.
My friend's position is that some things simply require more experience and knowledge before they can be appreciated. This is true. I am learning Chinese, but I cannot criticize Chinese literature until I have achieve a certain level of fluency in Chinese and a certain understanding of the history and culture underlying the literature. The thing is that with music, perhaps alone among all the arts, there has been a long tradition of art that has layers of accessibility; that is, there is something there for everyone. A baby, with no experience or language or knowledge of history can hear music and feel its emotion and energy. An untrained person can admire a beautiful painting for the scene it shows even if they don't understand the subtext or subtleties. But this new form of music my friend is making is so different than the traditional forms I know that it seems to have abandoned the "easy" parts altogether. As my friend wrote, at this point I can either become a trained musical expert (i.e. learn the language), wait a while to see if insight comes to me on its own, or give up and conclude that I don't understand. With traditional works I have a fourth option: look at the scenery, or listen to the melody and hum along with the part I do understand.