Note: This is part II of an essay about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and aesthetics, the philosophy of art. Read Part I: What Would Tolstoy Think of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon?.
While Tolstoy’s aesthetic framework is helpful when considering the emotional effectiveness of Dark Side of the Moon, R.G. Collingwood’s The Principles of Art illuminates different aspects of Dark Side’s emotional landscape.
If Dark Side itself betrays the emotional processes undergone during its creation—and some of its formal elements give us reason to think it might—we may be privy not only to the sincere emotions of Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour, and Richard Wright, but to the discoveries they make about their own feelings as they created the work.
In that case, Dark Side of the Moon would succeed as a work of art according to the art-as-therapy theory presented by R.G. Collingwood in The Principles of Art.
While neither Tolstoy nor Collingswood present a wholly encompassing option for understanding the power behind Dark Side of the Moon, both lend a revealing critical lens to the work, the many sources of the wide emotional appeal of Dark Side of the Moon.
According to Collingwood, an artist is only vaguely aware of her emotions prior to creating a work of art, and comes to understand her specific emotions during the process of creating the work.
This process has a therapeutic effect, freeing the artist from the “oppression” of feeling something she does not understand (Collingwood 110), and implies that one cannot know the nature of the work one is about to make, or “set out to write a comedy, an elegy, or the like” (Collingwood 116).
While Pink Floyd certainly had a vision prior to making Dark Side, there is evidence that the album contains elements of a gradual, self revealing, self-explicating process. These elements include:
- Both musical (sung) and spoken word
- The thematic graduation of “Brain Damage.”
We have already addressed the improvisational elements of Dark Side of the Moon, and Collingwood would approve of these elements on the basis of their candor.
The difference between Tolstoy’s emphasis on sincerity and Collingwood’s on candor is subtle, and I would argue that it is temporal. Candor is sincerity in linear time, deprived of revisions.
An artist can be sincere, but polished, going back over her work and editing the decisions she originally made in real time. Collingwood argues, however, that “any kind of selection, any decision to express this emotion and not that, is inartistic” (115). Sincere improvisation is candor, in this sense, and satisfies Collingwood’s requirement that the artist’s “speech must be absolutely free” (115).
Roger Waters’ lyrics, in addition to the album’s spoken word commentary, also reveal a gradual process of self-exploration within Dark Side of the Moon.
If we read “Brain Damage” as an emotional expression, we see an emotional process in time. The first verse places “the lunatic” on “the grass,” at a distance from the speaker — the second places the lunatic “in the hall” and then “in my hall” — the final verse places the lunatic “in my head.”
If we read “Brain Damage” in the context of Waters’ and the band’s history, we see that Waters struggled with insanity at a distance (Syd Barrett) and insanity within himself and within the band in its later stages. Roger Waters feared his own loss of mental stability, and as Pink Floyd approached the most successful stage of its career (between Dark Side and The Wall), the band members felt the loss of the band’s stability.
This culminated in Waters’ leaving the band after The Final Cut (Weinstein 85).
The spoken word elements of the album also reveal the emotional exploration of the interviewees as they consider madness and death:
- “I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad, like the most of us…very hard to explain why you’re mad, even if you’re not mad…” (“Speak to Me”)
- “And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime” (“Great Gig in the Sky”).
Surprise! Dark Side of the Moon is art — and you probably don’t need philosophers to back you up on that.
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is a work of art according to the criteria of both Tolstoy and Collingwood — while Tolstoy’s aesthetic framework takes more deeply into account the album’s emotional effect on the listener, Collingwood’s exploration of the emotional process that went into the album helps to explain why Dark Side is such a satisfyingly, even chillingly honest work of art.
Neither theory, of course, is comprehensive — so much of what is good about Dark Side goes beyond what is emotional into the formal and the philosophical.
However, Tolstoy and Collingwood give us useful tools by which to measure the reasons why Dark Side of the Moon does, inevitably, “Speak to [Us].”
Collingwood, R. G. “Art Proper (1): As Expression.”
Kealey, Erin. “The Tragic Life of Syd Barrett.” Ed. George A. Reisch. Pink Floyd and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy). Chicago: Open Court, 2007. Print.
Weinstein, Deena. “Roger Waters: Artist of the Absurd.” Ed. George A. Reisch. Pink Floyd and Philosophy (Popular Culture and Philosophy). Chicago: Open Court, 2007. Print.