Saturday, January 31, 2009

Art as Religion

As one of the great mass of unwashed "heathen" out there, I am never surprised by the highly moralistic and preachy nature of contemporary art. Since the 90s we seem to have entered a new Medieval period where art for art's sake is forgotten in lieu of art for the sake of the cause, the oppressed, the marginalized, the hungry, black left-handed midgets, vertically challenged basketball players, et al. Historically, there is nothing wrong with this as primitive art was undeniably a method of communicating and reaffirming primitive culture and identity, usually in the form of religion. Art has always, to some extent, served this purpose. But that was in a culture that was relatively static and void of real diversity.

Fast forward to the present and you find something quite different. Art and the Arts continue to be dominated and ruled by a small group of likeminded elitists who all share the same values, beliefs, and culture. But the rest of the world has grown far more diverse. Neandertal man lived in a relatively static universe. When he encountered "the Other" it was usually in the form of a saber tooth or a mastedon. And therer was usually little doubt as to what their intentions were... But today we have Buddhists, atheists, Mormons, Muslims, Africans, Mexicans, Asians and more all mixing- each with their own unique universe based on their culture.

However, anytime "accepted" art depicts diversity or the Other it is stale and predictable. This came up recently talking with one of my students about art and why I dont care for it anymore. He volunteers at the local Museam of Contemporary Art and was telling me how he finally discovered what a certain piece "meant." Predictably the piece, which is beautiful in a technical and mechanical level, was about environmental degradation. Really? Am I supposed to be surprised. My student was surprised when I told him that I knew that already, because art is so boring and cliche, because it is enslaved to the leftwing establishment. He was mystified and perplexed, because art is so avante garde and transgressive!

Really? You mean you can't tell the whole story the second you know that the protagonist is gay, black, Muslim? We talked about it and he started seeing the Con pretty quickly. We talked about how Art has become church for the secular Left. It is a place to go and have all your values and beliefs reaffirmed. Theatre and concert goers hear predictable and stale messages about the same things over and over again. The music and cinematography may be beautiful and arresting, but far too often, the message is not. If you strip it away, there really ins't much difference between modern art and televangelists. One Con is just a little more slick than the other. but they are both soaking their gullible audiences for millions of dollars to present the same canned, boring message.

Given the wealth of western society, it is invariable that with so many "artists" out there that we should still have some great art, incredible music, and beautiful movies being crafted every year. And there are still some artists, even in the establishment, who give reign to their artistic nature more than their politics, but that is only because there are so many. The less practicioners of any art and the more you will notice its decay. Take theater and poetry for example. The drastic decline in these two art forms is due less to the barbarian appetites of the dirty masses who cannot appreciate the sublime intricacies of the current offerings. Rather it is that there are just so many "artists" whose work has all the depth and sensitivity of a jackhammer that the great ones like Billy Collins can't make up for all the really bad egocentric melodrama out there. These are the bad preachers who still attract followings, but lack the mass appeal that their more restrained colleagues offer.

More importantly, art has devolved into mere technical tricks and developments. The medium and the message are less important because the Art establishment has placed the same limitations on art as the Medieval Church. Iconography produced some beautiful works, in spite of the same predictable message much like our Arts today. But this situation does not allow Art to flourish as it should. We need another reformation.

Art should be free. And it has had some pretty amazing moments in the past. But right now it is enslaved to hypermoralism. A bad thing, especially in so diverse a culture.

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