Culture & Religion
May Mon 13, 2013
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Imagine that the fine arts suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A generation consumed with rebellious passions comes to regard the works of their predecessors with varying forms of antagonism, ranging from outright hostility to an ironic suspicion of their obsolescence. Accordingly, the workers in each respective discipline endeavor to begin their craft all over again—to make it new, as it were—by rejecting every single standard or norm of artistic creation that has obtained in all of Western history. Painters and sculptors discover new methods to mutilate and distort the body in their representations. Not long after this, they reject the notion of representation altogether, smearing paint haphazardly over a canvas and erecting junk on a pedestal. Authors write as if the purpose of fiction is to conceal the plot as far as possible from the reader, by eschewing coherent narrative and consecutive thought, and poets in particular disclaim the entire range of formal techniques developed by their forebears, such as genre, meter, and public symbolism. Architects preach that any attempt to render an edifice proportional and appealing is too much “ornament,” a dishonest abuse of their craft. Instead, they erect whole metropolises filled with incongruous monstrosities, constructed out of the most sterile, repulsive materials imaginable, and devoid of a single lintel or column that might reveal an impulse to please on the part of the maker. Meanwhile, some contemporaries of these artistic anarchists suddenly realize the great financial prospects for using emergent technologies to flood the general public with large quantities of typically mindless ephemera. Entertainment replaces art, and profit, not beauty, becomes the end of creation. This sort of work is another revolt against the past, though one motivated by a love of lucre rather than ideology; the canon of standards derived from the masterpieces of the past has as little to do with these productions as with those described above. Eventually, the two forms of artistic aberrancy merge into one, as subsequent generations discover they can pick the pockets of an entirely cowed public by affronting them with ever greater weirdness and vulgarity. Thousands and thousands of dollars are made by “artists” hacking up animal parts or canning effluvia; by writers composing thousand-page novels without a hint of plot, or thinly-veiled autobiographies recounting all the salacious details of growing up in various minority communities; by architects erecting lopsided buildings intended to nauseate visitors; by musicians who can barely play three chords on a guitar while assailing their audiences with varying modes of indecency. As time passes, an increasingly stupefied public, having long since wearied of resisting this decadent trajectory, convinces itself that such detritus fully deserves the status of art, or rather, convinces itself that any question of desert in this matter is entirely meaningless.
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