Repost-The Duran Duran Phenomenon, High And Low Art In The Modern Anglo-Sphere

For you kids out there, Duran Duran are a band from Birmingham, England who made it big in the 80’s. They succeeded with genuine musical talent, technical and marketing prowess, a new-romantic visual-style, and presumably, somewhat deeper artistic aspirations.

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There are, no doubt, trade-offs people in the Anglosphere make, living with our particular Anglo-focus upon government, law, trade, and generally speaking, more open markets. There are reasons English is spoken so widely, after all, while the food has remained so bad.

Traveling abroad while younger, I often observed the American genius as a kind of egalitarian gathering of talent; general and specialized, ambitious and organized.

Such ‘Americanness’ can be shrewd, though it often comes with a certain optimism and idealism, for which Americans are known.

This is the stuff of American diplomacy, international lawyering, and business management. American advertising techniques, Hollywood movies, franchises like Starbucks and Apple, all can earn almost instant global recognition (if you’re not too far off the beaten path).

As an American, I claim a certain pride, here.

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That said, deeper artistic aspirations also tend to seek nourishment apart from such commercial populism and American egalitarianism in particular.

The accomplished artist probably had a lot of natural talent to begin with, but also joins in conversation with serious past talent and endures critique of his development, spends years of life engaged in hard work, and perhaps profits from greater tilt in the culture towards admiration for artists in general.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

This can send many American artists out on a mission to gain technique and skills elsewhere. This can fill many American cultural critics with a sense of European yearning and envy, and this can leave some Americans indulging in rather cheap, unimaginative commercialist America-bashing that usually lines-up with preconceived political/ideological commitments.

It’s here in the modern to postmodern to wherever-we’re-heading-now that, as an American, I find much of my daily life being lived.

For me and many of my fellows, the latest shows, pop-music, games and movies are the culture, even though we all have deeper ambitions and aspirations, and even if much of that culture has deeper roots of which we remain unaware.

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Here’s Robert Hughes from The Guardian on Damien Hirst: ‘Day Of The Dead’

‘If there is anything special about this event, it lies in the extreme disproportion between Hirst’s expected prices and his actual talent. Hirst is basically a pirate, and his skill is shown by the way in which he has managed to bluff so many art-related people, from museum personnel such as Tate’s Nicholas Serota to billionaires in the New York real-estate trade, into giving credence to his originality and the importance of his “ideas”. This skill at manipulation is his real success as an artist. He has manoeuvred himself into the sweet spot where wannabe collectors, no matter how dumb (indeed, the dumber the better), feel somehow ignorable without a Hirst or two.’.

I’m guessing Hughes loathed such confusion over money, art, fame, and our deepest aspirations, and thought such an approach prevents everyday people from entering into conversations with the everyday in great works of art. I find myself attracted to his marriage of Anglo-tradition and more ‘high’ European art-criticism.

For my part, I’d simply argue that more open markets in the Anglo-sphere offer a lower bar to reach a larger audience with one’s artistic ambitions. Such a marriage of art + market may be less likely to happen, in, say, Spain or France.

Perhaps this is true of Duran Duran, Damien Hirst, and various others with some natural talent and access to a wider audience through a global supply-chain.

This lower bar, in turn, can allow for perhaps more questionable art and marketing jargon; postmodern concept-shilling and various bullshit promising freedom within stale ideology and often poorly-executed art.

Or, at least, the above comes with its own Anglo-character.

(Addition: I should add that it gives more people easier access to make and gain exposure to the arts, which benefits a lot more people, but also puts the artist, and modernists, especially, in tension with the really hard task of making something beautiful which can last. Does good art have to be hard, and be made free of ‘The People?,’ or at least the passing fads, genres and styles that come and go?)

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Thanks to a reader for the link:

From The Daily Beast: ‘Get Into Bed With Tracey Emin For $2 million: The Sale Of A British Art Icon.’

“My Bed” will be sold at auction at Christie’s on July 1, and has been given an estimate price of between £800,000 and £1.2m (approximately $1.35 million to $2 million), which seems astonishingly low given the piece’s cultural impact. Indeed, David Maupin, Emin’s dealer in New York who sold the bed to Saatchi in 2000 for £150,000 (about $252,000), has said he thinks the Christie’s estimate is too low. “It’s historic. It’s priceless.”

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‘Cultural impact.’ So, a lot of people noticed it? It took a lot of technical skill? People were shocked by it? People had a strong reaction after seeing it in person?

It made her a celebrity?

I generally prefer the art dealer’s self-interested marketing bulls**t to a journalist’s ‘cultural impact’ claptrap.

Quote found here at friesian.com:

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

Another pomo quote from Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

John O’Sullivan On The French Elections

Full piece here.

‘So the next five years could well see a series of social crises in which two versions of young France — a multicultural one swollen by migration and a native-nationalist one fed by the arrival of a post-guilt generation — will find themselves on opposite sides of a worsening political divide.’
The fundamental instability of both current French politics and the EU are worrying, to say the least.

 

As previously posted:

Interview sent in by a reader with Hollebecq on his ‘Soumission,’ which, in his fictional world, imagines a soon-to-be Muslim candidate defeating a French nationalist candidate, followed by an ultimate submission of French society to Islamic law and political leadership.

Interesting discussion at the link (including a deflation of (R)acism as critical theory).

‘But now you’re asking words to mean something they don’t. Racism is simply when you don’t like somebody because he belongs to another race, because he hasn’t got the same color skin that you do, or the same features, et cetera. You can’t stretch the word to give it some higher meaning.’

On some of Hollebecq’s thinking behind the creative work:

‘Yes. It has to happen sometime and it might as well be now. In this sense, too, I am a Comtean. We are in what he calls the metaphysical stage, which began in the Middle Ages and whose whole point was to destroy the phase that preceded it. In itself, it can produce nothing, just emptiness and unhappiness. So yes, I am hostile to Enlightenment philosophy, I need to make that perfectly clear. ‘

Whoa, at least he’s relatively up front about that.

Isn’t it possible to reject Hollebecq’s modernity-is-dead worldview AND also put the universal claims of progressive, collectivist, ideological, postmodern, multicultural feminist discontents into their proper perspective…without suggesting the end of the modern world and some presumed next stage to be reached?

And as for discussions of art:  Is the book worth a read?

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From the comments:

‘Those of you regarding e.g. feminism as somehow an antidote to the patriarchal impulses in enlightenment thinking or Islam, or in broader terms postmodern political and social movements as offering a ‘third way’, something totally new and immune from this dynamic of competitive decay and decline, forget the fact that these movements are themselves the most recent outgrowths of the emancipative instinct, one of the core features deeply rooted in Western thought ever since the renaissance, as Barzun described. As an Asian living in the West myself, I have to tell you that this instinct is simply not present as a core element in other civilisations, and is indeed distinctive about the West. That Japan and Korea, and for that matter every non-western nation, modernised without a countercultural ‘values’ rebellion is indicative in this regard. The west is going to be without allies as it goes with a whimper.

Under such a depressing worldview, hope is provided for by religion and mysticism, a return to medievalism. It is sad, because the West will truly die as it numbs its own most deeply embedded instincts in the process of conversion, but the mysticism is a form of hope for the masses, who never particularly cared for high ideals anyway.

Houellebecq seems to channel Spengler, who hardly anybody reads nowadays. But that such an interesting thinker is hardly glanced at today is an indictment of us, not of him.’

Also, from the comments.  Hubristic, but there’s something to the grandiosity and deflated nihilism:

‘This is why I love French writers and thinkers. Fascinating to read even if they are always wrong.’

Repost-Peter Berkowitz Quotation On Leo Strauss & Religious Liberty

Full paper here.

“As Strauss understood it, the principle of liberal democracy is the natural freedom and equality of all human beings, and the bond of liberal society is a universal morality that links human beings regardless of religion. Liberalism understands religion to be a primary source of divisiveness in society, but it also regards liberty of religious worship to be a fundamental expression of the autonomy of the individual. To safeguard religion and to safeguard society from conflicts over religion, liberalism pushes religion to the private sphere where it is protected by law. The liberal state also strictly prohibits public laws that discriminate on the basis of religion. What the liberal state cannot do without ceasing to be liberal is to use the law to root out and entirely eliminate discrimination, religious and otherwise, on the part of private individuals and groups.”

Where The Libertarian And Conservative Often Part Ways-Arnold Kling On Ken Minogue’s ‘The Servile Mind’

Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’sThe Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:

‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’

About that last part, most libertarians tend to draw a ring around the individual and proceed accordingly, seeing unnecessary authoritarianism and systems of authority on both political Left and Right.  I suspect most libertarians see this as some kind of moral failure or undue pessimism on the part of non-libertarian thinkers:  Such thinkers are unwarranted in assuming something so deeply flawed about human nature.  I mean, we’re not that bad.  Most people can handle the freedom to make their own choices most of the time.  Or at least, as many people as possible must be free to make their own mistakes and learn (or not) from them without such authority restricting voluntary choices.

Free-minds and free-markets are enough for many libertarians, while Minogue might see more flawed stuff:  The desire to know one’s place in a hierarchy, the desire to define what one is by what one is not (it, them, they), the deep desire for security and regularity in daily life.

For my part, I tend to align with libertarians on a host of issues, especially against the Western Left, who, in my experience, can usually be found attacking and tearing-down traditional institutions (marriage, family, rule of law) and the obligations and duties they require of individuals (fidelity, working mostly for children & family, military service/jury duty).  Such institutions and duties are seen as oppressive and morally illegitimate by the committed Leftist; worth protesting in peaceful, or overthrowing, in violent and radical fashion.

I often find myself asking the same old questions, with a contrarian spirit and from a position of deeper skepticism: With what are such institutions and duties to be replaced, exactly?  How do you know your beliefs are true beliefs and accurate descriptions of the world?

Any injustice, unfairness, or genuine victim in Life is immediately requiring of moral concern and action by the Leftist.  The injustice is identified, the cause amplified, and the victim placed into the ideologically preordained category, mobilizing individuals (temporarily recognized as such) for collective action on the road to presumed achievable ideal outcomes.  You’ve probably heard it all before: Equality, Freedom, Peace are next…for ALL humanity as though any one person speaks for ALL of humanity.

Of course, mention the monstrous totalitarianism of Communist and revolutionary regimes (Soviet, North Korean, Cuban, Vietnamese, Venezuelan), for example, and you’re some kind of extremist.  Point-out the many failures, injustices, and genuine victims of many rationalist economic policies and laws, or the potential logical inconsistencies found in much liberal and Western secular humanism (or any system, for that matter), and prepare to meet uncomfortable silence, scorn and derision.

Or worse.


Yet, a question rather simply and plainly presents itself: What to conserve?

The religious Right (universal claims to transcendent truth and earthly service found within God’s Plan, Family and Church) have plenty of well-documented and serious problems.  There’s an inherent assumption that Man’s nature is so flawed as to require constant adherence to God’s laws.  The universality and necessary enforcement of those laws must be undertaken and necessarily lead to redeemable suffering, some injustice and unfairness of their own.

If you fall outside this plan, prepare to eventually join the cause, or be damned.

In fact, there has been no shortage of short and long wars, schisms and all-too-earthly conflict.  Earthly authority easily degenerates into petty and ruthless competition and abuse.  The suffocation of truth and attack upon dissenters with different claims to knowledge are not rarities, and the inherent dullness and conformity of some devout believers comes as no surprise (often organizing against free-thinkers, naturalists, and opposing religious doctrines).

Here’s another review of Minogue’s book which compares The Servile Mind favorably to Thomas Sowell’s ‘A Conflict Of Visions

‘His definitions of the right and left partner well with Sowell’s analysis.  In shortened form, Minogue’s name for the right is conservatism.  He defines conservatism as caution in changing the structure of society based on an understanding that all change is likely to have unintended consequences.  He calls the left radicalism, which covers most ambitious projects for changing the basic structure of state and society.  Radicalism encompasses Fascism and Communism, popularly thought to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but understood by almost everyone as despotic.  Radicalism views man as malleable.’

As previously posted, here’s Minogue on liberation theology, feminism, and other radical discontents.  Rarely are ideas presented so clearly and well:

Here’s Thomas Sowell on his own thought, once a youthful and briefly committed Marxist (the kind of injustice American slavery imparted upon the mind, body and soul often led to radicalism of one kind or another).  He ended up in a very different place:

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Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Also On This Site: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Thomas Sowell at The National Review: ‘The Inconvenient Truth About Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown:’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Fred Siegel On The German Influence And Kelley Ross On Some Of Roger Scruton’s Thinking

The People In Charge Are Never The Ones You Want

So, what do you want?

From ‘A Modest Proposal’:

‘But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at legnth utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England.’
I’ll take this in a certain direction. From my high-school days, ‘The Wave’:

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Intellectuals running things…:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Repost-Two Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Jesse Walker At Reason Links To Ross Douthat: ‘”The Meritocracy As We Know It Mostly Works To Perpetuate the Existing Upper Class’

Also On This Site: How many libertarians are fundamentally anti-theist…and would some go so far as to embrace utilitarianism, or Mill’s Harm Principle?

Madame, I Believe Your Brains May Have Fallen Out

After the Yale Silliman silliness and the Charles Murray Middlebury madness, a cruder skepticism might recommend writing many humanities/social sciences departments off altogether (hey, it’s Middlebury, after all).

Some departments are so open-minded, it seems, they’re allowing students to chant James Baldwin as though his spells will ward off the evil spirits of white-devilry (there’s still an air of the psycho-drama about all this).  Perhaps, just perhaps, a University isn’t the type of place where angry mobs should shout-down invited speakers, hunt them to the after-party, and beat them away into the night.

Mockery and laughter can work wonders in the face of true-belief and rigid ideology (that’s not funny!), but relatively fewer people have the wisdom, moral courage and humility to earn back the trust to educate, not indoctrinate.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath as long as enough money and influence are at stake, and the stakes, as they say, are still pretty low.

At least now a broader swathe of the American public has gotten a look at the unhealthy radical group-think festering within, the kind which arrives when ideas and bad ideas, unchallenged, are allowed to rule the roost.  The consequences such ideas are having upon the pursuit of truth are damning.

Whose good is this serving?

Heterodox Academy might not be a bad start.


As previously posted:

As this blog has been arguing for over a decade, a lot of modern art is pretty good, but beyond the current political/ideological squabbles, there sure are a lot of poseurs making crap.

A Bleak, Modern House-Four Poems

The creep of vacuous ideas and lack of any apparent talent/technique is common, and it can be hard to tell where celebrity, marketing and branding bullshit ends, and ‘art’ begins:

-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

What is this lady doing?:

Some quotes for you, dear Reader:

From Dr. Steven Hicks:

‘In the shorter term, postmodernism has caused an impoverishment of much of the academic humanities, both in the quality of the work being done and the civility of the debates. The sciences have been less affected and are relatively healthy. The social sciences are mixed.

I am optimistic, though, for a couple of reasons. One is that pomo was able to entrench itself in the second half of the twentieth century in large part because first-rate intellectuals were mostly dismissive of it and focused on their own projects. But over the last ten years, after pomo’s excesses became blatant, there has been a vigorous counter-attack and pomo is now on the defensive. Another reason for optimism is that, as a species of skepticism, pomo is ultimately empty and becomes boring. Eventually intellectually-alert individuals get tired of the same old lines and move on. It is one thing, as the pomo can do well, to critique other theories and tear them down. But that merely clears the field for the next new and intriguing theory and for the next generation of energetic young intellectuals.

So while the postmodernism has had its generation or two, I think we’re ready for the next new thing – a strong, fresh, and positive approach to the big issues, one that of course takes into account the critical weapons the pomo have used well over the last while’

We’ll see about that…

Roger Scruton’s words struck me when I read them years ago:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.

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Apart from the rare genius, it seems the arts tend to ferment in groups and schools, made up of individuals with their own ideas, reacting to each other and events; reacting to their own developing talents and finding out through trial and error what works within some semblance of a tradition.

See: ‘Tradition And The Individual Talent’

Culture matters, in the sense that the value a civilization chooses to place in one activity over another can dramatically affect outcomes for that particular activity; a framework emphasizing and incentivizing the activity to live on in hearts and minds of individuals.

Perhaps Modern Art just needs to be put into broader contexts, given deeper roots which can nourish the talent already being born.

Some people are looking for ‘epistemologies:’

Daniel Dennett: ‘Postmodernism And Truth’

No, I don’t need a movie explained to me in terms of ‘masculinity’ or feminist doctrine, any more than I need it to tell me to read Leviticus, or be a good Christian. I like good composition.

No, I don’t need a cartoon to reflect ‘solidarity’ around a particular political figure or set of political ideals, you fool!

Good art is usually beyond all that, and makes the viewer question/forget such things.

Why not just put a few algorithms to work in writing those artist statements?

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5