Does Religion Do Dirt On The Arts & Life? Ay, There’s A Fire Burning Beneath That Bonnet

In criticizing the woke, social justice true-believers trying to impose their ideas of ‘cultural appropriation’ upon fiction writers like Lionel Shriver (You can’t write black characters. We will colonize language!  We will colonize the imagination!), a reader points out the following:

First, I wrote, in shared criticism of such people:

‘If you’re looking to art for moral instruction, or for canned lines to solidify group membership, political affiliation and/or ideological identification, you’re probably doing dirt on the arts and life.’

Anonymous wrote back:

Check out Kanye:’

Dear Reader, can you tell the dancer from the dance?

Going to church is probably as much about scents and sounds, chanted words and ritual performace as much it is about doctrine for a lot of people, a lot of the time.  Here, a lot of hearts and minds can be changed.

Maybe the church and its doctrines proscribe limits which also harm the creative artist, just as do so many social justice ideologues, intersectionalists and radicals colonizing many university studies and HR departments.

Given other failures in American civic culture lately, including the more obvious ones within the entertainment and popular music industries, it’s not surprising the same channels are now used for religious conversion.

In fact, I’ve kind been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There’s something very funny to me about the Quakers trying to stay hip with social-justice appeal:

It’d be nice if many secularists and political liberals said something like the following: If we continue to secularize society, we will entrench many postmoderns, activists, radicals, people steeped in resentment, and narrow socialist ideologues, but the gains in liberty will be worth it.

We might even inspire a return to old-timey religion.  If this happens, we will freak-out about this turn of events.

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London. He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists. You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

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Related: A definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This Site: From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’

Poems By Robert Frost And William Carlos Williams-The Poet And The Crowd-Tuesday Timewaster

Maybe I’m just confusing two human pursuits (poetry and politics), and doing justice to neither.

Neither Far Out Nor In Deep:

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day. 

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull. 

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be—
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea. 

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep

Robert Frost

And now what about going to a baseball game, that fairly individualistic, uniquely American (descended from cricket), and usefully civilizing (fun) sport?:  William Carlos Williams focuses on the crowd.  You’d think he’d at least bother to learn more about the game.

Jeez.

“The Crowd at the Ball Game”

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them —

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius —

all to no end save beauty
the eternal –

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied —
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut —

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it —

The Jew gets it straight – it
is deadly, terrifying —

It is the Inquisition, the
Revolution

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them
idly —

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought.

Addition: What can the artist see when looking upon a crowd as an individual apart?  Can he really reduce their ignorance to his own? How can he really know that they all attend the ball game for one large, abstract concept of beauty communicated through his art?

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I’ll just put up some quotes I’ve put up twice before:

“Public opinion, I am sorry to say, will bear a great deal of nonsense. There is scarcely any absurdity so gross, whether in religion, politics, science or manners, which it will not bear.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute.”

Abraham Lincoln

For Commerce And Contemplation-From David Thompson: ‘The Humble Among Us:’

Let’s face it, some people claiming to speak for the arts, or all artists, or all of the public who would benefit from the arts, are quite obviously speaking for themselves, their own interests, and/or ideas that will never speak for all artists nor all of the public.

In the worst cases, they can be speaking for ideas which seek to deploy the arts as propaganda.

Usually, though, after the humor dies down, such thinking tends to lead to more foundations, arts councils and programs, not necessarily better art:

‘As a member of our creative caste, Ms Delaney wants to capture the buzz and thrum of city life. She wants to inspire “recognition” and, above all, “empathy.” It’s just that she’d prefer not to empathise too much with those non-creative people. Say, by working for a living and paying her own bills’

For those interested, here are a few central questions I’ve gleaned from many discussions and debates of my own:

Who decides what is good and not good art, and what the public ‘ought’ to be viewing?‘

’Should artists of ambition, some talent and potential genius be supported, and if so, how?  Does this support always incentivize them to make better art?

Does institutionalization lead to the easier appropriation of art by the religious, the politicians, the speculators and patrons, the culture vultures and various other ideological interests?

A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

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Koons’ site here.  Part 1 of a 5-part documentary above.

I often find myself reacting to modern art and pop art, like many people, with my bullshit detector continually sounding at a low buzz.  Are these great artists?  What has happened at the intersection between art, money, and media in the ‘modern’ world?  Is there any ‘there’ there?

Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Modern Art by gps1941.

Excellent photo found here…gps1941 photostream here. More on the original St. John The Baptist here.

This is kitsch par excellence, exquisitely rendered.  I admit that I can still break out into laughter while staring at it, admiring Koons’ ability to use his materials to realize a very particular concept, and to execute that concept and evoke what might even be a particular emotion in onlookers.  The quality and finish of these pieces is high and Koons works in various materials, including porcelin, metal, wood, and mixed media.  Like Warhol, he’s set up a studio with workers churning out his art.   There is no doubt some genuine artistic ability there, creative imagination, vision, and devotion to his craft.

Great art?

On what he was trying to achieve:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it.  I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

In a way, Koons could be seen as quintessentially American, taking the country, its lack of refinement as an artist might see it, its marketing and advertising, the products of its egalitarian spirit and consumer culture into his embrace.  By recalling his own experiences and trying to provide deeper context (and by constantly self-promoting), he certainly has a commitment to America. This raises questions of perpetual interest to those who see their duty in making, criticizing, curating, buying and enjoying art. It also coincides with a larger movement.

From the video:

‘I think that Warhol, as radical as he seems, still very much prized the idea of originality at the core of his working process, and it’s hard not to see him as being a very original artist in that sense.  The idea of Koons rejecting all originality, I think, is central to understanding what his work was about.’

and:

‘The way Andy predicted celebrity, Jeff predicted branding.’

I don’t doubt for a second there’s a bright, aesthetically inclined teenager out there laying under the illuminating glow of a Thomas Kinkade signed print.

As posted before, Camille Paglia is a child of the 60’s, wants better art education, and is sympathetic to themes found on this blog:

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Such artistic impulses also have to deal the rest of America’s bustle and mass culture.  Some of our best-known exports to the world are made by groups of us here at home, organized in certain ways.  Examples abound, from Hollywood movies to McDonalds and Starbucks to our politics to Mars exploration, but we Americans have a real talent for this kind of thing, and Koons seems to be trying to hold up a mirror to our desires and the culture.  Naturally, this creates tension between the individual and the society, what kind of society we have, and what kind of society we ought to have.

Here’s another quote from the video:

‘Koons like to fill things, blow them up, and make his own breath last forever.  He’s interested in eternity, in immortality.’

That’s probably worth thinking about.

***Robert Hughes wrote a review for Time entitled the “Princeling Of Kitsch.”

***The day that Damien Hirst put up his works, selling them for $111 million dollars, the market crashed.

Related On This Site:  Martha Nussbaum wants to take religion out of the laws, and also has ideas about shame and disgust.  I’m not necessarily convinced by the type of secular moral thinking she wants to guide society.  From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

Full post here.  (including video link)

Detroit may have seen better days, and may have its problems, but is it to be seen through a tragic lens…as an artifact whose meaning is to be determined by young artists looking for a sense of community, social integration, and certain definition of “culture?”

Does it matter that much if these are the people currently adding value back to Detroit and willing to do the work?

Related On This Site: Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?… some people don’t want you to have the freedom to move to the suburbs and are attaching creativity to political goals: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’… From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar Man

Trading Robert Moses for Brailia…an authoritarian streak?:  Brasilia: A Planned City… Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And Aesthetics

From Reason: ‘Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey’…Reason also suggests that if such creative/entrepenurial spirit gets off the ground, it will have to get around the public sector in Detroit.

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