The Cluttering of the Artistic Mind

I found Camille Paglia’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about modern-day art interesting and thought provoking:

What has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts? Two major causes can be identified, one relating to an expansion of form and the other to a contraction of ideology.
Painting was the prestige genre in the fine arts from the Renaissance on. But painting was dethroned by the brash multimedia revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Permanence faded as a goal of art-making.
But there is a larger question: What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it? Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber. The art world, like humanities faculties, suffers from a monolithic political orthodoxy—an upper-middle-class liberalism far from the fiery antiestablishment leftism of the 1960s. (I am speaking as a libertarian Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.)
Today’s blasé liberal secularism also departs from the respectful exploration of world religions that characterized the 1960s. Artists can now win attention by imitating once-risky shock gestures of sexual exhibitionism or sacrilege….It’s high time for the art world to admit that the avant-garde is dead.

According to Paglia, art has suffered with the diminished working-classness of America.

The vulnerability of students and faculty alike to factitious theory about the arts is in large part due to the bourgeois drift of the last half century. Our woefully shrunken industrial base means that today’s college-bound young people rarely have direct contact any longer with the manual trades, which share skills, methods and materials with artistic workmanship….For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.
Creativity is in fact flourishing untrammeled in the applied arts, above all industrial design. Over the past 20 years, I have noticed that the most flexible, dynamic, inquisitive minds among my students have been industrial design majors. Industrial designers are bracingly free of ideology and cant. The industrial designer is trained to be a clear-eyed observer of the commercial world—which, like it or not, is modern reality.
Capitalism has its weaknesses. But it is capitalism that ended the stranglehold of the hereditary aristocracies, raised the standard of living for most of the world and enabled the emancipation of women. The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time.

While she is encouraged by the artisticness of industrial design, she points to the iPhone as a triumph of form but one that has “no spiritual dimension”.

Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed.
Thus young artists have been betrayed and stunted by their elders before their careers have even begun. Is it any wonder that our fine arts have become a wasteland?

I agree, but the very technology Paglia points to also goes a long ways towards stifling the creative mind. It’s a heckuva lot easier to play a video game than to imagine up a story on your own, for instance. Then there’s the hand-held devices–like the iPhone–that are removing a tolerance for boredom from our lives:

“Doug Gross writes that thanks to technology, there’s been a recent sea change in how people today kill time. ‘Those dog-eared magazines in your doctor’s office are going unread. Your fellow customers in line at the deli counter are being ignored. And simply gazing around at one’s surroundings? Forget about it.’ With their games, music, videos, social media and texting, smartphones ‘superstimulate,’ a desire humans have to play when things get dull, says anthropologist Christopher Lynn and he believes that modern society may be making that desire even stronger. ‘When you’re habituated to constant stimulation, when you lack it, you sort of don’t know what to do with yourself,’ says Lynn. ‘When we aren’t used to having down time, it results in anxiety. ‘Oh my god, I should be doing something.’ And we reach for the smartphone. It’s our omnipresent relief from that.’ Researchers say this all makes sense. Fiddling with our phones, they say, addresses a basic human need to cure boredom by any means necessary. But they also fear that by filling almost every second of down time by peering at our phones we are missing out on the creative and potentially rewarding ways we’ve dealt with boredom in days past. ‘Informational overload from all quarters means that there can often be very little time for personal thought, reflection, or even just ‘zoning out,'” researchers write.

This confirms Paglia’s fears, if from another angle. Ever-present technology is removing the time for introspection from our lives. We aren’t stopping to take a breath, to think, to ruminate. It’s all tweets and YouTube and Facebook status updates and DVRing and, yes, occasionally reading on the Kindle. But we don’t reflect as much as we used to. Our imagining minds are cluttered with other peoples thoughts and ideas that crowd out our own.

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Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
9 years ago

Nothing more stomach turning than the Born On Third Base, Thinks He Hit A Triple white leftist. Champagne socialists they are called in Europe-with no affection.
Think Matt Jerzyk.
Think David Seagal.
Think Goldilocks Brewster.
Think college washout Sammy Howard.
Cultural, moral, spiritual, economically illiterate 2 legged feces.

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