A few months ago, one of my flatmate had advised me to turn this blog into an art critic blog as well as a social critique one. Somehow, the idea was that showing how polymath I could be in different areas of life would attract readership and show that I am not a stupidly single-minded revolutionary looser. It is true that presented as such, something he did not do by fear of me feeling insulted, I do see his point as holding some truth and I might actually start doing so. It is not easy though to set myself as a critic when I have a slightly universalistic approach to manufactured goods. I will not either be Kantian and declare that the beautiful can be found solely in the landscapes and the complexity of the world where we realize that we are part of something bigger.
The transcendence of the 'what-makes-us-feel-but-we-do-not-know-why' is of no interest for me here. It is though an interesting debate as to why should it not interest me when I say that I have a universalistic approach to the arts when some of the cultures of this world have worked at imitating the world. I am of course thinking of the Nippon culture, that has worked so well at imitating the beautiful chaos of the world.
Well the imitation and the real are two separates objects and it is actually the imitation that will find a defense in this article. Art is purely imitation and imitations should be brought back to the stage as being the center of all that is worthy in art. The real question is how complicated and hidden are the imitations unto which we are going to find some pleasure.
It is here that is revealed the slow downturn of our culture in the 20th century as observed by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki and Salinger. What the heck am I talking about? Well, Tanizaki's “Praise of the Shadow” is one of the best essays written explaining the essential differences between Western Culture and Far-Eastern Culture at the beginning of the 20th century. What people have called modernity was not about the objectification of nature ( most social theorist have defined modernity as the phenomenological switch of nature as being a controllable force rather than something in the power of the Gods) but rather about fighting off our fears and to present the obvious as we like to imagine it.
Adaptations of our reality have rarely been as obvious as the one we have found them in the 20th century. It is just a fact that auto-biographies and biographies have never been sold so much. Films are re-made constantly so the subtle critics of our reality are in our face with a loud noise so we do not need a cultural context to understand the origins of the music. Sciences are now in the domain of the everyday life as we see no problem at qualifying people around us as schizophrenics, bi-polars, depressed, demented, neurotics or closet-homosexuals when this lexicon is vulgarized in newspapers.
At the same time, while we reiterate all the known-knowns of our world's universal consciousness, we have now this slight tendency of forgetting what are the problems for which we have never found an answer and for which there are always ways to find new ways to illustrate the problematics. We take what we know for granted and do not look back unto how this knowledge has been founded. We watch whatever we do not want to discuss, we ignore the illustrated problems, what are the dimensions of human nature we do not yet understand, what the author might have tried to find in himself and instead get entertained by what we are satisfied to know.
Subtlety. Subtlety of course does not mean that anything produced has to be buried under an arrogant vocabulary and in a saturation of cultural references. Subtlety is best found in originality. “Me, you and everybody else we know” is a film with interlocking unusual stories reflecting on our lives. It is simple, has no special effects and half the cast is played by children, so hardly the Shakespearian trained talent. And yet there are so many grounds for discussion that the point of the film, the meaning behind, cannot be understood. It is not absent. It is just that it shows the known-unknowns of humanity.
Of course, it is so easy for me to come with my cultural references and shout: “ Be simple but be smart” and then drop a Nipponese author unto your lap and you might feel stupid not having read it ( you should be! [no, I'm just joking- it is in the end just a comparative analysis of toilets]). This is though not the point. The point is that something somewhere did not go right. I will not say that it is the democratization of culture that made ignorance and entertainment the dominant steam-roller of our culture, as did Adorno and Horkeimer hinted at.
I was for a time-being tempted to say that it is the problem of domination in our history. That we have forgotten the secular culture of the people against the high culture of the aristocracy. Brining back everybody to the same grounds so we can equally build from that was the solution defended by Mao should be considered. That is just the antithesis of A&H and it keeps us stupid though. We do need historical references as they show more about ourselves than any modern craft ever can. We do though need to understand the historical contexts unto which every references have been made and constructed to emancipate ourselves from the domination of high-culture.
The problem though might be as Adorno and Horkeimer proclaimed in their theory of the culture industry. The culture industry theory states that the producers of culture are the holders of the mean of production and as such, enlightenment is not in their profit. Why would Time-Warner or NewsCorp. let their public known that they sell just corrupted imitations that do not provide any content that might help us towards emancipation. Even in the mode of production there is something weird and hegemonic: why was Trafalgar square un-kettled by policemen when it was invaded by ignorant zombie-wizards are the release of the last Potter film? No one wonders.
'Made in Dageham' was declared by all its public the best British film of 2010. It made me cry. Have you heard of it? Now, have you heard of 'The King Speech' ? What did you get from it? Nothing obviously, there was nothing in it, I do not think it is repeated enough. Nothing! More than nothing, it has erased all the interesting psychological aspect of the poor guy not wanting to be King and his little brother not expecting to be king because he does not know what it means. Should I talk about ' The Black Swan' that portrayed women as being incapable of being professional and sensual at the same time for fear of going crazy ?
This corruption of the arts by the producers was made very discreetly through this innovative mode of ideological domination that is the intellectual property. Intellectual property did not exist before the 19th century. What this concept, now widely blindly accepted, made is creating a new unlimited resource for production so the limits of capitalism could be extended for a few centuries. It also created the illusion that everybody could make something and gain some money out of it. The film industry though is the clear example that as much as it has developed through capitalism, diversity in it has disappeared because of the oppression of the big studios, the big producers. What about Youtube?
If we do nothing, it will be the same story.
Internet will be controlled because it reduces intellectual property back to what it should have been: the collective patrimony unto which humanity can constantly relearn itself. Museums should be free, of course, but should not represent either the art market of the rich. What is presented in the museums is what has been established by rich owners as good art and some of their painting are kept in sight for everybody so the other paintings they own still holds their value. Paintings should be shared, for free, as should books, as should music, as should dances, as should philosophy.
Why, oh, why, did I mention Salinger alongside Tanizaki about the lack of arts in the 21st century? It is just that Salinger heroes always look at the world around them and are slightly depressed that it does not represent all the potential of humanity. The potential of humanity exists only for the un-atheists, the people capable of reflecting about a world before their existence and after their deaths. The potential of humanity has existed sometimes, in parsimony, if the few examples found in its history. I was reading a reference to Kipling trip to the United-States where he was corrected on a reference by a farmer (“It is not Montaigne who said so, it is Monteskiew!”). It made me think of Oscar Wilde's trip where he made conferences on literature and life to interested miners.
The Big Fat Lady exists, somewhere.
They all held the belief that humanity had the potential to see in arts something that can emancipate. But to do so, we do have to be critical and show our criticisms. More than that, we do have to beat ourselves constantly for not looking further into the depth of any crafts, to the point where there is just darkness and try to make sense of the obscure within humanity, of what cannot be understood, because otherwise we are as good as pigs satisfied to live in mud and ready to be eaten when it is too early.
to read : "In Praise of the Shadow" by Jun'Ichiro Tanazaki, The complete collection of J.D. Salinger ( do not stop at " the Catcher in the Rye" otherwise you will never understand Holden Caulfield but will make me feel like him), Civilization and its discontent by S.Freud ( not an art piece, still relevant), Maps and Territory by M.Houellebecq. Everything, in the end, might be worth reading.
And do watch "Made in Dagenham" to understand, in relation with the King's Speech, what is wrong with our world.