Monday, 4 August 2008

A is for...

art, or possibly Art. The capital letter is important, and has become one of my pet hates at the moment. Perhaps my attempts to write poetry have simply brought me into contact with too many people who feel that it should be Art, and not art. It's a division you find in lots of artistic fields, between the Art of Jazz and Classical music and the art of Pop, between the Art of ballet and the art of modern urban dance, or between the Art of impossible to understand installations and the sort of nice, pleasant picture that your next door neighbour might paint.

So, what's the difference? Well, at its most basic, it seems to be a division between complex, theoretically informed 'serious' Art and the sort of normal, enjoyable stuff everybody engages with. Now, I suppose there might be a vague sort of point to it somewhere, since most of us can recognise that an expert artist is probably producing better stuff than some kid's fingerpainting. If that's the case, then we all differentiate art by quality.

But it has often ceased to be about that. I used the example above of the difference between Jazz (which is Art) and pop (which is art) does this mean that the sort of annoying elevator jazz that would never dare go near a wrong note is somehow automatically Art, while the Beatles will never qualify as it? From painting to music to poetry, it has become all too often simply a question of producing work in the right style.

Worse, Art as a whole has become infected by the sort of postmodernist reading that can be incredibly annoying. 'Wow,' they say 'who'd have thought it? This art stuff doesn't have any automatic connection to any meaning. These rules about what sounds/looks/reads nice are artificial constructions. THEREFORE not only is there no reason to follow any of them ever again, but we SHOULDN'T follow any of them ever again. It will be a nice way of showing that we know that none of this is real.'

What this seems to mean, in the more extreme cases, is that the division has deepened irrevocably. It's got to the point in some cases where to produce something nice, or beautiful, or likeable is to be thought of as selling out. It's at the point where the art has gone through the stage of being all about the message (and that's bad enough. If you're not going to back it up with beauty, why not just hire a billboard?) and out the other side, into the zone where the only message is 'I'll do what I want, because nothing actually matters.' It's the sort of nihilism that you might expect from a teenager wearing far too much makeup, not from those supposedly at the cutting edge of culture.

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