Monday, May 9, 2011

Keeping it dumb in black and white

"...democracies are fundamentally anti-artistic. "
A door without a frame is not unlike a question without a desire to know.
That's what I heard , just walking by the patio , a man and women geeked out on wine and Sherman cigarettes discussing whether free elections are hindrance or a boon to the artist. They seemed to think that the contenders for power appealed to the primordial fear of a hypothetical Mass Man in order to foment their unspoken desire to consolidate their resources; only the black and white world need apply. But , in truth, it is  ;ess that democracies are anti-artistic than they are resistant to the notion that aesthetic concerns and artistic expression are reserved for a cultivated elite.

Democracy rejects this sublimated priesthood on principle, and opens the arena, the galleries so that more who wish to do so may engage in the intuitive/artistic process and keep the activity alive in ways that are new and precisely relevant to the time--this is the only way that the past has any use at all, as it informs the present day activity, and allows itself to be molded to new sets of experiences. Art is about opening up perspectives, not closing them down, and that is the democratic spirit at its best. 

Otherwise, the past is a rigored religion, and history is an excuse for brutal, death wish nostalgia.


  1. Provocative post, Ted. I would turn this idea around to state that there is a distinctly elitist impulse to artists that often puts them into opposition to the masses within a democratic state. Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Knut Hamsun, Ralph Adams Cram and other 20th Century creative geniuses who embraced forms of fascism or other anti-democratic ideologies were reacting to the vulgar, stultified and unimaginative tendencies in the general population; even those artists who embraced Communism were speaking to an idealized Common Man, not the lumpenproletariat of the real world. Henry Miller wrote in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare that a corn-fed hog is better treated in America than a typical artist. If writers, poets and painters disdain the average man, it is because they have so often been poorly treated by them. The Medicis in earlier societies at least sponsored a few artists so they could gild their palaces and paint their portraits.

  2. Yes, democracies “open the arena,” but too often those who are welcomed into that arena are pandering hucksters and banal crowd-pleasers, the sorts who dominate American pop culture today. I will admit that the elitist artists of the past were often less interested in being “precisely relevant to the time” than in upholding a standard maintained by the princes, clerics and cloistered intellectuals of the pre-modern era. And c’mon, you don’t need an obsessive love for the past to effectuate brutality and the death principle – those who have wished to “make it New” (e.g., Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot) have done a good job of that, often with the help of forward-thinking, energized artists. The point is, there is a natural opposition between the creative individual (as opposed to the dollar-chasing paid “artist”) and the typical citizen who hasn’t the time, patience or natural inclination to develop a taste for truly expressive or imaginative art, who in fact fears such a thing. Thomas Jefferson imagined an America where an enlightened, independent yeomanry cultivated its taste for the higher things, creating a society where the ordinary person became an aristocrat of the mind. I’m afraid that hasn’t happened, which is why the artist cannot rely upon his fellow citizens for support. If democracies aren’t fundamentally anti-artistic, those who form the majority of their populations often are.


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