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On Art (sniff, sniff)

On Art (sniff, Sniff)

Jeff Foxworthy, redneck supreme, defines being a redneck as having a "glorious absence of sophistication". I may never have brought beer to a funeral, but in a very real sense, I am a redneck. Sophistication, to me, is more precisely called "putting on airs" and I despise it.

I am pretentious in my lack of pretension. It's a fault of mine.

There aren't very many personality traits that elicit instant dislike out of me. Probably the biggest is snobbery: the closely cherished illusion that you are superior to the rest of us. I have no time for that. None.

Unfortunately, it's everywhere. I run across people whose noses rip the clouds all the time.

Organized religion is thoroughly infected with it, to the point where those who adhere to your exact set of beliefs are "saved" and others are "lost"; taken to its logical extreme, those others are infidels and fit only to be killed. And lest you think that commandment is only Islamic, go check out Deuteronomy 13 and 17, or Numbers 31,  and ask yourself what kind of god commands its followers to kill not only unbelievers, but children. Oh, sorry, only male children are to be killed--the female children are to be distributed to the soldiers as "spoils of war".


You see snobbery in politics, which nowadays is just a civil religion anyway. Oh, brother, do you. Without forty plus years of the salary class shitting all over the wage class, you don't have the conditions for a Donald Trump.

In fact, whenever humans can divide themselves into different groups, there seems to be an inherent tendency to elevate one group (mine) over another (yours).

You'll find me pretentiously unpretentious on nearly any subject you'd care to name. Reading: I shun "lit'rary" like the plague. Tell me a STORY, don't bore the tits off me with authorial intrusion. Sports: I'm a fan of teams...but unlike many fans of teams I don't hate other teams, their players, or their fans. (With a couple of exceptions: I find many fans of the Montreal Canadians insufferably arrogant and I really don't like anything to do with the Philadelphia Flyers. The team culture glorifies goonery to the point where I have watched their fans CHEER an opponent's injury and BOO when he regained his skates, in defiance of hockey protocol and basic human decency). Food: keep that goat's anus tartare away from me and give me comfort food. Poor man's food. Food that doesn't scream I'm better than you because I can afford this and you can't.

There's one place where I'm probably seen as more of a snob than a redneck, and that's my taste in music. Now, it's pretty wide-ranging, and I do like a fair bit of 'rednecky' music. But my first love when it comes to music is classical, and classical is seen as a very highbrow form of art nowadays.

It hasn't always been that way, of course, and it certainly shouldn't be dismissed entirely: what's called classical music spans a spectrum that dwarfs every other genre of music put together. There's something for everybody in there.

Classical music is seen as snootish partly because of concert etiquette (dress up! don't move a muscle between musical movements! don't make a sound during the music!) That, too, wasn't always the case: go back a couple of centuries and the performers on stage actually had to work to obtain and maintain the audience's attention and appreciation. Concerts of the 1800s were more akin to sporting matches today. This is meant to be funny, and I find it hysterical, but there's a nugget of truth in here. Wouldn't it be great if some classical concerts came with play-by-play and colour commentary?

Even within the realm of classical music, and for all the openness I strive to cultivate in my mind, there are certain no-go zones for me, and they invariably involve what I can't help but think of as pretentious crap. And that pretentious crap is itself almost invariably modern.

There's a reason for that.

John Michael Greer, a writer and thinker whom I deeply admire, has written a 'history of the future' over twenty five blogs entitled RETROTOPIA.  In it, he has one character come to a realization about art that resonates deeply with me:

Any art form has a certain amount of notional space to it, and each work done in that space fills up part of it. Before you’ve filled up the space, innovation works more often than not, but after the space is full, innovation just generates noise. That’s why the history of every art gets sorted out into a period of exploration, when you succeed by trying new things, and a period of performance, when you succeed by doing old things very, very well. If you keep on trying to innovate when the notional space is full, the results are either going to be derivative or unbearable, and either way they’re not going to be any good, because the good options have already been taken. (The Archdruid Report, July 6, 2016)

(He goes on to apply this to technology as well. I find it fascinating, and demonstrably true: there just aren't that many new things that are sharply better than the things they replace, and novelty itself is now marketed the way things like, oh, I don't know, quality and durability once were. The notional space for many technologies is full or close to it.)

When the notional space for art gets full, artists and the intelligentsia who proclaim what is and isn't art must find ever more ridiculous ways to maintain their superiority.  Hence Greer's parable of "The Emperor's New Art" in which a dog barfs up some paint on to a canvas...and it of course becomes a masterpiece:

Now of course the first thought of every member of the imperial art committee was, “That looks like dog barf.” As soon as that thought entered their minds, though, every one of them thought, “Oh, no! Does that mean that my tastes are pedestrian and I don’t understand the true sublimity of which art is capable?” So none of them said anything at first. Then one, who felt a little more insecure than the others and felt he had to prove that he didn’t have pedestrian tastes, said, “This is indeed a great work of art.” All the others thought, “He must have refined taste and deep aesthetic sensitivity.” So they all began to praise the painting, and the more they looked at it, the more they succeeded in convincing themselves that it couldn’t be what it obviously was, that is, a canvas on which a dog had thrown up. (Ibid., August 10, 2016)

I'm not a fan of modern art, by and large, because to me, it's noise. It's pretension. There's no "there" there. I get the facile point some of it tries to make -- oh, how shocking, someone shit all over a crucifix -- but to my mind, that's not art, that's dog barf someone shitting all over a crucifix.

When it comes to visual art, my tastes are decidedly boring and, I'm actually a bit ashamed to admit, comparatively narrow.  I like landscapes, especially if they have water in them. We own a couple of prints; my favourite is by the man who designed Canada's two-dollar coin. It's called "Shoreline Encounter".

I'm not completely shallow. I like abstract art if it has vibrancy and a sense of movement. I appreciate many of the classics in various schools of art -- Dali (one of the only posters in my university residence room was "The Persistence of Memory")...Picasso...
Rembrandt...Monet...I will look at anything, and give it an honest chance.

But things like "Voice of Fire"...$1.8 million? Seriously?

What am I supposed to appreciate here? How straight the lines are? Because I don't see anything else. I leave it to the People Of Discernment And Aesthetic Sensitivity to tell me how lowbrow, how unintelligent, and how...rednecky I am.

A glorious absence of sophistication. You know what? I'll take the absence of sophistication over the sophistication of absence.

This post first appeared on The Breadbin, please read the originial post: here

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On Art (sniff, sniff)


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