If Great Art is Dead, Who Cares?

in the words of Ellen Dissanayake:

If we now abandon the ideology (or religion) of art that temporarily replaced the ideology of religion, is it enough for us to replace both of these – religion & art – with wit, in the form of clever humor, clever amusements, and with-it-ness?

Our abandonment of false truths may indicate our intellectual advancement, but the maladies in our social and personal lives suggest that we are not for the better of it.

I acknowledge the vitality and creativity in popular culture, but I wish these did not have to be at the expense of Great Art. … The ultimate concerns of the human condition are not addressed with even gritty, realistic cop and lawyer shows, popular songs, or homilies for children.

In the absence of traditional religion and its rites, Great Art provides awareness of the most thoughtful and serious response to such inescapable facts of life as love and loss, abandonment and despair, regret and hope, success and failure, and the ineluctable satisfaction and frustrations of living with others.

In the end each of us is ultimately alone in our own unique, desiring, precious, and perishable being. Through the ages Great Art, like religion before it, has been concerned with that fact, and the ramifications of that fact, which will never change.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Excellent reading you are sharing here. Thank you. I think we are seeing the working out of a philosophy that has made humans the measure of their own failure or success and so much the arbiters of their own interface with the world that it is usually called “a social construct”. Within that context, “art” is now “social”. Most practitioners who are trying to build something more complete are starting from the social and building connections with “the earth” from there. In the past, one could start with “the earth” or “God” and move towards the social from there. “Art” was one of the languages by which people moved through this dynamic, as “social” words were not the ones that could describe it. Now those social words are the ones we have left. It is a form of poverty. I believe.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you Harold,
      this progress is, as I understand it, very much in focus in the work of Ellen Dissanayake. You might like to have a look at her books.

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Yes, indeed. Thanks.

  2. Reports of the death of Great Art are premature. The cacophony of popular culture is not the death knell of Great Civilization. If the lines are blurred then we will need to adjust our lenses not throw our hands up in surrender. As for Traditional Religion its death too has been prematurely reported, A nonbeliever, I look out on a world in which I am decidedly in the minority…Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianism…every country in the world is dominated by one or more religions. Art and Religion are evolving as they always have done along with Culture, Technology and Civilization. The world of Art, Ideas and Beliefs – our Culture, is alive and well even if changing at breakneck pace.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I must admit I wish religion was less powerful, looking at the new developments in Iraq, I feel helpless – and I really can’t understand how kids and women in the country can go on with their lives. I know it is a power-game, but still I do think religion is to blame.

      Regarding the arts: I agree, I do also see them as flourishing, but what I don’t like, is that our culture treat art as a field for especially interested, and lesser as a part of common, shared, social life. How come we have to struggle so hard to get money for art – to life enriching & enhancing projects – when governments seems to have no limits when it comes to spending money on weapons?

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Perhaps it comes down to soul. Maybe the soul is not a pure energy but is embedded and transformed by life experience — all that stuff blown away on les chemins des dames? Rilke would say yes, and he went on, devastated by that war, to try to tell everyone that it was about engaging directly not with symbolic trees but the ones in front of one.

  3. If anything, those horrible ‘true crime’ shows and their almost pornographic portrayal of violence in our society, are the exact opposite of Great Art. They leave me feeling frightened, disgusted, utterly bereft. Art, even at its most challenging, fills me with light and hope.

    1. Correction: not always light and hope, often a multitude of feelings depending on the subject, but it almost always changes me in some way.

      1. Sigrun says:

        Art doesn’t numb you senses, so in a way one could maybe say that art makes you more alive, while the purpose of the entertainment business seems to be to lull you to sleep.

      2. Yes, or worse, it deadens our senses to the problems in our world–and art does the opposite don’t you think? (p.s. a very stimulating post, thanks for the discussion!)

      3. Sigrun says:

        yes! & thank you!

  4. beaumontjones says:

    I believe great art is alive and well; maybe we just have to look harder than before because of the barrage of imagery and words. And maybe the definition of great art changes constantly and we have to keep our minds open wide to be receptive to it. Hard sometimes when we see so much mediocre stuff. But it was ever thus. Every generation thinks the one coming up is going to the dogs. And each generation finds its own mode of expression.

    1. Sigrun says:

      yes, but:
      some periods foster more great art – and even if we repeat our ancestors concerns, the world is continually changing into something new, never seen before.
      I think what worries me the most isn’t mediocre art but bad stuff presented and sold as if it was worth something – .
      (oh; harsh, I know :))

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