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The crisis in art and culture, ten years after "9/11"

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 5, 2011

The cultural struggle, including the capacity to create great art, is one of the most important arenas in the fight for Western civilization.

Have late modern values and technology made great art impossible?

Massive advances in technology have by now given us multifarious technological instruments which could have, theoretically-speaking, increased the prevalence of great art today. However, the cumulative social, cultural, and spiritual effects of these technological advances have in fact, it could be argued, corrosively dissolved or smashed to bits the more traditional social, cultural, and spiritual contexts which could produce and nourish great art and great artists -- such as, archetypically, Renaissance England and William Shakespeare.

The vast mass of people are reduced to unreflective, history-less "vidiots" -- passive consumers of stupefying television programs, films, Internet images, videogames, sports events, and popular music that is "racing to the bottom." The mass-education system, rather than offering a salutary "counter-ethic" to the mass-media, in most cases reinforces it.

As for the so-called high art, it could be argued that it indulges today in excessively frequent portrayals of evil, ugliness, and perversity; in nearly infinite variations and explorations of designated minority consciousness; in expressions of hatred or self-hatred of Western civilization; and in multifarious techniques for rendering virtually the whole Western and European past to appear as utterly hideous to so-called "decent" human sensibilities.

The near-infinite reproducibility of photographic and video images, as well as raising the disturbing question of what can possibly be seen as "authentic" today, has made mass pornography into a huge industry and social phenomenon. Today, mass pornography is part of the societal background field, probably for the first time in history. Certainly, the rendering of erotic pictorial images in premodern societies required substantial amounts of time and artistic skill, thus inherently limiting them to a comparatively small audience.

What is particularly troubling about most forms of pop-culture -- sports, films and television, popular music, and the fashion-industry -- is the near-total exclusion of a more traditionalist vision from them. Ted Nugent is about the only rock-star who has openly declared himself to be a conservative. One supposes that Country-and-Western Music and NASCAR racing (both of them largely concentrated in the American South and South-West) are two pop-culture subgenres with a semi-traditionalist element. There is also, in the U.S., a fairly large subgenre of Christian music and Christian fiction, but its profile outside of its segment-market is nugatory. Most music and publishing industry moguls treat it with disdain.

In Canada today, the love of hockey is one of the last unifying elements of the country.

Some less obvious social foci with traditionalist implications might include: local historical and architectural preservation societies; historical and battlefield re-enactors (such as those focussing on the American Civil War, American Revolutionary War, or the Medieval/Renaissance eras); classical music, folk music, book, poetry, and Classics, Medieval, or Renaissance enthusiasts; some ecological and conservation organizations; and railroad and historical board wargames hobbyists.

Following to a certain extent the arguments made by Anthony Gancarski, it is possible to argue that Eighties' alternative, New Wave, technopop, and some ballad-type music, can be seen as having Romantic, aesthetic, and definitely "Eurocentric" aspects. Such music often seems to have an "orchestral" or "symphonic" feel to it. Today called "Eighties' retro," "retro-alternative," or simply "retro," it can be favorably contrasted with such currently popular music subgenres as rap.

It could be argued that the artist who seeks to create great art today should try to enter into a spirit of thought and reflection about the nature of late modern society. Insofar as it aims for greatness, outstanding art today must – at least to some extent -- move towards a rejection of the current-day atmosphere of political correctness, designated minorities, and relativist aesthetics. While great art must be careful of not falling into kitsch, it should at the same time aspire to some fragment of "the true, the good, and the beautiful" -- often including elements of history, religion, and the heroic. In some cases, of course, the portrayal of evil, ugliness, and perversity can be artistically brilliant -- but it must be deftly handled. And let it be openly said that some kind of salutary, positive "counter-ethic" is emphatically needed in today's society, as we are at almost every point overwhelmed by the relentless portrayal and evocation of evil, ugliness, and perversity -- as well as by the mind-numbing strictures of political-correctness. In current-day Western societies, a piece of carefully-crafted, representational art by a European artist, patriotically celebrating some part of his or her nation's heroic history or origins -- may be the most truly radical work of art possible. A recent, outstanding, but comparatively little-known film from Poland is Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Quo Vadis? (based on the Nobel-winning, Christians in Ancient Rome novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz). (It is available with subtitles in English and a number of other languages.)

It could be argued that the unrelenting advance of technology in Western societies -- resulting in the creation of a mass, lowest-common-denominator society driven by advertising, consumption, notions of designated victimhood, and political-correctness -- has attenuated the possibilities of the creation and reception of great art -- which depends on the valorization of "the high." The late modern society is indeed an extraordinarily harsh climate for the nourishing of what the Ancient Greeks called the megapsychlos -- "the great-souled man." In the sprawling and multifarious social and cultural landscape of late modern society, which is at places entirely barren, and in others, choked with luxuriant weeds, there are only a few niches where more elevated art and culture can exist.

It would be the task of a rooted social and cultural criticism to try to accurately portray the near-dystopic configurations of the late modern society, to try to identify the few remaining foci of resistance, and to endeavor to coalesce these (to the extent it is possible) into a broader social, cultural, and spiritual resistance movement.

Pointing to the thinness, even barrenness, of late modernity brings into high relief how much has been lost of authentic human experience, despite the enormous gains in physical wealth by which the U.S. and Canada and most other Western societies are characterized -- a wealth which, although unevenly distributed, far exceeds that available to any premodern society.

They are indeed materially very wealthy societies, but ones of extreme social, cultural, spiritual, religious, moral, psychological -- and, hence, artistic -- impoverishment. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

 

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