Sunday, May 28, 2017


One of the most unsettling aspects of a life in art is the rapid change of its underlying assumptions. It can take more than a lifetime for one's artistic abilities to mature, but an artist who strives for, say, beauty may find, just as she achieves this goal, that beauty is no longer of interest, and that the world of art has moved along to some other metric of artistic goodness, such as the current favorite of preaching to the choir.

There is no end to the cranky rantings of elder composers who decry the loss of interest in whatever they think is still important, even though they were happy to kick in the teeth the motivations of those who came before them. John Adams, who complained early on that the Pulitzers were not inclusive enough, has criticized the more recent Pulitzer winners for being the product of the times, where we are between times of high art, sounding not unlike those uptowners who complained about composers like him.

I wonder - who is it who decides on these metrics of artistic goodness?  Is it simply fashion, like hemlines?  The standards by which art is judged seem to seem so obvious to those in the middle of it: cleverness, social justice, glorification of the almighty, prettiness, commercial success, shocking la bourgeoisie, the latest gizmos, mastery of craft.  We the artists try not to pay attention, but we all crave the pat on the back and the envelope of cash that comes with timely success. And if one lives long enough, will one eventually be able to retrieve that old checkered sport coat from the downstairs closet and have everyone tell you how cool it is?  Maybe, but most likely your own tastes will diverge ever more from those of the perpetually reinvented artistic community. How lost would the revivified sculptor of any culture a thousand years ago be in an art world where, as shifting phenomena become frozen through emergent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a hymn to the possibilities of our culture?

But still there is a desire for immortality, artistic or literal. Both are impossible to control. Several therapists ago, I mentioned how my tech colleagues seemed to be racing to develop a literal immortality for their own bodies, and he guffawed at their credulity. How much the same is this desire to that which has always been, only now clothed in the lab coat of scientific and technological singularity? A case in point: the Totentanz at Mrtva┼íki ples. The latest desire for immortality through technology is no different than the seeking of comfort through religion, the contentment that comes from ignoring the truth, until it can no longer be ignored.

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