There is this myth that circulates among the finer circles of art aficionados nowadays. It amounts to ancestor worship, really, and in a nutshell, it can be described as this: it’s the classics that really matter; only the classics are worthy of our attention. It shuns the current crop of art as it were a bothersome itch after a rowdy row with some alley girl. Modern art is rubbish, pop culture is neither (at least in our circles it isn’t), my dear boy, have another helping of Strauss or Yeats or Hugo and ponder on the woes of those of us endowed with a yearning for the finer things in life. Comparing those with the artists today? Why, it’s like comparing La Noisette with McDonalds.
Fast food culture. That’s what it’s being called. That’s what it boils down to for some people, this powerful, all-encompassing current that sweeps around the globe, this accumulation of creative potential unlocked in people that are better fed, better educated and with more free time on their hands, all thanks to the industrial revolution. And then there came the telegraph, the radio waves, and now the Internet, information links that ultimately brought people together, allowing them to see and hear what other minds have created in lands they only ever dreamed of.
Take photography, for instance, which evolved so much in a decade thanks to digital imagery that now a mere mortal with some time on their hands can create what masters of half a century past could only ever dream of. Sites like DeviantArt and Flickr allow anyone to showcase their work for the world to see, art galleries and critics be damned. And its so simple that even a 3-year old could do it, provided that a 3-year old would take enough time off from writing the next great American novel on his blog to indulge in such menial activities.
Of course there’s lots of bad art out there. There’s bound to be. For starters, there’s so much more of it. It’s bound to happen that people become fed up with the abundance of cat pictures over the Internet (or cat porn, as it is endeared by the fans of the genre). They can’t stand another overweight, yet not-that-cute Dutch teenage kid dancing away on some obscure Romanian hit song. Or yet another writer wannabe bashing them away on his blog. So they turn to the classics, the true artistic values, the ones that stood the test of time.
Ah, time. The great equaliser. Let enough time go by and Homer will stand next to Shakespeare, Aristofan next to Lev Tolstoi and Handel next to Debussy and no one will question this unnatural closeness. Yet they are centuries, even millennia apart. They were the finest of their generations, of their cultures, and they endured through the ages, so that we learn of them today. Is it fair then , I ask, to compare them with all of the artists in the world today? Is it not a bit hypocritical to conveniently forget that some of those artists were never a la mode in their time – indeed, some were discovered after they passed away – and compare them with the whim of today’s art consumers? It is my firm belief that we’re unfair.
For time is also the great filter. It gives us Mozart and takes away Salieri. It gives us Baudelaire and Robert Frost, but buries the thousands of poets de salon that bundled pretty rhymes together to win the hearts (and more) of frivolous demoiselles. Keats died of consumption, attacked on all sides by his critics, only to later be enshrined as one of the greatest that English Romantism has to offer. Where are his critics now? Their words are dust, subjects of dusty papers written by dusty scholars. We’re left with Endymion and a nostalgy of ancient, happy days. But ancient as they may well be, they were never that happy.
Who’s to say that not the same will happen in a hundred years time? Perhaps people will look back fondly towards the 20th century and say: “ah, those were the days”. The birth of rock’n’roll, ah, what I wouldn’t give to see those times. The rebels, the bards, the poets, baring their souls, burning their lives away on the altar of artistic expression. The great pioneers of information technology, the first feeble expressions of Web culture, that led all the way to the full sensorial sharing that we have today. Which we don’t like, there’s so many people sharing sensyms of them banging their heads to the walls on YouSense.com, all in the name of art. Art? Garbage I say. Now give me the 2010’s… ah, those were true artists then.
Because it’s oh so easy, can’t you see? With classics we don’t have to judge, because they’ve already been judged. We don’t have to choose, for they have already been chosen, and so they stand before us already validated by the hands of time. None of our friends would dare comment on our taste, because we stand on the shoulders of generations that valued the same art. Not to say that there are no true admirers of the classics. But its such a convenient hiding spot for the snobs of our time.
I dare say: there is no real fast food culture. There is no real fast food art. There is just man’s drive to create and express his innermost feelings and desires. There may have been performers with greater talent than Beethoven, wasting their life away between one fair and the next. Born in the wrong place or at the wrong time, not lucky enough to win the patronage of nobles, dying in squalor and misery because those were the times. And for every one of those there were hundreds of thousands of mediocre dabblers, which are best left forgotten as far as The Art is concerned.
And you have the unique chance to have a real understanding of today’s artistic manifestation. You live here. You have the background knowledge, an unique understanding of the environment that fosters and nurtures today’s art. Don’t be ashamed to be drawn by your contemporaries’ artistic manifestations. Enjoy it. It’s history in the making.
Time, the great deceiver. Indeed.