What has happened to art? Has it left? Has it retreated under stones few and far between, left only to be turned over by careful wanderers through the forgotten wastelands of unsung greats? Why is it no longer just the mainstream entertainment media that has gone to garbage? Why are even the less popular markets overrun with shallow drivel?
The answer, in my meaningless opinion, is a twisted triad that perverts art into something unrecognizable: greed, narcissism, and idiocy.
Factor 1: Greed. This is the argument we have all heard before. Since the conception of currency, our world has been run by it. In most industries, this has been good. It creates something of a point system and a standard by which actions can be judged or rewarded. It may not be perfect, and it certainly fails many people, but it works for the most part. However, it has become unhealthily tethered to the arts. It used to be that companies made an effort to produce quality content and expected reasonable profit return. But now, rather than every frame of a movie, note of a song, or word of a book being intentional placed to pull just the right strings of the human heart, it’s as though every element of any creation is artificially placed to appeal to the widest audience possible and to ensure as much money as possible.
Rather than being an authentic representation of human experience, that which is now purported to be “art” has become an intentional deception of our most human and vulnerable side: that side which craves connection, that side which cries out for a savior from feeling entirely alone. Because that is what art should be. It should be extremely personal, and it should say the things that everyone secretly feels but hides away within themselves out of fear of rejection. It should not be some entirely inoffensive masturbation of the status quo and public ego draped in vague bullshit mislabeled as something “up to interpretation,” when it’s really just creative laziness.
Greed has made art impersonal, because it has put art too much in the hands of corporations that promote the artists, and these companies only push content which seems like the surest bet for the biggest profit. Thusly, artists are forced to pander to the lowest common denominators if they want even remote success, so all that makes it into viewable material is revised, censored trash with no real significance anymore. And even though many are tricked by industry magic used to pretend that the works are more substantive than they truly are, the human heart still craves the satisfaction of real art. So even when we can forgive a bad movie for not being great, or we say that not every movie has to be artistic, we still feel that silent internal starvation for the personal connection that should come from art tearing us apart.
- Narcissism. This may be a harder sell (no pun intended). But artists now just think they are too great. So they right songs and movies and books glorifying themselves and their problems rather than focusing on how they dealt with or made it through their issues. The general attitude toward mental illness and unhingedness in the arts has shifted from “watch the beauty of this tragedy and feel its resonance in your own life; connect with these suffering souls and feel more human,” to “look at how crazy I am and admire me for it; this is edgy and cool.” Rather than focusing on principles, lessons, and experiences, art has come to depend too much on self-centered children bragging about their often disgusting and immature behavior. Almost the entire modern rap scene has turned into petty people showing off how petty they can be to one another.
People have forgotten the difference between sharing personal feelings and experiences and shamelessly stroking their ego before the whole world and expecting adoration in return. People have attempted to make themselves more important in their art than the human element.
- Idiocy. This is the brain behind the two hands of this beast. The root cause of all problems with art is idiocy: misunderstanding of the concept of art, misunderstanding of art from previous generations, and an utter lack of understanding of pain. New artists don’t realize how personal art should be. They simply try to appease the people writing their paychecks by appealing to the widest audience possible, even when it is not true to themselves at all.
The art of previous generations is misunderstood. New artists see movies like “Taxi Driver” from 1976, and they misinterpret the message of the movie. They see it as saying that Travis is a hero and his psychological issues make him “cool.” They don’t understand that the movie is addressing issues, such as the deteriorating state of city life and the mistreatment of veterans by society. They also don’t understand that the mental illness is not being glorified: Scorsese is only allowing us a glimpse into the unstable mind of a character to be pitied and related to from a distance but also a character to be recognized as immoral and feared. But this misunderstanding leads to the creation of characters who are praised and admired for their problems. This leads to an unhealthy attitude toward such problems which should be given serious professional attention in many cases.
Many successful artists of this age don’t know what pain is either. Pain is the root of all good art. Pain is what makes people brood. No one has ever wondered what makes them so damn happy all the time. People make art when everyone they love dies or leaves them, and they’re doing their best to figure out why. Art is the human reaction to the absurdity of life, an attempt to ascribe meaning to an otherwise meaningless world. Most popular artists of today have lived sheltered lives free of real pain, and their work reflects it, because they only put out pieces that copy the work of previous artists who were far better than themselves.
Now, I’m not saying that there are no good artists now. There are bands and music artists I think are great, like Florence and the Machine or The Killers, who write lyrics like poetry and music like audible emotion. There are directors like Joss Whedon, Christopher Nolan, and James Cameron, who can tell fantastic tales without overlooking the smaller elements of humanity. There are great novelists like Patrick Ness and Stephen King who can capture emotions and images stunningly in no more than the written word. But they are a dying breed.
Because I tend to ramble, and this needs a cohesive ending, here’s the summary: The arts are being overrun with pseudo-artists, people attempting to copy the art of the past without a clear grasp of it. And it’s not necessarily true that good artists don’t exist anymore. Good artists have just become more difficult to find, because even those genres which used to be non-conformist and which would exist regardless of mass public opinion, have been forced into the mainstream by record labels attempting to cash in on niche markets.
And yes, part of the fault falls on a public that has become too content to not be challenged or made uncomfortable by art, a public that has been spoiled by media which simply “entertains” without stimulating thought. But let us not forget why this predicament exists: those with the money, and therefore power, to distribute content by the most available means are choosing to further enrich themselves rather than promote art; therefore, they are promoting their self-interest over the general well being of man. I would call for some mass boycott of mainstream entertainment enterprises if I had any optimism left and an ego large enough to block out the sun by believing anyone would listen. But I suppose the one thing I’ve learned in life is that, even when you’re certainly going to fail, stick to what you know is right. At least then, you can’t lose yourself. Not that I really know who I am anymore. I just hope, whoever I am, he’s a good man.
But I digress. I know this isn’t the best example of my writing, and I’ve reused the same words a dozen or so times in this one piece, but I wasn’t going for aesthetic or beauty in the language of this piece. I just wanted to say what I felt with no room for confusion.
But still, if you have the fight left in you, whether you have hope or not, what have we to lose in stopping fueling the people tearing art apart? The chance to see something shitty? Respect of people whose opinions don’t matter? Approval from an “in” crowd that is entirely self-unaware? So maybe, it is worth saying enough is enough and taking the time to seek out quality rather than letting shit be shovelled down our throats.