While on a train a few months ago, I was reflecting on our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with art, and had a thought that felt like a prescription for improving it, which I jotted down. Looking over those notes now, it reads like a sort of manifesto. I don’t know if this is my manifesto, but it could be someone’s.
For a while now I was thinking I wouldn’t post this, because I didn’t want to have to answer for it, for its content or its tone. But I’m posting it now after all because 1. no fear! and 2. the sentiment here, though I have reservations about it, informs my thinking about other stuff I’ve been posting; so it only makes sense that the imaginary ideal reader should have access to it all.
The actual readers I don’t know about. But they’re not my problem; see #1.
Also, if I move fast enough, I can bury this with the anodyne entry on The Aristocats. Stay tuned.
Art with the lights on!
The artistic experience needs to be communal to be whole; both the art and the audience must come from the world as we live it — not from an un-world, an imaginary place.
Too much art today is experienced voyeuristically; it doesn’t know we’re watching, and we feel we’re getting away with it. The rest of this crowd might know each other but we certainly don’t.
Hearing something like a Tchaikovsky symphony should be an experience of communal catharsis — one should leave feeling reawakened to the fact that one’s fellow man has such feelings in him and has it in him to be stirred by them. One’s fellow man in the most immediate sense, one’s actual community.
We can watch a sentimental movie in the dark, but if we leave and everyone’s face is hard, everyone a stranger, all we learn is to harden ourselves, to tuck our experience deeper inside.
The lights must be on, and the protocol must be indistinguishable from attention. Right now, we need harsh audience protocol only because attention has been mis-trained — we need to stifle people’s natural voices because their nature is so poorly socialized. They have been brought up not knowing how or why to be attentive. But in a society where the “good listener” is not a social rarity, the quiet of the concert hall should be a instinctive expression of engagement with everyone present, and only that.
Art should be a conversation in which we feel no need to speak while the other is speaking. The response should be more art, and it should be for our fellow conversationalists, the community of the audience.
The significance to art of ogling the familiar aristocrats in their box seats must not be underestimated; the giggling, whispering pleasure of gossiping and belonging.
I am more deeply drawn into the fantasy of a work when I’m alone, but I have a more memorable and joyous experience when I am connected to my social brethren. In between is just gradations of artificiality.
And being lost in voyeurism has a sickly, thin feel. All these ipods are machines for plugging ourselves into a universe of anonymity.
Live music is only better if there is a community in the building. Those who sell “live music is better” without any real world around it, with the lights off and hostile ushers, are just repeating something they read in their own PR.
“I knows what I likes” is a comment for friends; we should be surrounded by such friends at the museum, at the concert, everywhere.
We should be paying artists to provide these welcome experiences simply because funding a social necessity is a social good — we should be paying artists in the same spirit that we’d pay someone to prepare our picnics: just to save us the trouble, or because they can do it that much better. If one of our friends is a musician, he should play music for us. If he’s so good at it that we’d all rather he spent his time on that than anything else, we should pay him for it — so that we can be so lucky as to have him playing for us.
Instead, we pay artists for their product — like a narcotic, like a consumable. Artists need to exist to produce these THINGS which we then need because… that’s what people do? Because the model of consumption is more intuitively accessible to us than the model of community. And because we believe that we need distraction and numbing, as though those are natural desires of the human animal. Muzak, and then muzak trading cards and muzak trading card markets, blah blah blah, up to the farce of the “art world,” where people go through the motions of having a salon or a hired bard when in fact they have a golden-egg-laying hen and they are trying to leverage it. Meanwhile they go on feeling lonely.
The only thing any human really wants, the only thing really worth working for is experience. Products are a middleman, a technicality, and should be ignored by the layman. Only a professional knows what to do with a “symphony.”
The thrill and wonder and invigoration of knowing that the composer/director/creator is in the room should be always alive. Knowing that we did this, and we did it for us, and I belong to that we. “I’m glad they asked this guy and not me!” the non-artist should say, “because he’s so good at being the one to do it!” But they could have asked you. This — life on earth — is a team effort.
Art has gone from being the family party to being the neighborhood party, to the chaperoned school dance, to the monitored school assembly, to the proctored exam. And then to the principal’s office. At the modern art museums there is even a whiff of the interrogation room. Beyond which is the torture chamber.
Larger groups require larger structures, and larger structures demand governance, but the government of art no longer has the people clearly in mind. It has stagnated and, unwittingly, grown corrupt.
Our social structures are fractured. The social group and the local community are entirely discrete entities, and the individual is not protected from falling out of either. Twitter, Facebook, fan conventions — these internet-facilitated “sociality products” feed the hunger, but they are symptoms, not cures. The actual cultural structures of the real society are counter-productive and so we require these jerry-rigged products to make them semi-human. These are speakeasies holding out in fear of a bust, and we are all huddled inside, nervous. This is our hour of need.
A revolution by the serfs never does anyone any good; serfs don’t know what they’re doing either, and class resentment will poison generations to come. We need peaceful renewal. We simply need to make the people aware of what they’re missing and a movement to replace the feeble aristocracy will rise. Turn on the lights and let them see each other!