Thursday, March 08, 2007

"This century's biggest art movement: Careerism"

Thanks to the always useful Arts & Letters Daily for highlighting this wonderful article from Dushko Petrovich calling for a practical avant garde. There's little point in me paraphrasing an essay that is so well written, and more importantly, addresses an important point - that whether you use the words "avant garde" or "reactionary", the aim of the game needs to be the same, to identify good work and then find a way of doing it. He takes the simple (but complex) artistic need for a "rectangle" and sketches (he's writing about visual art) its relationship to both past and contemporary art. The avant garde needs to be able to get beyond the word "interesting" and embrace "good", whilst the reactionaries won't get anywhere calling everything they don't understand "bad." For painting, perhaps also for literature, as we see ReadySteadyBook and This Space come out fighting in favour of quality. From National Poetry Day to the national curriculum, through the BBC's "great read" to your average Waterstone's, its not so much a dumbing down that we see, but an anti-intellectualism; a reluctance to envisage that anything that isn't instantly accessible is worth the effort. Its like the whole guilty pleasures thing seems to be a figleaf for those people who are often being paid to be intellectual (e.g. academics, reviewers, columnists) to elevate the mundane, rather than ignore it. I'm a lover of pop culture, whether its music, film or TV, but though I might proclaim greatness for Blondie, Goodfellas and "24", I wouldn't say the same, for, say, Take That, The Phantom Menace and Big Brother. It doesn't make them necessarily bad (though I'll argue with you about that), but it doesn't make them interesting. If all this pop-culture-as-high-art began with the Modern Review, we can probably see now, how ironic we must have been allowing Julie Burchill and Toby Young as our creative czars.


Ms Baroque said...

It didn't begin with the Creative Review! Think back to the fifties - think of Roy Lichtenstein... and then there was Warhol and the Factory, and all the rest of it. After that it never went away.

Maybe a certain generation decided to follow Julie B when she said, "This way!" but even at the time I thought it was odd in the press where people were saying she was inventing something.

Adrian Slatcher said...

Hmmm. Not sure I totally agree here. Seems that the Modern Review saw ANY kind of contemporary culture as worthy of discussion/critique as if it was high art, whilst Pop Art, was saying, our contemporary landscape - which includes Marilyn Monroe, comic books and Campbells soup - is a suitable subject for high art. There's a fascinating essay by David Foster Wallace, which, to paraphrase, reckons his generation of writers ONLY get their inspiration from 2nd-hand (i.e. TV, advertising etc) sources; so our experience of war is from "Platoon", our experience of sex from pornography, our experience of families from "The Simpsons." Too long a comment now, it clearly deserves another post!