Sunday 25 February 2024

The evil of Literature, Music, Visual Arts...

As an adolescent and young adult I was extremely idealistic about the possibilities of "the Arts" - which, for me, were particularly literature and classical music, but also the visual arts (fine arts, architecture etc). 

It seemed to me that creating, understanding and appreciating these, were the best possibility for a good life, and  - at any rate - represented the highest ideal of which I was aware. 

I now find my views almost at the opposite - except that I can see that the Arts have some kind of valid role as a developmental phase - an opening our of consciousness towards... 

Well "towards what?" is the whole point at issue. 

It is, for me, the personal and spiritual world of Christianity that now occupies the "ideal" mental territory once occupied by the Arts; and I can all-too-readily perceive that the Arts have (long since) been incorporated into the Totalitarian System - incorporated every bit as thoroughly as the legal system, education, science, and the mass media. 

Indeed, the Arts Today seem, mainly, just a sub-department of the mass media. 

Now, as with any System-included activity; the process of incorporation is incomplete, which means that a selective and discerning approach can find much that is good and spiritually helpful in that vast treasury of the Arts. 

But the Arts - on average and overall - are here-and-now a part of the value-inverted anti-Good, anti-creation, anti-God "side" of the spiritual war - as is readily conformed by considering a sample of its creators, performers, exponents, critics, scholars, broadcasters, administrators... 

Almost-everybody who is professionally a part of the Arts sub-System, or set-up, is - very obviously and explicitly - on the Wrong Side.  

This means that I have no "faith" in the Arts; no faith that they are good on the average or overall, no sense that the Arts (here and now) are A Good Thing; including no belief that experience or devotion to the High Arts is ennobling, or can validly be distinguished from Low or Popular Art. 

And this is a big change for me, and certainly leaves a sense of loss, a vacuum - and one that I have not discovered any wholly-satisfactory way to fill. Spiritual Christian activity does-not and cannot simply slot-into that existential-hole which the Arts have left-behind. 

I'm not happy about the situation that the Arts have been subverted and inverted; such that they mostly need to be avoided, supped with a long-spoon, or taken unseriously! 

But, so far as I can tell, that's how things are; and have been for many decades by-now.


Yet, if there is a vacuum where once stood the vast edifice of the Arts of Western Civilization; we may be consoled to recall that this always was a symbolic edifice; that the Arts were a form of mediation between Man and divine realities. 

While symbols functioned effectively as an objective link between Man and the divine (i.e. specific symbols being linked, by human consciousness, with particular spiritual realities) - then the inevitable distance between symbol and reality (i.e. the incompleteness and intermittent nature of Art as a secondary representation of the divine) - was less evident. 

Symbol seems almost as good as reality; the actual gap was less evident, but the gap was still there. 

A positive way of regarding the loss of validity of the Arts is that now the underlying reality of the situation is more evident. 

Insofar as we desire personal knowledge and experience of the divine, we must seek it directly - rather than symbolically by via intermediaries.   

Perhaps - knowing this; and having (pretty much) no alternative; we may be more motivated, and more accurately orientated-towards, that which we ought to be doing, anyway. 


Francis Berger said...

I was very idealistic about the latent possibilites of the Arts. For a long time I believed they could and did serve as a direct conduit or connector to the Divine (provided the motivations of the artist and the audience were sincere). I no longer believe this is the case.

At best, I think the Arts can still point toward or direct toward the Divine -- provided the motivations of the artist and audience are sincere -- but they cannot connect an individual to the Divine. That connection must happen directly within the individual. If it doesn't happen, then thinking and knowing remain at the secondary level.

The inherent problem with all symbols today is the insistence upon secondary representations of reality as reality, both as a matter of fact and as officially imposed -- the underlying philosophy being that whoever controls the Arts or other symbols controls reality.

I believe some of the Arts provide examples of artists creatively connecting with the Divine, but the works themselves are but cooled down, solidified artifacts of that creative-Divine connection/interaction. We are only privy to this artifact. We cannot directly know what the artist experienced directly. Nor can we use the artifact to replicate that direct connection. At best, such a symbolic work might motivate us to seek our own direct knowledge, but it cannot serve as a substitute for it.

Thankfully(?) most of what comprises the Arts today is very low brow and corrupted; thus, as you say, we can no longer rely on the Arts or any symbol to point us in the right direction by default.

As an aside, I have been pondering the viability of older forms of the Arts, much of which was created by artists with a modes of consciousness very different from modern man's. This isn't an issue if you assume men haven't changed, but if you believe that they have, then it is something one must keep in mind when engaging with "older" forms of art. I'm not saying the older forms are obsolete or unviable -- far from it -- but much of it was generated by men whose consiousness was very different from our own, which bears keeping in mind, even at the level of secondary representation.

Hagel said...

Since the dominant culture is bad, almost anything created by it, art included, is also bad.
Old art can still be good though, and you can make your own.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Excellent comment. And I agree about older art. It is often better because of its motivations. But cannot be taken at "face value" because the consciousness of those who created it, and the societies for which they created it, was so different.

Therefore, the engagement must be in the first place an act of empathic imagination, then it requires to be translated into a kind of spiritual equivalent to be "made use of" here and now.

(Note: This engagement should be almost *the opposite* of what happens when old art is dishonestly reinterpreted by Leftists so as to play some kind of (positive or negative) role in modern sociopolitical materialistic ideology.)

@Hagel - You may not have understood what I am saying beyond the "sound bite" of a brief title - FB's comment will help clarify it.

My name is Matt said...

Thank you Bruce, this is extremely helpful as I've been struggling mightily with this.

Gordon said...

I'm guessing that you have read CS Lewis's "Christianity & Culture" piece addressing some of the concerns mentioned in your post. If so, am I right in thinking that you would be much less hopeful than he is about their innocence & value, even if done by a devout Christian who has a gift in some particular area; say, literature? Gordon

Mia said...

Excellent topic and post. I've had the same journey and went out of my way for many years to acquire high art in an attempt to elevate my household. One of my children shows a lot of enthusiasm for a few antiquated art forms. A few years ago that would have delighted me beyond measure. Now...well, I wish I knew what comes next! There must be some role for natural performers as God is still putting them into the world.

Bruce Charlton said...

Gordon - I've read it, but I didn't think it was very good; and consequently I can't recall what he said. But I doubt it would influence what I think about things some three generation later.

Joel said...

Art is the only thing really capable of raising reality into the realm of Beings. It still succeeds when it is one Being communicating to another Being to say that "this particular experience or emotion that we both share and understand is more significant than you knew." But mere entertainment can never really succeed at that, and mass entertainment has been especially effective at destroying high art in recent decades. It has always had this tendency, but it has reached an especially dominating extent recently.

Part of this might also be that the artist-creator, as a personality type, has been especially targeted by the system for co-option. And the impressionable artist has fewer defenses in the first place to highly manipulative attack. I believe that I could give a number of examples of individual artists who lived through the 1970s-1990s or so, and who were destroyed and co-opted by politics and mass media, and who were fairly worthless for real artistic creation after this.

So real art could exist today, but there is no one left to create it, and it would anyway be effectively hidden from you by the fake art, if it were ever created.

Hagel said...

I agree with everything in this post, but I additionally maintain that creating art is a fine way to partake in divine creation, natural to some, and indeed a valid method of what is commonly called prayer, at least for me. I have an urge to give gifts to those I love: the divine, and my wife. I know that the latter appreciates them, and I humbly hope that the former does as well. Art is one way to do this.

Much like what you say about churches and being Christian, though, it will have to be done alone or between private individuals. There can be no institution for it.

Art is a part of human nature, and I have to imagine that it is a part that would remain in purified and resurrected people.

My exposure to (old and underground) art showed me the possibility of a different (transcendental and good aligned) perspective that I previously hadn't even thought was an option. I hadn't even rejected it because it had never entered my mind. It made me for the first time imagine heaven, and after getting a symbolic, imperfect, glimpse at a representation of heaven, I decided that I wanted to be there.

It seems to me quite similar to what you are doing here with this blog. A blog like this could never be institutionalised these days, and neither could good art, but both can have an effect on a few individual persons.

Certain humans told me, through art, that there is something eternal and magnificent, greater than we are but related to us.
I began to love it with more consciousness and awareness, like a child becoming older and gaining an understanding of its parents.

What you have told me of heaven, through prose, has changed my attitude to Christ. In the past, if I had died and met a being introducing itself as Christ wanting to take me to heaven, I would tremble with terror, fearing we were doomed.
Now, however, I would remember your descriptions of heaven (and hell), and be much more inclined to follow him, and not merely out of fear of hell. I would rather live in your heaven than be annihilated, but I would rather be annihilated than live in my old conception of the Christian heaven.

Institutions may all be lost, but individuals can still affect each other. Someone who well and truly is loved, and who requites that love, is probably going to choose heaven.

As I think about this, though, I realise that I breathed the final winds of good, and as J.S Bach put it, soul nourishing art.
As art diminishes, it will be reduced to something completely private, and like language, an isolated person with no exposure to it won't spontaneously adopt it. When this happens, art will die, and to ever exist again, would have to emerge again as it first did during ancient times. Parents could pass it on to their children, but artistic inclinations can skip generations, so extinction would come.

I needed to catch a glimpse of good art for me to become interested in art. I found art was wholly uninteresting trash for much of my life, because I had only seen and heard modern art, of the popular and "fine" varieties.
People won't get a glimpse in the future, so the fire will die out.

This gives me a disturbing thought: How could people in the far future choose love and beauty, without ever being exposed to them? They wouldn't even know that they exist,
if all babies are taken from their parents at birth, all architecture is ugly, the whole world is industrialized so there's no natural beauty, we all live in the matrix, and so on.

a_probst said...


Your post brings to my mind Bronowski's gloomy reflection at the end of The Ascent of Man that he found it sad to think that five hundred years from now Shakespeare and Newton might be just historical fossils like Homer and Euclid.

Bruce Charlton said...

@a_p - Ah Bronowski...

Bronowski was right within science; but he was consistently on the side of wrong wrt culture.

And it was the evils of the atheistic leftist culture that Bronowski supported and promoted, that killed real-science stone dead within a generation of his death.