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A Stillborn Future: Where Is The Art?
Aesthetics, Music and the Death of the Artist
Where does a novel art style come from? What factors or ingredients are needed to leaven culture into something new? An aesthetic can sometimes be born, or grow, in a fertilised soil which yields the most exciting and important fruit - a way of seeing the world. Can you imagine the thrill of being in the early Romantic movement, seeking a transformation of nature, the individual, the emotions? That shifting motion across a void which has no obvious landing spot until it is created, is the essence of being creative, giving birth to, or generating - being captured by or letting something flow through you. I’m pondering this because it feels like this motion is currently impossible, it feels blocked.
When one looks around at the aesthetic landscape - culture - there is an obvious dearth of anything fresh or inspiring. The only motion is a shallow democratisation. In classical music there is a sense of impending doom, only kept at bay through the compositions of film scores and video games. Many of these are good pieces, in and of themselves, but they lack the fire and internal coherency of their forebears. Alexander Scriabin, a man possessed of almost divine genius, someone who dove into the dark recesses of mysticism and synesthesia and returned with a vision to remake the world through art, how could such a man survive today? Would he compose music for a Disney remake? Searching online for trends or schools in modern classical music, there is just a flabby splash of a dying corpse - how to arrange chairs in the concert hall; getting more X minority or class of person to play music; mixing old, pale and stale tunes with electronic beats to attract the youth.
Poetry and literature doesn’t seem much healthier. Jack London once wrote: “Have you lived merely to live? Are you afraid to die? I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet. When you are dust, my father will be ashes”. Today literature, and even less so poetry, fails to concentrate that kind of energy, either in the writer or the reader. Questions of authenticity, irony, sincerity, standpoint, life experience and one’s relation to power (marginal or not), dominate endless discussions, exactly the sentiment of watching one’s digestion. Meanwhile where is the fire? How could a Lord Byron arise from this now? He would be on medication, his work never glanced at by a publishing house.
In all things the flame of genius and youth has vanished. George Mallory, a young man described as an Arthurian hero, with a face like a mystery of Botticelli, threw himself onto the rocks of Everest to conquer the roof of the world. Thomas Young was appointed a professor of natural science at the age of 28. He was the ‘last man to know everything’, including in his accomplishments the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone and inventing modern physics. Mozart’s brilliance was of such a pitch that his contemporaries described him as Orpheus reborn, a renewal of the Apollonian Greek spirit. These people, energised by something beyond mere life, would be stifled if they were young men today. Where are our Mozarts and Beethovens? What new creed or belief would anyone die for now? What intellectual or artistic movement could you devote yourself to, forsaking all else?
In part the sticky parochialism of origins binds people to their supposed roots, and in part there is an exhaustion which hangs in a pallid cloud over the world-spirit. The mood is depression, apathy, not even an anarchic schizophrenia of thought, but the most low-energy lane-gazing imaginable. The suspicion of straying outside your ethnic heritage is now ever present. If you came to work dressed in cutting-edge Japanese fashion, not only would it be unusual and different, but the eyes would narrow “oh, do you have Japanese heritage?”. Under such a smothering gaze, how would a young artist experiment in Life, in creativity, in the necessary blending which precedes generation? Everywhere the type of individuation of a truly unique being is cut short. Imagine making art that lacked moral content, some wider point about ‘society’ or politics, art that just forcefully and energetically punched you in the gut and made you feel. I am suspicious that anyone can feel like that anymore - hear a piece of music that keeps you awake for days on end with pure excitement, or a sensation that grips you so tight it changes your life there and then.
Maybe I am wrong, but looking around at the aesthetic output of the world - architecture, fashion, cuisine, music, painting, sculpture, literature - I can’t see any mainstream energy that could awaken the old gods and bring them back to us. All is dabbling, all is tinkering, all is striving in place. Maybe these are the weeds that need to be cleared before the soil will sprout something new?