A few months ago I saw an article on the CIA and it's involvement in Classical Music. During the Cold War the CIA was heavily involved in trying to counter Communist influence within the Arts. The Author of this particular case made the argument that the CIA had destroyed Classical Music. I wrote a comment saying that Classical Music was already a spent force by the 1940's, that Bolero by Maurice Ravel was the last piece of Classical Music to be regarded as a Classic and that nothing since has come even close. The death of Western Art was well under way even a century ago.
People like to put the blame upon the CIA or the Frankfort School or some other such entity, but the rot set in long ago, long before these things existed. As did our political and social rot, in fact things like the Frankfort School are symptoms of the disease not the disease itself.
In regards to the Arts I believe there are two reasons for the decline.
1. Cameras, &
This is more to do with the Visual Arts, but the loss of confidence in this area, often regarded as the pinnacle of Western Art was to have a decisive effect. A Camera is a means of creating an exact image from the real world. At once you can see that that is quite revolutionary. But we often don't think about the next step, we see the advantages of being able to create an exact image of the real world, but that also came at a cost. Before the invention of camera's the primary way to create an image of the real world was through drawing or painting. Both required years of training as well as natural talent. But there were real reasons to invest in such training and to nurture such talent. For example a King wants to know if a Princess is attractive, a wealthy Noble or Merchant wants to show off their possessions, or a Mother wants a momento of her children. Only talented and skilled Artists could satisfy that desire. Painting and drawings were also important in a society were most people could not read, the Arts served a real world purpose.
The camera took many of those real world benefits away from Art. Why sit for hours or days for a portrait when I can get a photograph in 15 minutes? Why look at a painting of the Alps when I can see a photograph of the actual Alps? You can see this affecting the Art's from as early as the 1860's with Impressionism, when you look at the paintings you can see two things happening at once. Firstly you can see the classical training and talent on display, but secondly you see the paintings become less and less distinct. You begin to see as time goes on less skill and more enthusiasm. In 1850 Western Art was as good as it ever was, by 1900 that is no longer true, Art was still prestigious but it was no longer a real world skill. The only advantage it had over a photograph was that it could recreate the imagination, so that is what began to happen.
Art traditions in the Eastern and Western worlds are vastly different and it is this difference that I wish to highlight and to demonstrate how it lead to the greatness of Western Art and to it's downfall.
In Western Art originality is extremely important, let's imagine for a moment that I could paint as well as Rembrandt, and by "as well" I mean I could paint an exact copy of any of Rembrandt's works. I sign them with my own name and I announce that these are exact copies of his art, so there is no fraud or deception involved. Now an original Rembrandt is way beyond all but the very rich or Art Institutions, so why not provide people with a cheaper version?
But people would tell me that I obviously have talent why don't I create my own art instead of simply copying? Why be unoriginal and copy the work of a better man?
But if I can paint as well as Rembrandt aren't we equals?
Most people would say no.
That is the exact oppose of the opinion that is held in the East, or at least was held in the East. Traditionally Art in the East was about obtaining mastery of a subject, once mastery has been obtained then the task is complete. Mastery is perfection, how can you improve upon perfection?
Well of course you can't, so once it has been decided that mastery has been obtained, the best that any future student can hope for is to be as good as a past Master. Copying is not seen as cheating as it is in the West, that attitude is ridiculous. To reproduce the work of a Master shows you are a good and loyal student and it shows that you are a Master. Mastery is as much about character as it is about training or natural talent.
In the East originality was welcome in a new field of Art, but once Mastery had been obtained then originality showed a lack of character. This attitude meant that Eastern Art reached a certain level and stopped.
In the West where originality is prized it lead to some of the greatest Art seen in the history of the world. And that lasted for centuries, but how long can it really exist for?
When each year you have to outdo what you did last year and every other Artist is trying to achieve the exact same thing. But here's the trap, it's much easier to be original than it is to produce good Art, let alone great Art. and if originality is prized above all else and it is, then why not give them what they want? They don't want good Art, they want original Art. In the past century we have seen the effects of such thinking. Less and less good Art and more and more original Art.
This attitude can be seen in nearly every category of Art you wish. Not just in the visual Arts, but in Classical Music, Literature, Poetry, you get this same problem of originality. It's easier to be original than it is to be good. Because of this attitude Art has become a Ghetto, where it was once regarded as one of the most prestigious fields in Western Civilization. Artist's know this and they resent it, they resent being rejected for providing the very thing they have been told to create, originality. So in their resentment they have gone deeper into the pit, if you want original, I'll give you original!
If Western Art is to return to it's pinnacle it needs something new to aim for. We the viewers of Art need to encourage the Art we would really like to see, instead of the Art that is being created.
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