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Art and ideology: inseparable

February 4, 2004 –
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In the deconstructive age in which we live, it is considered normal to disassociate necessary parts of a mental or physical process where these parts might threaten our image of the individual as supreme decision-maker in each life. Our religions espouse the concept of a soul becoming immortal when it went to a place of perfection where (it was implied) every wish that could not be fulfilled on earth was indeed made real, by connotation escaping the interconnectedness of life and thus the inherent need to regulate resources such as time, money, energy and affection.

In a perfect world, the logic went, the interleaved order of nature was overthrown in favor of an absolute time and space where the gap between mental concept and reality was far reduced. In the same way that in the views of these religions the soul is entirely disconnected from physical presence, requiring that it either be created “before” the physical human or on another plane of existence (dualism), in the views of people in our modern time there is the concept that art is independent from the ideas and desires of its creators.

This excessively moralistic view exists most prominently in popular culture, where people fear inequity for the stigma belief in it evokes, and thus preach a constant easy solution: “It’s just music! There is no value conveyed by music other than your personal enjoyment, which is a choice made in a void or a dualistic environment in which purely abstract choices have no effect on reality.”

We can see the fallacy of this outlook immediately as it requires supernatural overtones to be made coherent at all: it assumes a plan to life outside of physical, biological, realistic existence, and therefore assumes that art like spiritualism takes place entirely outside of the realm in which we must survive — and survive by its rules and not those of the spiritualists.

Thus we come to music, and a form of music that hovers between popular music and being a legitimate artform (that which expresses ideas, instead of that which provides pleasing background noises emphasizing as its conclusions the assumptions of the crowd) in its own right, and see how damaging this view will be. If no music can convey a value system or an idea, a forcibly leveled playing field is created, and the only thing taht will distinguish one band from another is novelty or marketing, since there is no content — concept, message, belief, learning or experience — communicated to the listener.

Every sound is equal, and equally arbitrary; they are not symbols which strung together conduct a meaning between humans. There are no choices to be made, only a stream of bands to be purchased continuously. Naturally business and mediocre artists (who make up the bulk of any artistic population) love this democratic adoption, as it enables them to keep pumping out recombinant re-arrangements with clever surfacing, keeping a large flow of lackluster purchasing.

This murders genres; while the easy sales pitch will go quite far, at some point someone else somewhere introduces something more competitive, and the genre which has equalized itself to such populist mediocrity is then bypassed as it can, indeed, be stereotyped as mediocre – it has made itself so, and offers nothing another halfwit genre with a newer aesthetic does not. It has traded away quality for quantity in order to please those who wish to be part of it; each of them wants a part of it, and can have that, but only at the expense of the overall level of quality declining, because among humans only one in ten thousand will make music of any appreciable importance.

For contrast, one can for a moment imagine that one’s physical body is the seat of the “soul” and that one is created by physical circumstance more than by some mystical equality of soul defined by a religion made 2,000 years ago on another continent. Within this vision, humans are what they make themselves to be, but their impulse to make themselves into something better depends on their inherent inclination to recognize the possibility of something better existing; as many have noted, the truly stupid cannot conceive of anything different from the accepted format, and therefore cannot tell the difference between good art and garbage, as what makes art great is not some external factor — having a flute, more breakdown beats, or pipe organ solos — but an internal factor, such as how it is composed, its melodies and the ratios of cadences, and its structure formed from the sequence of musical parts that compose its whole.

Further, truly stupid parents never produce children of vastly greater intelligence, but advance incrementally only if several successive generations push themselves to greater heights and advance those among them who via fortunate accident exceed the previous standard of intelligence. Thus we can tell that body and mind are linked, much as artistic product and artists are linked. Do stupid artists make great art? Only in simplistic genres, one might think.

Returning to the question of whether or not an ideology produces art, we have only to think a moment about the process of artistic creation: an artist has some idea from which he or she produces an artistic work; there is concept, and then rendering of that concept into a sensual medium. In other words, there is a content outside the medium; great art is not achieved by randomness, or stupid people would do it. What makes art powerful is its ability to communicate, and what it transfers is the original idea of the artist as tempered through their past knowledge which like all philosophy or science is cumulative.

Based on the content to be communicated, the artist chooses style, medium and methods for conveying it, giving the work of art an enduring “meaning” for perusers to grasp. Much as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest uses an insane asylum as a metaphor for society, and White Noise makes a metaphysical statement from society’s confused internal dialogue, movies use the language of gangland to portray the workings of a modern city (Chinatown) and music lets a voice drop onto the discontent of a generation, channeling it into a symbol or feeling which unites disparate thoughts around a common central point (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” works as well here as “My Journey to the Stars”).

While not every artistic view is explictly political, any view can be interpreted politically: for example, “I just want to have my own space and have no one bother me” is a political view, if interpreted in the mechanism for achieving such a state in a world of other people; clearly this is an appeal to the liberal-democratic axis in politics, where the highest value is individual whim, wealth and comfort and social collectivism (or a holistic ideology such as Traditionalism) is not considered a viable option.

Similarly “We should stop pollution and not drive large cars” in a political sense appeals to the collectivist/fascist axis of human socio-political systems because its inherent political necessity is a decrease of personal liberty in exchange for a collective program that reduces pollution otherwise generated by many individuals in parallel caring only about the democratic-liberal aspects of politics. Even something like the faux angst whining of Kurt Cobain has its inherent liberal politics; he senses himself as oppressed by society, which is too uniform and too pointless, but that opinion is a counter-political action to that of society and thus does not differ in substance but application.

The concept that art is purely aesthetic, and thus conveys no ideas from the artist, is a means of nullifying it and reducing any differences it has from other forms of art to purely aesthetic disagreements; one band uses melody and carefully structured arrangements where another band is cyclic and uses rhythm more than tone, and this in the view of the nullifiers is no more significant than choosing to paint the sky blue in one painting and electric pink in another. This nullification is moral and democratic by its very nature, and it is only through careful sleight of hand that we are trained not to notice is condemnation of certain “political” art as what it is — a subtle but aggressive means of excluding other political views from discourse.

Originally published in “Anti-Art Manifesto #3,” 2004.