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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cultural malaise

I was recently reading the surrealist romance novel, "Nadja." The author of this book was also one of the founders of surrealism (if being found surreal means anything). He wrote the "Surrealist Manifesto." This got me thinking about movements in the arts: Dada, surrealism, modernism, expressionism, impressionism, etc. Some of these movements have their political component as well as their cultural aspects. When I pull an art history book off my bookshelf and flip through it, it is divided up into nice little sections devoted to "movements." Some of these movements come with their own manifestos, some with their own communities (i.e. the Bauhaus) and some are just loose schools of trends.

But as I look around today I don't see too many manifestos being written about the arts, culture, society, etc. Nor do I see schools and communites working in harmony under one direction towards a common goal or understanding. Maybe I am just out of the loop and these things are going strong, but it seems that culture has hit an apathetic stretch. The 20th century has just fragmented the continuum, destroyed the chronological continuity. Or perhaps I am just standing too close in history.

History takes time to reveal that which will be kept and that which will be tossed a side. When we stand close to the moment it is hard to determine how that moment will unfold. Kierkegaard was ignored in his day but a century later impacted the philosophical world greatly. Today it is hard to tell what effects that the modern authors, thinkers, artists will have on tomorrow. Gresham is a prolific writer. Is he who the future will remember as great literature of the 20-21st century? (Is Shakespear great because he survived the ages, or did he survive the ages because he is great)? I mean is Thomas Kinkade and his millions of prints going to define the artistic life of the West for the 24th century art historian? Is that what is becoming of art? The best marketing team gets to write the history? (Not that I want to debate the artistic merit of Kinkade at this point). Maybe that is the way it always has been: wars and the PR teams who champion their causes. Maybe the manifestos and the current schools do exist. They just can't get the big time marketers to back them.

So what does that mean to me (or to you)?
Let us search out the cracks and nooks of life to see who is there doing what. Let us go off the beaten path and into those back alley galleries, those little art school showings, those coffee house colletions. Let us set aside the obvious PR/Marketing of the big time press and turn to the lesser publishing houses. Let us support the local arts, search out the local bookstores for the local authors and musicians and artists. And above all let us learn to create from the heart with purpose, style, and distinction. Maybe you can write the next manifesto about how art and life should relate.

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