14 January, 2008

l'art pour l'art

I think it has been a complex and variable day, but it went by so fast that I am not entirely sure of that statement. I am sure, however, that I did hear many wise words from three wise women; those risky, honest things that are so healthy to receive, even with stiffened posture.

While I am trying to research what the heck the State Personnel Act is and why it matters to the average UNC student, I wanted to stick up these few thoughts about art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

This post really ought to be titled, Why Blogs are Bad, Or, Hypocrisy.

For this is one of my many grievances against the 21st century:

In this lightning-fast, technologically fixated epoch, anyone (myself included) can write anything they please, publish it, and have a responsive audience. Instant authorship is gratifying—which explains the explosion of the blogosphere in the past decade—but it also inevitably and simultaneously degrades art and muddles its definition.

Walter Benjamin, a German literary theorist, had this figured out long before the Internet even came to be. He prophesied this phenomenon in 1936 in a great little piece called “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” (I am reading it this week for my Literary Criticism class.)

He writes:

“With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers—at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for ‘letters to the editor.’ And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. … At any moment, the reader is ready to turn into a writer. … Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.”

Two years earlier, Aldous Huxley wrote along the same lines in Beyond the Mexique:

“Now artistic talent is a very rare phenomenon; whence it follows… that, at every epoch and in all countries, most art has been bad. But the proportion of trash in the total artistic output is greater now than at any other period. That it must be so is a matter of simple arithmetic.”

All I wanted to say is, Yes, I agree. And yes, I am contributing to the proportion of trash. But it does irk me—to watch literary standards slip because anyone can publish whatever the heck they want on the World Wide Web.

And there’s your daily dose of irony.


stickfigure said...

Since when is any collection of thoughts a work of art merely by virtue of being written down? I guess you could say that the ability to write anything coherent takes some measure of art, i.e. craft or skill. But is the product of "art" in this way really, truly a work of art?

S. Lovern said...

Dearest Abby,

First of all, it was so refreshing to see you the other day and you looked so beautiful that I was stumbling over my words! Second of all, I'm not a literature kid, but a science dork so I will do my best to write as well as I think.

I made it habit in high school to read what you posted on abbyfarson.com. I was trying to remember over Christmas break some of the websites that I liked visiting regularly in the past and so, I typed into my search bar www.abbyfarson.com. To my dissappointment, it no longer existed. And so then, I highlighted the text in my search bar and continued to type www.google.com and search your name. Congratulations, you have more hits than I will at 100. Anyway, after reading today's entry , I thought for a minute. While I have rarely thought about the art of writing, I have had moments when I have pondered the question, "What is art?" when viewing contemporary sculpture, paintings, or the first chapter of my art history book. Now, I must mentioned that I was appalled to hear you believe your writing contributed to what we are collectively calling "trash art," because it's my theory that great art, no matter what form, is not just seen, but sought.

Ivy said...

So, the creation of "art" is left only to a certain elite people? People with "talent"?
As far as the internet goes, I like to see democratization, rather than simply degradation. It is true that in that process there is a very large amount of what we might call (very)low-quality, and self-indulgent work(something no one can ever seem to avoid completely); however, it has expanded our world to much more than the lofty writer and the consuming public...
Perhaps what is missing is the critical eye that this slew of expression needs, something to weed out the good from the not-so-good. That itself is a democratization: letting people choose what they think is good. I think it is dangerous to speak of the degradation of art, seeing as much art now recognized as great was at one time considered a degradation of artistic standards. That aside, even in the revered world of real publishing (paper and ink etc.) there is certainly enough trash to go around, (and that even before the internet was invented). It seems to me that literary standards have always been such threatened, and managed to survive, somehow.
It just rubs me the wrong way to think that simply because one is not recognized by others as a great talent, one has no right to go around putting one's work where others can see it.

Keeping in mind, of course, that I am a blogger myself. Interesting thoughts. I rather miss our friendly debates...

Alex said...

abby, i totally agree. all bloggers need to be expunged from the planet...just a cataract of trash multiplied by the millions so that everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame with fifteen people. it's a mechanism for instant delivery of half-baked ideas proffered up by the barely-informed.

of course, that doesn't keep me from being a part of it! abby, i'll join you on the good ship irony!