TORONTO, CANADA — For millennia, art has reflected the
values of societies. Have modern values and technology made great art
Massive advances in technology have given us instruments that could
have increased the prevalence of great art today. However, the cumulative
social, cultural, and spiritual effects of some of these technological
advances have corroded the more traditional contexts that produced
and nourished great artists, such as William Shakespeare.
The mass of people are in danger of becoming unreflective, history-less "vidiots" —
passive consumers of a stupefying array of television programs, films,
Internet images, video games, sports events, and popular music that
are racing to the bottom. The educational system, rather than offering
a salutary counter-ethic to the content of the mass media, in most
cases reinforces it.
The so-called high art of today indulges in frequent portrayals of
evil, ugliness, and perversity; in endless variations and explorations
of designated minority consciousnesses; in expressions of hatred or
self-hatred of Western civilization; and in multifarious techniques
for rendering the Western European past as antithetical to “decent” human
The ability to reproduce photographic and video images, as well as
the disturbing question of what can be seen as “authentic,” has
turned mass pornography into a huge industry and social phenomenon.
Mass pornography is part of the societal background, probably for the
first time in history. Certainly, the rendering of erotic pictorial
images or sculptures in premodern societies (regardless of the “uninhibited” nature
of some pagan cultures) required substantial amounts of time and artistic
skill, inherently limiting them to a comparatively small (and a less
sexually obsessed) audience.
What is particularly troubling about most forms of pop-culture —
sports, films and television, popular music, and the fashion industry
-- is the exclusion of a more traditionalist vision. As the anchor
of traditionalism is slipped, society tends to lose its moorings and
become anarchic. Ted Nugent is one of the few rock stars to proudly
call himself a conservative. Country-and-western music and NASCAR racing
— largely concentrated in the American South and Southwest — are
two pop culture subgenres with semi-traditionalist elements. The U.S.
has a fairly large subgenre of Christian music and Christian fiction,
but the subgenre has very little appeal beyond its audience of very
strongly Christian people. Most music and publishing industry moguls
treat it with disdain.
In Canada, the love of hockey is one of the last unifying elements
of the country.
Some less obvious cultural foci with traditionalist implications include
local historical and architectural preservation societies; historical
and battlefield re-enactors (such as those focusing on the American
Civil War, American Revolutionary War, or the Medieval or Renaissance
eras); classical music, folk music, book, poetry, and Classics, Medieval,
or Renaissance enthusiasts; some ecological and conservation organizations;
and railroad and historical board war games hobbyists.
Following the arguments made by Anthony Gancarski, Eighties alternative,
New Wave, technopop, and some ballad-type music, have Romantic, aesthetic,
and Eurocentric aspects. Such music often has an orchestral or symphonic
feel to it. Today called Eighties retro, retro-alternative, or simply
retro, it can be favorably contrasted with such popular music subgenres
The artist who seeks to create great art today should enter into a
spirit of thought and reflection about the nature of late modern society.
In so far as it aims for greatness, outstanding art must reject the
current-day atmosphere of political correctness, designated minorities,
and relativist aesthetics. The latter are based on “leveling” impulses,
whereas great art must aspire to “the high” — often including
elements of history, religion, and the heroic. In some cases, the portrayal
of evil, ugliness, and perversity can be artistically brilliant —
but it must be deftly handled.
Some kind of salutary, positive counter-ethic is needed. In Western
societies, a piece of carefully-crafted, representational art by a
European artist, patriotically celebrating some part of the nation’s
heroic history or origins, may be the most truly radical work of art
possible. A recent outstanding but comparatively little-known film
from Poland is Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Quo Vadis?, based on the Nobel-winning,
Christians-in-Ancient-Rome novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz; it is available
with subtitles in English and a number of other languages.
The unrelenting advance of technology in Western societies —± resulting
in the creation of a mass, lowest-common-denominator society driven
by advertising, consumption, notions of designated victimhood, and
political correctness — has attenuated the possibilities of the creation
and reception of great art, which depends on the valorization of ideals.
The late modern society is an extraordinarily harsh climate for the
nourishing of what the Ancient Greeks called the megapsychlos — “the
great-souled man.” In the sprawling social and cultural landscape
of late modern society, which is in some places entirely barren and
in others choked with weeds, more elevated art and culture can find
it challenging to take root and flourish.
It is the task of a rooted social and cultural criticism to accurately
portray the near-dystopic societal configurations, to identify the
few remaining foci of resistance, and to coalesce these foci to the
extent possible into a broader social, cultural, and spiritual resistance
Pointing to the thinness, even barrenness, of late modernity brings
into high relief how much of the authentic human experience has been
lost. This loss occurred despite the enormous gains in physical wealth
by which the U.S. and Canada and most other Western societies are characterized
— a wealth which, although to a degree unevenly distributed, far exceeds
that of any premodern society. These materially wealthy societies are
also ones of extreme social, cultural, spiritual, religious, moral,
psychological — and, hence, artistic — impoverishment.
View From The North is copyright © 2012
by Mark Wegierski and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
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Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer, social critic, and historical
researcher and is published in major Canadian newspapers, as well as
in U.S. scholarly journals such as Humanitas,
Review of Metaphysics, and Telos, and in U.S. magazines such as Chronicles
and The World & I. His writing has also appeared in Polish, British, and German publications.
See author's bio and other articles.
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