Some Quick Thoughts on Cultural Attitudes Towards Art and Artists

“We must work to sacralize art.” I heard this phrase today in the opening of a DJ’s set. As I thought about the sacredness of art, I came to some ideas about art (as a form of devotion) and how this is in conflict with mass culture (at least as I perceive it).

Keeping art “sacred” is the great fight of human expression. And the difficulty for the artist is that balance of understanding—they know they are ultimately making something to be experienced by another human person, but the object of the creation cannot be fully be thus, for then the art becomes a product. In this case, the intrinsic quality of true art is lost.

Shall human expression and emotion—that which makes us human—become just another thing by which the corporation will manipulate for Profit? If we understand commerce and market then we know that this is unavoidable. But we must be wary of the formulaic mass production of art and culture, the prime example being the music and movie industries in the 1990s up to modern times. Here, risk became so wholly second to Profits. It is the era of the formula pop songs, one hit wonders, pop “stars” (manufactured icons), the remakes, the action blockbusters, the super hero franchises, the easy.

These movements are more damaging than what they might first appear. They change the standards of the next generation, what the next generation will tolerate in their “art.” I fear this “dumbing down” of our cultural artistic literacy over time. Through gradual streamlined approaches and less appetite and tolerance in mass culture for risk and challenging media, we become more predictable, more easily programmed and manipulated—more robotic.

This risk is clear to the artist—I experience a level of ‘scorn’ just by my focus and attitude towards art as something that is serious. Perhaps it is a product of living in Indiana. The attitude here is that art is a game. A cute hobby. This is because in our modern society the seriousness and reverence towards art has been diminished. To the mass culture that surrounds me, art is a mode of entertainment—not a vocation. It is not a sacred calling. It is something that is performed for enjoyment in one’s free-time after all of the “necessary” work is completed.

All of which is, of course, absurd to the artist. They understand the art as a form of devotion. It is necessary work. In this modern society, the artist is forced to live a double life, where they affirm the values of their society in order to get by, but then must also answer the call of their art in order to be happy.