Posted by: Dan | July 18, 2009

Culture (again)

In the same way that religion may be considered the opiate of the masses, the Arts should be considered the opiate of the middle-classes.

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Responses

  1. agreed

  2. So why is it then that many of the people I work with use art both as a means of socializing together, and as a means of expressing themselves to the world?

    Isn’t art simply a communication tool used in different ways by all classes?

    Abe

  3. This is absolutely right. The proliferation of “theologies of the arts” that we see among middle class Christians today testifies to this. Its an utter fetish as well as an opiate.

    But if you say that you’re a naive iconoclastic fundamentalist who withdraws from the world. Meh.

  4. There’s an aspect of the arts that does function as a secular religion. Certainly in terms of accessing something transcendent, a certain sort of post-Christendom, educated, urban middle class person would do that in the arts more than any organized religion per se.

  5. Totally. I’m completely sick of hearing young evangelicals talking about how vital it is to “engage the arts.” Its code for just wanting to have stylish hobbies. And never have dirt under our fingernails.

    In short, I don’t think Jesus gave a shit about art.

  6. Interesting. I can see how some non-religious folks would give more reverance to beautiful art than to other people or God himself…

    The separate topic mentioned in these comments refers to the churchy fad of reconnecting with art. Halden seems to dislike this mumbo-jumbo quite a bit. I kind of see it as a temporary emphasis, but as a musician I have always thought that God has a place for the arts.

    Still, it’s easy to get lost in art as an idol of it’s own, rather than a medium for a message. My friend Battle uses graffiti to directly create opportunities to speak to people about God, and in that way I think any art can have a great impact…

  7. Jamie, my last comment about Jesus’s view of art was a bit hyperbolic (though I doubt he ever stood around looking at paintings). What I am against is not art per se, nor the artistic impulse. Rather its they way it is reified and even construed as something radical.

    Though there are exceptions to this art is predominately the pastime of the privileged. And all too often it is mistaken for something radical or intrinsically valuable.

  8. “secular religion?” “opium?” “shat upon by Jesus?”

    Well, most of the writings of the Iconoclasts were destroyed when the Iconodules reemerged victorious after a couple hundred years of battle. One argument against icons that survived (by an interlocutor of John of Damascus I think) warned that “Icons enter the mind unimpeded by reason,” He went on to say that ordinary folks who possessed Icons in the home were like to have their imaginations stimulated in heretical or licentious ways lending towards magic and fanciful impulses and unhealthy stimulations. One might allow for Icons or stained glass in a church, he hedged, where the images would be surrounded by doctrine and the discourse of the church. Since most folks were illiterate, the church had almost monopoly control on written discourse, but lots of folks could produce or buy simple pictures of Mary or the saints and set up individual alters in their own homes and develop worship practices that sometimes fell out side the orthodox. When someone would get healed of some affliction while praying with an Icon, it would sometimes come to be seen as having special powers, and it’s owner might travel around with the miracle dispensing Icon and charge for it’s services—a kind of early teli-evangelism. Of course writing could become ensnared in biblical prohibitions against idolatry as well. There was a practice of writing out the name of Hashem in letters and wearing or praying with it like a talisman to ward off sickness or evil or even lightning strikes! Hieroglyphics, especially Egyptian, are a kind of midpoint between writing and pictures and are often condemned in early Jewish literature up to the time of Maimonides. The early Egyptians built a sculpture of a crocodile out of lead that is credited with keeping Cairo safe from these creatures. Often people speak of the “art of writing, or cooking, or making love.” An acquaintance has a house filled with the paintings of Thomas Kincaid, the evangelical “painter of Light.” Once a good investment they are now falling in value. Kincaid’s early work was almost void of humans. They strike me like apocalyptic, potemkin villages waiting for the raptured to occupy them in the afterlife. He is battling liver cancer and the paintings seem to comfort him. He chides me for my Romanism, but there is no one to pray to/with in a Kincaid painting; I think he pictures himself in one of those fluorescent English cottages with his wife who passed some years ago. The Icons at St. Catherines on Mt.Sinai survived the Image wars and are worth a visit. I painted a faithful copy of the “Blessing Christ” commissioned by Justin about 1600 yrs ago. I made minor changes. I added the Hebrew letter ‘ayin’ (looks like a Y ) in the center of the Bible Jesus is holding. It is a silent letter, a servant letter, so to speak, thought to represent the ‘eye of G-d.’ It is not the actual eye.
    Obliged, daniel

  9. I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed here, but I’m wondering if perhaps we need a more nuanced look as aesthetics. I’m thinking out loud here, but what I mean is that maybe we should recognize and help further a more “integrated aesthetic,” for lack of a better term.

    While I agree that a “more thorough engagement with the arts” might be a very thinly-veiled opium for middle class white people (like myself), I’m not sure why we must reverse our standpoint to “Jesus doesn’t give a shit about art.” (Although you have made it clear that you were using hyperbole to make a point, Halden).

    I’m not sure what to say positively about this. Obviously we have (and need?) many distinctions when speaking about “art.” For example, I could say that music is a very integrated art into my daily experience, but that doesn’t cover high art, etc.

    My thoughts here were prompted by looking over my recent notes on Gadamer’s Truth and Method. When writing about the history of art, and in particular the 19th century idea of Erlebniskunst (art based on experience), Gadamer argues that the concepts (chiefly Erlebnis, which is experience) don’t really work. Here’s a quote: “At any rate, it cannot be doubted that the great ages in the history of art were those in which people without any aesthetic conscious and without our concept of “art” surrounded themselves with creations whose function in religious or secular life could be understood by everyone and which gave no one solely aesthetic pleasure.”

    What I’m trying to get at is that perhaps we should start forcing ourselves to not look at art for purely aesthetic pleasure. A rather simple, obvious starting point seems to be participating in the art we experience. I have some more ramblings, but I’m curious to see if I’m making sense.

  10. I’m reminded here–and elsewhere whenever the overemphasis (or, perhaps, idolatry?) of the arts is [rightfully] decried in theology and, perhaps as an unfortunate but intriguing corollary, the arts themselves approach getting rather short shrifted–of an episode of “A Different World” (remember that shiz???) where Kimberly Reese (Charnele Brown) was talking to Matthew (Andrew Lowery), the white guy she was dating: Reese was a pre-med student, and per her serious aspirations of being a physician, she couldn’t understand why Matthew, a fine arts major if I’m not mistaken, could be as carefree and joking and free-spirited as he was when there was so much serious shit going on in the world; Reese was studying to be a doctor, and so she had to maintain a serious attitude and outlook on things because people’s lives were going to be in her hands. Matthew replied with something to the effect of, “Well, what do you think you’ll be saving their lives FOR?”

    Saw that as a little kid, and it always stuck me. Sue me, but I am convinced it is pertinent, here.

    Ta-ta, and God bless, everybody.

  11. I think that summing up such an issue in half a sentence is deliberately provocative.

    Mind you, I probably wouldn’t bother to read it if it was any longer…

    :)

    Josh.

  12. SinikalSaint, I just read your comment and enjoyed that quote very much.

    Mind you, this is coming from a Paramedic who has a wee bit of artistic talent and who takes almost nothing seriously…

    Josh.

  13. Josh:

    “Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive.”

    That one’s from “Van Wilder,” although I’m sure they got it from somewhere else. But I’m inclined to agree.

    I also note that Jesus, if the Gospel is true, is in fact the only one who made it out alive. Now what does that tell us?

  14. So you’re going to come at me with more quotes, are you? Well then…

    “Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies.” –Voltaire (1694-1778) on his deathbed in response to a priest asking that he renounce Satan

    “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” –Winston Churchill

    “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.” –Woody Allen

    “A witty saying proves nothing.” –Voltaire

    Here are 46 more of my favourites:

    http://villagidiot.livejournal.com/55998.html

    Josh.

  15. I am touched by your sardonicism and flippancy. And your appreciation for aphorisms.

    • Au contrario mon frerio, I can’t stand those flippin’ sardines! Although I do very much enjoy a good aphorism. (Mind you, “Maxim” magazine was not at all what I was expecting it to be…)

      Josh.

  16. What’s the name of the headline image? I’ve tried a bunch of different google search strings with words like “Calvin” and “bird mask” but nadda.

  17. Nevermind, found it.

  18. while I agreed that art and culture are the preserve and opiate of the middle classes, would like to point out that there is biblical evidence of art being a significant part of the life of Gods people in the bible ie: the poetry of the wisdom books, and the art and worship of the temple etc…I also think that often art is and can be a form of protest against oppression and a salve for the broken spirits of the poor. Why do people so often write poems in response to suffering?

    In fact for the oppressed, in a very real sense, it may be one of the only freedoms left. Think the mississippi blues men and women, African slave spirituals, outsider art and poetry. Of course this protest and freedom is always co opted by the powerful and becomes a cultural analgesic used in the service of death. but this is no different to any other thing that is monopolized and controlled by the empires of history.

  19. @poserorprophet: Making amiguous aphorisms about ambiguous concepts and extending the conclusion to ambiguous demographics is good for comment discussion, but I’m not so sure this conclusion would hold up in a lengthy debate. Put crudely (and ambiguously) the arts are “the opiate” of all classes. Like religion, the arts are forms of idolatry, as others have noted. But moreover, again like religion, they are the result of the homo sapien’s evolving need for agency, community, creativity, didacticism, purpose and transcendence. The arts and religion fulfill the same role in virtually all areas, the same opiate under a different guise. Seems silly to separate them as per your post.

  20. I like how this post rhymes — very artful.

  21. ___________________

    “Beauty will Save the World”

    ~Fydor Dostoyevsky (The Idiot)

    ___________

    Art should be seen as urbanmonk pointed out as being central to the fight against oppression, lies, and tyranny.

    It was Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel Lecture on Literature, who prophetically said, referring to Dostoyevsky’s famous aftermentioned line:

    “Lies can prevail against much in this world, but never against art”

    In the fight against the many lies of the world, whether they are the lies of the elite, the corrupt, the middle class, special interest groups, communists, conservatives, fundamentalists, liberals, anarchists, intellectuals; art, poetry and literature are the antidote, not the opiate.

  22. Halden,

    So what is slightly posh cocktails the opiate of? Or cigars? I don’t know man, maybe we should talk this out over a few beers.

  23. “In the same way that religion may be considered the opiate of the masses, the Arts should be considered the opiate of the middle-classes.”

    Well said!! I believe Comrade Stalin or Comrade Lenin preached the same thing about the Arts.


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