Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Why So Much Crappy Art?

I am not familiar with Helen Dale’s work, but, after reading her recent Spectator article, I will make it a point to learn more about her. Responding to a friend who asked her if she had an “unpopular opinion, Dale responded that our educational system and the media have bequeathed us far too many would-be and talentless artists.

In other words, we are drowning in crap art and in crap writing. Spectators refuse to go to museum exhibits that display junk art that preaches the gospel of political correctness. Readers refuse to buy much of the literary fiction out there, because it is unreadable.

The fault, Dale writes, lies first with the self-esteem movement. Now that schools give everyone a prize, children come away imagining that they have real talent… when they don’t.

Dale writes:

There are too many artists, too many people who want to be artists, most of them aren’t very good, and schools should focus on inculcating self-discipline rather than dopey ‘all must have prizes’ creativity.

Most people are only ever going to be drones. Telling them because they starred in the high school musical or wrote the best poem in the school magazine means they’re going to make it as an actor or writer is a monstrous lie that sets them up for disappointment.

All the arts – but especially literature – have low barriers to entry. Huge numbers of people are attracted to what are seen to be glamorous fields like writing, acting, directing, and painting. Often, this is because one person is plucked from the crowd and becomes a star – there’s nothing quite like a narrative where we get to cheer on the underdog – known in the trade as a ‘winner takes all’ market. However, the economics of ‘crowded fields’ means the larger the number of participants, the more randomness and luck play a role in determining success.

And then, there’s identity politics. Universities encourage writers who can’t write because they believe that a student, by virtue of his or her “identity” must have a great story to tell, especially one that discredits the patriarchy and industrial capitalism. Book publishers have taken to using identity as a marketing ploy.

That is why – in these modern ‘attention economy’ times – publishing houses insist on using identity politics to try to ‘move the merch’. And you read that right – intersectional feminism and mandated racial diversity are marketing and branding strategies, not politics.

Meanwhile, universities (yes, you can go to university, rack up student debt, and ‘learn’ to be a writer) tell some people – depending on skin tone, sex, orientation, or something else – as a matter of routine they have an important and luminous story to tell because of what they are.

Dare we add that university professors and media influencers believe that the only noble profession is producing art. Thus, that if you have a real job, one where you need to get up and go to the office and earn a living every day… you are corrupt and corrupting.

But then, there’s the inevitable wake-up call for young people who have been lied to:

There is nothing quite like seeing a modestly talented person crumple when they think an opportunity has been snatched from them when they have to go and drive for Uber or take a factory job. Even worse is the modestly talented person who persists (and persists) and is paid nothing at all while churning out content for Huffington Post.

These people are everywhere in the economy, living hand-to-mouth and doing idiot things like demanding ‘luxury communism now’ (that’s from Ash Sarkar, the self-described feminist Muslim who had a go-round with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain recently.)

Feminists, too, live in mum’s basement and call themselves ‘writers’ or ‘artists’. It’s not just MRAs and the sadder sort of gamers. They live there because they think, one day, they’ll land on (literary) Free Parking in Monopoly and thence lay hands on the Big Brass Ring.

That’s not how it works, and worse, all it does is inflict bad writing on the rest of us. No wonder sales of literary fiction around the world have fallen off a cliff.

I take Dale’s word about literary fiction. I wonder how much it applies to academic writing… though academic writing has always been falling off a cliff.

She concludes:

It’s worth noting other writing genres are fine, too – science fiction, crime, fantasy, thrillers, romance – these are selling better than ever. We can’t blame literary fiction’s current parlous state on e-books or Amazon.


whitney said...

I find it helpful to read biographies of the great man type. It really does produce humility because I realize what these people did and accomplished I would never have the energy and will to do. They are actually better than me

Unfortunately I think serial killer biographies are probably more popular these days

David Foster said...

"It is often said that great achievement requires in one's formative years two teachers: a stern taskmaster who teaches the rules and an inspirational guru who teaches one to break the rules. But they must come in that order. Childhood training in Bach can prepare one to play free jazz and ballet instruction can prepare one to be a modern dancer, but it doe s not work the other way around. One cannot be liberated from fetters one has never worn; all one can do is to make pastiches of the liberations of others."

--Michael J Lewis, an art professor at Williams College

"You cannot create against a yielding medium." "Let me have something finite, definite." "My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength."

--Igor Stravinsky

trigger warning said...

I read a lot, and I'm genre omnivorous excepting romance. I guiltily admit to a secret predilection for space opera.

It has been years since I've selected a book written by a woman, as I find the female perspective to be uninteresting. Truly, I don't care about the dashing sartorial statement made by a detective's tie, or the arresting eye color of a roguish starship captain.

What I have noticed, though, is Amazon's relentless attempt to push-market women authors on the Kindle start page and the free monthly Prime booklist. I'm not sure whether it's merely a numbers game, a statistical by-product of electronic publishing and a low barrier to entry encouraging masses of untalented female literary lemmings wanting to be writers, or whether it's simply an a priori capitulation to anticipated feminist demands and potential accusations of misogyny.

I've also been amused by the tsunami of political poison pen and tell-all books published for media attention. For example consider "What Happened" and "Unhinged" (neither of which I have bothered to read, by the way). There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that neither Clinton nor Omarosa is capable of writing a book. I find it morally execrable that the ghostwriters of these books are not acknowledged, because the ghost authors surely deserve some acknowledgement for their apparent ability to listen attentively for hour upon hour to discombobulated, fictive irruptions of disordered thinking and then go on to gin up semi-readable prose. Not an easy task.

So much for "art".

David Foster said...

TW...huh...I'd guess about 50% of the fiction I read is by women. An excellent female SF writer, IMO, is Connie Willis, whose work I reviewed here:

I don't understand what Amazon is up to with the Kindle start page, which would seem to have exceptional potential as a marketing vehicle. Although they have vast information on reader interests, they don't seem to be making any attempt to use this info in populating the start page...and the page is often difficult to read owing to typography and use of gray-scale combinations.

Sam L. said...

Bad art? I'm saying it's a Commie/Leftie plot. It's "progressive", which, as I've said before, always makes me think of cancer.

tw, I recommend Sarah Hoyt's blog, , and the female (and male) authors she recommends.

David Foster said...

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

--John Adams, 1780. Unfortunately, however, many of those who indeed got the 'right' to study "painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain" just aren't very good at these things. (Maybe some of them *could* be good if their education wasn't so squishy...see Stravinsky and Lewis quotes above)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps those concerned about the state of our culture's art might care to read what Miles Mathis has to say in his numerous articles.
Miles' position is that Modern Art is an 'Intellgence' project, that it is intentionally awful, and intended to demoralize.
Have a look some time at what 'arists" like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst have produced over the last three decades...or what Charles Saatchi promotes in his galleries.

An additional aspect of the 'Intelligence' project, according to Mathis, is money laundering, on a huge scale. Mathis devotes an entire article to this topic, alone.

I'd hang an "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" sign over the article, but as a genuine lover of art as an earthly view of Divinity,I would say just the opposite: Mathis' explanation(s) of the deliberate destruction of art and culture explain far more than cries of 'conspiracy theories!' could hope to smother and dismiss.

- shoe