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The Rise of Bad Art and the Decline of Political Candor

Bad art is doing so well these days, and the reason is people want the message. An early symptom is the rapid first-personism of film critics: “I feel …” is a hard one, because who can disprove a feeling? A more unbiased claim is suggested by the alternate location “Like…” —where “it” means that the emotion in question should motivate anyone. The sanctity of the vast church is more difficult to challenge than just a first person. Meanwhile, negative judgments are heading towards being prohibited as long as the work wears good intentions on its sleeve.

This is not a question of honesty. Oscar Wilde said, “All bad poetry comes from real emotion,” and on The Importance of Being Diligent, Algernon recoiled from the display of affection by the happily married: “It looks so bad. It is simply washing clean linen in public. ” Much of the admired and well -rewarded art of our time consists of washing clean linen in public.

That the artist must have a function separate from existing cultural or political equipment is not necessarily an eternal idea. It dates back to the mid-18th century and found its clearest formulation in Friedrich Schiller’s Letters on Human Aesthetic Education (1795). You may know a work of art, Schiller wrote, by a promise that looks like a detachment. It doesn’t want you to go out and do something. It was a radical proposal, rather than a virtue at home in the Age of Enlightenment. The taste of age is more truly represented by the tragedy of Joseph Addison’s verse Cato (1712), Whig propaganda for a civic-republican ideal gave pleasure to three generations of viewers, but the feelings they warmed now were so cold that it was impossible to imagine how those people felt. The same is true of the high art celebrated by the ancien regime — for example, an artist like François Boucher.

The successful actor shared with the politician the repeated temptation to indulge in emotional claptrap. Bernard Bosanquet in Three Lectures on Aesthetic (1915) suggested that this desire to chase tears or laughter could be suppressed by attaching art-emotion to a particular object and not a set of reactions. His fruit of the meaning of art is “feeling expressed for the sake of expression.” Notice, however, that this is something that only the madman dreams of wanting in real life. Our daily expression of emotion is spontaneous and practical; they are never “for revelation.” On the contrary, the aesthetic feeling is self -sufficient.

The film by Jean-Luc Godard Panting dealing with a young thug and his woman and the binge of cheating, flying, and infidelity their infatuation puts on them. Nothing compels us to think that these people are wonderful human specimens. Nor do we think they are disgusting. It is enough that they are interesting, and their surface attractiveness accounts for most of the impact. There was a moment quite early when the protagonist turned to the camera and addressed the audience: “It’s pretty, the campaign…. If you don’t like the sea — if you don’t like the mountains — if you don’t like the city: go and do it.”(The beauty, the countryside. If you don’t like the sea — if you don’t like the mountains — if you don’t like the cities: to hell with you.)

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