Against Smug, Self-Aware Art

Evert Cilliers at 3quarksdaily on most current art:

There is a certain kind of art made here in America for a lofty but banal purpose: to enliven the contemporary educated mind.

You know: the mind of you and me, dear 3QD reader — the NPR listener, the New Yorker reader, the English major, the filmgoer who laps up subtitles, the gallery-goer who can tell a Koons from a Hirst.

This art is superior to the cascading pile of blockbuster kitsch-dreck-crap that passes for pop culture, but only superior by a few pips.

This art sure ain’t Picasso, or Joyce, or Rossellini, or the Beatles, or even Sondheim. It’s more Woody Allen than Ingmar Bergman, more Joyce Carol Oates than James Joyce, more Jeff Koons than Duchamp, more Arcade Fire than the Beatles.

It does not expand the borders of art or wreck the tyranny of the possible or enlarge our hungry little minds.

It is art of the day to inform the conversation of the day by the people of the day who need to be reassured that their taste is a little more elevated than that of the woman on the subway reading Nora Roberts.

For want of a better label, here’s a suggested honorific for this kind of art:

Urban Intellectual Fodder.

I liked his questions, even if I didn’t always agree with his conclusions. He’s got strong, contrarian opinions. and doesn’t note most great art is validated retrospectively, not as it occurs, hyperbole aside. (E.g., do I really believe The Social Network is the most important movie of the decade? I doubt it’s even the most important of this year.) But I like his criteria for recognizing great art:

It makes your hair stand on end. It takes your head off. It has a physical effect, like some kind of vicious blow that makes you jitter with excitement, or some kind of fierce cloud that enfolds you in a hard, clammy grip. It’s like getting a kick up the spine with a cosmic boot, or having your senses garroted by an expert assassin, or suddenly being plunged into water so cold it shocks you to death.

What’s the last book I read that did that to me, or even came close? (Off to peruse the list…) Of recent reads, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad was the most thought provoking.

3 Responses to “Against Smug, Self-Aware Art”

  1. Susan Says:

    I wrote a rant last week after reading Cilliers’ article, which, wisely, I didn’t publish. Recognizing art aside, I don’t think anyone who gives up on a book after a mere seven sentences is leaving themselves open to experience any cosmic book kicks.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Susan, I agree. Wherefore art thou, 50-page guide?I liked the idea of what he said better than how he backed it up personally, and it did make me think how many books I read that I like, even love, but that don’t rock my world.

  3. Ritalee Says:

    The School on Heart’s Content Road rocked my world, because the author, who’s active in a Maine militia, gave me the thrill of understanding some of the guts and feeling behind them. She portrays them in a most positive way, mind, generally skipping past the ugly prejudices, but check her out