Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Postmodernist Gnosis

Dr. Sanity linked to this article where Roger Kimball takes on Postmodernist Art History, as personified by Michael Fried. The type of thinking Mr. Kimball describes is an extention of the pretentiousness I saw when in college in the late 70s and early 80s. Even back then, so much of the discussion I saw in the humanities was couched in obtuseness and obsfucation. It seemed that the idea was to make you think that the speaker was smart, because he or she used so many big words strung together that it was impossible to understand them.

It's the same strategy used by the print industry when printing science journals. Wow, tiny sans serif print, in three narrow columns, it's so hard to read, I must be really smart to be able to understand it! (This is a real tactic, I remember taking a weekend seminar on print and layout where it was discussed) The difference is, the science journal is trying to stroke your ego, by making you work harder to read an article so that you feel smarter when you've finished all the hard work of reading it. The arts-humanities professors were trying to make themselves feel smarter by making it harder for us as students or their readers who loved art to understand, and then when the Gnosis, the hidden meaning was finally revealed we would be 'elevated into the elite priesthood' of those who understood the truth and the secret words of knowledge.

Thankfully, in the Theatre Department we didn't actually get much of this, as too much time and effort had to be put into the practical craft of making a show work. Even in the acting classes, which by nature had to focus on the emotional touchy-feely side of life, it was a practical matter of knowing your body and your emotions so that you could control them and use them as tools within your performance.

Having talked with so many artists who struggled through art school feeling like outcasts because their politics, or religion, or brand of art didn't fit the mold of the 'artiste' I am thankful that I studied in such a craft-oriented enviroment. (I think that, at least on the university level Art was a lot less diverse then than it is now)

The result of this posturing is this, in an economy where so many more people are rising up past the financial (and educational) levels of their parents generations, many people who would otherwise be excited to own or view art feel inadequate to participate in the art world, even as viewers. Think about it, how often do you talk with someone who, when they find out you're an artist, preface their next sentence with, "Well, I don't really know much about art..." before trying to find out what you do or talk about your work? My response invariably is "What do you like? It's enough to know that you like it."

Art should be participatory. When the Arts exclude people by making them feel inadequate or uneducated, it diminishes the role that art plays in our society, and it reduces the number of potential patrons that might make our art a livelyhood.

UPDATE: Sigmund, Carl & Alfred provide related insight.

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