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Nihilism, Futurist Traditionalism and Conservationism

Ambiguity and Conflict in Art

27 06 10 - 15:48

I know not to expect much from this time; when you cut the masses loose and tell them their opinions are important, you're going to get a lowest common denominator which favors the sentimental, the it's-not-my-fault-I-was-oppressed, the materialistic and the convenient.

In fact, it all boils down to convenience: what attitudes or ideas are convenient for the individual to use to explain the world away and stay in this comforting self! Even the sentimental is convenient, because you can cry alone and then feel like you've enhanced your humanity, when all you've really done is emotionally saturate yourself.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal takes down a sacred cow by a peg or two -- but that's not the story. What's important here is this assessment of art:


There is no ambiguity in "To Kill a Mockingbird"; at the end of the book, we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad. - WSJ


That right there is the difference between art and propaganda/product. Art is morally ambiguous and yet finds a resolution to a complex situation; propaganda and consumerist products present a single view of reality, and may introduce some false doubt, but basically nothing changes. They're binary. You're either in with the dogma or outside of it.

And this can be summarized as such: in art, the precepts do not equal the conclusions; in propaganda, they do. Art is "I went into the world with this attitude, then had the following experiences and reacted to them in a way that reflected my attitude, but as I saw the end results, I changed." Propaganda/product is "Here is the attitude you need and it will bring a tangible reward."

Good death metal starts off with possibly the same riff it will end with, but much changes between those two times, such that the end riff is occurring in a new context, both melodic/scale-dynamic and artistic-symbolic. Good books lead you into a space where you must in the space of your soul decide where you would stand, and then they show you ambiguous results that, if you've learned anything from the book, reflect the difference between intelligence and idiocy.

Take Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The good people end up together; the bad people end up together, with a source of income. No one gets spanked down by life or an absent God in a definitive writing-on-the-wall moment that tells us what's good and bad; still, however, it's clear from how people behave and how events play out who are the idiots, and who are the people we'd like to see more of.

While To Kill a Mockingbird is a sentimental wreck that we could skewer, the point here is well-taken in regard to any art: did it grow internally, or was it a repeated symbol trying to take over your brain? Was it convenience, or did it push you past the comfort zone of convenience? It's worthy to explore real art, as it's a real experience, where propaganda is just comforting delusion, in layers.

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