Monday, September 17, 2007

David Byrne On The NYC Art Scene

In this journal entry, Byrne discusses what it might mean that the art gallery scene he's been gliding around for 20 years is suddenly popular. The reason I offer this here, is I'm interested in feedback on his point about the moral high ground, or rather, lack thereof:

I don’t think viewing art makes you more moral or better in any way shape or form. I believe that this idea might be a holdover from the past, when art collecting and appreciating was the preserve of the landed classes. Since — subtly now, but more obviously in the past — the upper classes let everyone know that they are more refined than everyone else, then by inference, liking what they like might make you better and more refined too. Right? Some of it might rub off. At least it would get you closer to money and power, and that couldn’t hurt. Imagine if someone said that stamp collecting made you a better person.


Rufus said...

Certainly I've never considered the moral implications of avenging my father's death, but Hamlet has, and by extension I've seen those issues wrestled with played out. Same with any number of moral questions I'd suppose. I think that art can certainly makes one more considerate of moral questions. Will it answer them? Probably not, but I do believe that it can improve one in the long run.

Holly said...

The obvious counter argument is that one can collect just as many crap ideas, as good ones, in this manner.

Hiromi said...

"Moral?" To me, that seems an odd quality to associate with the appreciate of Culture. Maybe he was just rambling when he wrote it? Because the rest of the paragraph deals with matters of refinement and taste.

Do you think there's something moral about art?

Rufus said...

Holly- I guess that's right. I don't think that art is great for deriving general rules from. I think what Byrne is talking about might be the sort of Matthew Arnold idea of art as a moral instructor. I'd say that's probably not going to work. It still seems like it might be better to have people exploring the experience of adultry through Lady Chatterly's Lover than with the mailman though, right? I'm not sure that they might not make the same mistakes either way; but maybe it allows them to explore more possibilities without actually exploring those possibilities? I guess it is hard to make the case though. I might say that art can make us more empathetic by exposing us to lived experiences that are far afield from our own. But it's debatable whether or not that actually makes us more moral.

Holly said...

Hiromi - it's not clear at all in the thing I posted, but he's actually responding to something said by a gallery operator:

Went to see a show by Tucker Nichols, and his gallerist was thrilled by the crowds. He viewed it as “isn’t it great that everyone is interested in art now!” [...] The comment by the gallerist also seems to imply or infer that art appreciation is somehow good for you. In fact, it might even make you a better person. The increased interest in art is not just good for his business, but for the minds and souls of the public.

I just didn't want to excerpt 2 entire paragraphs. And, really, what he said is just got me to wondering, does art make you a better person?

My own guess is that it can make you a better person, only so far as you were headed for better person-hood anyway, and being open to new experiences or thoughts is just one avenue for that. It's highly unlikely to me that those people crowding the art scene were there for moral betterment. If art is going to make someone a better person against or despite their conscious intentions, it's probably going to be so sly about it, as to defy casual analysis.

Rufus - I'm not actually sure that I think it IS better to explore life's options vicariously. I'm not advocating for adultery, by any means, but sometimes it seems that, for too many people, a passion for life is being replaced with a passion for stories about life. It disturbs me.

Rufus said...

You'd have to give examples. As you probably know, I am very open to critiques of modern culture or technologies; but I'm not well-informed enough to know how people now differ from, say, novel-readers in the 1700s. But I'm ready to believe you, as the Ghostbusters said.

Holly said...

Rufus, I'm going to offer some completely unscientific anecdotal evidence... I've had the acquaintance of far, FAR too many individuals who, when asked a question such as "What did you do this weekend?" will give a list of things they watched on TV. From talking to these people, I find that their idea of "doing something" is actually more like "watching something happen to other people". I will try to find a reference, but it my understanding that there are people who claim to have been at the WTC when it got knocked down, who were not. I believe they say that because, to them and in their world view, they saw it live on CNN or whatever, and maybe they were in the same area code, so they were there for it.

The voyeuristic lifestyle seems to inspire people toward additional voyeurism, rather than additional life experience. The idea that people emulate what's on TV is actually comforting to me, because it means people are willing to get off the damn couch and Do Something--anything.

Rufus said...

Ah, that's a really good example. It's funny, after you stop watching television, you really forget how much of it most people watch. I'll see these studies that'll say 'Americans watch a bazillion hours of television a month' and think what the hell? Now, they're supposedly spending more time on the internet and less time on television, but I'm not convinced that's much improvement.

I believe you about the WTC survivors. There've actually been accounts for some time now of people who consider themselves to be Holocaust survivors even though they weren't even born yet because their older relatives were there.