16 February 2009

Art as a Getaway Vehicle

Art used to be a representation of reality. Now, in this age of digital sound and video, we are inundated with reality. Or at least we think we are. So art has a new role: the escape from reality.

When Adam Smith described the division of labor in a pin factory, he told the story of how productivity would soar. This turned out to be a kind of prophecy but it is even more true of information than products. The almost cliche, probably true tidbit that a single edition of the Sunday New York Times has more information than a medieval peasant absorbed in a lifetime seems to make this point.

So, what is the protection for the psyche of a curious animal suddenly confronted with gigabytes of information at any moment? Information that provides no information about what to do next, what you should do, what you could do? You opt for information (for surely meditating on nothing can hardly compare with focusing on something in this information age) that takes you away from reality rather than plunges you into it.

And if the escape gives you some moments of vicarious bonding with a superhero while you are at it, all the better. Not only are you faced with fictional situations that require no response, you feel equipped with special powers with which to deal with this situation.

Art has morphed from a vehicle that brings art to us into a vehicle that, like a getaway car, takes us away from reality.

5 comments:

wheelsonthebus said...

i'm not sure this is a bad thing. art is ever changing with the culture of which it is a part, right?

ThomasLB said...

I wonder how much photography plays into the shift.

The Mona Lisa wasn't painted because someone wanted an enigmatic masterpiece, it was painted because some dude wanted a picture of his wife.

Now he'd just snap a shot with his cellphone and put it on his blog.

Pinky said...

For me, art is an inspiration for deeper thought, which can in turn be an escape. I think it's a good thing. Escape is good, in moderation.

Big Al said...

Art used to be a representation of reality? Not necessarily. When we visited the Louvre 2 years ago we saw hundreds, if not thousands, of hundreds-year old paintings and sculptures depicting events or scenes not of this world. In fact many paintings were very religious in nature showing angels or demons, to name 2 non-real objects. I agree there were numerous painters such as Monet who created glorious works of art there did indeed depict reality. But take a walk around the city of Paris with all its numerous stone gargoyles on buildings and you'll see that non-reality art was very much alive and well years ago.

Ron Davison said...

Emily,
Art is in the eye of .. wait, no, that is beauty. Art is in the eye of the culture?

Thomas,
I would love to have read da Vinci's blog. What a thought.

Pinky,
escape is necessary - in moderation. yes.

Allen,
Fascinating point. So in a way, art is always part representation of reality and part shared fantasy? I guess you are right. Art and beauty are notions about the better self.