Thursday, August 02, 2007

Camille Paglia: The Avant-Garde is Dead

Once upon a time, I aspired to be a real poet. By that I mean someone who is recognized by the literary establishment.

There are many reasons why I never succeeded in obtaining recognition. For one, I stopped trying. The reason I stopped is that I saw the literary landscape of Canada and said: I will never fit in. How does a conservative Catholic make it as a poet, writing about things that matter to her without a sympathetic literary audience. Sure, there are open-minded liberals who neutralize their politics when reading, but there are just as many who don't.

And the whole aesthetic of contemporary poetry annoys me to no end. In this day and age, when you sit down to read a poem, it's not an experience, but a verbal puzzle. It's often a series of telegraphic messages collaged together in non-rhythmic, non-sonorous sentences that, when you figure out, is supposed to produce some kind of intellectual/spiritual effect.

That's not art, that's mental gymnastics.

In my book, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. That's an old-fashioned viewpoint. I will willingly re-read a poem that I don't grasp if the poet thought enough of me (and his art) to make it visceral. If the poet doesn't care enough about me to give me something more to go on than obscurity, forget it. Words for words sake is vapid and empty.

For decades, the avant-garde has tried to make difficult and experimental works based on some God-forsaken aesthetic theory that if the measses didn't get, made them Philistines.

That contemptuous view of the average person annoys me to no end. I'm educated and smart, I can analyze art. But I hate having to do it to gain a connection to the piece. Sometimes you analyze a work of art, and it's positively stupid. I don't want to have to go through the trouble of analyzing a poem and then realizing that tha author's point is completely stupid. Why did I just waste several minutes (if not longer!) of my existence contemplating a work of art whose point is utter rubbish?

At least if there's a visceral element to it, you get something out it. You feel that the artist didn't cheat you. Yes, I did say cheat because I feel that a writer owes his readers. Another heresy.

Anyhow, the artistic culture that has caused my annoyance has been the avant-garde.

And Camille Paglia published an article in The Arion in which she says that the avant-garde is dead. Why? Because art needs religion to be great-- an artist must someone root himself in religion (not necessarily believe in it) in order for it to be meaningful and deep. The whole anti-religious zeitgeist of the artistic community is leading to its own essouflement:

Supporters of the arts who gleefully cheer when a religious symbol is maltreated act as if that response authenticates their avant-garde credentials. But here's the bad news: the avant-garde is dead. It was killed over forty years ago by Pop Art and by one of my heroes, Andy Warhol, a decadent Catholic. The era of vigorous oppositional art inaugurated two hundred years ago by Romanticism is long gone. The controversies over Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Chris Ofili were just fading sparks of an old cause. It is presumptuous and even delusional to imagine that goading a squawk out of the Catholic League permits anyone to borrow the glory of the great avant-garde rebels of the past, whose transgressions were personally costly. It's time to move on.

For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people's faiths is boring and adolescent. The New Age movement, to which I belong, was a distillation of the 1960s' multicultural attraction to world religions, but it has failed thus far to produce important work in the visual arts.


Hence art lovers, even when as citizens they stoutly defend democratic institutions against religious intrusion, should always speak with respect of religion. Conservatives, on the other hand, need to expand their parched and narrow view of culture. Every vibrant civilization welcomes and nurtures the arts.

I tend to agree that Conservatives don't value art very much and this should change.

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