26 Aug

Robert Hughes on Fast Art, Slow Art

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/26/04

Art critic Robert Hughes reviews the last 25 years in art in a new BBC documentary

Twenty-five years ago, art critic Robert Hughes hosted an eight-part television series on modern art called "The Shock of the New." While the book based on that series is still available (being one of the most acccessible and provocative surveys of the meaning of modernity in art), the videos, sad to say, have not been commercially released. In July, viewers of the BBC had an opportunity to watch the series re-run just prior to an epilogue of sorts, "The New Shock of the New," in which Hughes discussed and displayed some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the last two-and-a-half decades in art.

One of the concerns Hughes has expressed repeatedly is that art has become a commodity like all other commodities, for which value is just economic value and the ebb and flow of the forces of fashion erase distinctions of quality. While there have always been celebrity artists, the restless demand for novelty and fame (lust of the eyes?) sustained by mass media and advertising has (in Hughes's words) "distorted nearly everyone's relationship with aesthetics."

In the June 30 issue of The Guardian, Hughes offered a peek into his new program in an article called "That's showbusiness." "It used to be," wrote Hughes, "that media-based, photo-derived art looked automatically 'interesting.' It cut to the chase instantly, it mimicked the media-glutted state of general consciousness, it was democratic--sort of. The high priest of this situation was of course the hugely influential Andy Warhol, paragon of fast art. I am sure that though his influence probably will last (if only because it renders artmaking easier for the kiddies) his paragonhood won't, and despite the millions now paid for his Lizzes and Elvises, he will shrink to relative insignificance, a historical figure whose resonance is used up. There will be a renewed interest--not for everyone, of course, but for those who actually know and care about the issues--in slow art: art that takes time to develop on the retina and in the mind, that sees instant communication as the empty fraud it is, that relates strongly to its own traditions."

25 Aug

Human Dignity in the Biotech Century

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/25/04

Theologian and MARS HILL AUDIO guest Nigel Cameron co-edited a new anthology from InterVarsity Press that is concerned with Christian anthropology, technology, politics, and the global market.

Theologian Nigel Cameron was a guest on the very first issue of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal (then called the MARS HILL Tapes). He has since appeared (talking about current issues in bioethics) on volumes 51 and 66. In those conversations, and in his many writings, Dr. Cameron has argued that Christians addressing questions of bioethics need a fuller and richer account of human nature. A new anthology from InterVarsity Press combines the quest for a more developed Christian anthropology with a wise-as-serpents realism about the confluence of technology, politics, and the forces of a global market. The book, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, is edited by Cameron and Charles W. Colson. Colson contributes an introductory essay reflecting on C. S. Lewis's 1948 book, The Abolition of Man. Other contributors include Dr. C. Christopher Hook ("Techno Sapiens: Nanotechnology, Cybernetics, Transhumanism and the Remaking of Humankind"); Dr. David Stevens ("Promise and Peril: Clinical Implications of the New Genetics"); and Dr. Nathan A. Adams, IV ("An Unnatural Assault on Natural Law: Regulating Biotechnology Using a Just Research Theory"). Nigel Cameron's contribution to the book is entitled "Christian Vision for the Biotech Century: Toward a Strategy;" in it Cameron examines three distinct phases in bioethics as we have moved from issues of taking human life, to issues of making human life, to the possibility of faking human life: "the capacity of developments in the fields of nanotechnology and cybernetics to manipulate, enhance and finally perhaps supplant biological human nature." Excerpts from the book, along with its table of contents, are available through InterVarsity's web pages.

15 Aug

Art and the Loss of Transcendence

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/15/04

In "Julian Schnabel Paints a Portrait of God" artist and critic Suzi Gablik looks at how artists have struggled with living in modern and postmodern societies in which there is no public vocabulary for the sacred.

"In refusing to acknowledge the reality of any experience that is not scientifically provable, the scientific world view has condemned much that is vital to culture and creative growth. To see things in this alienating way may be the particular compulsion of the modern Western mentality, but it does not necessarily reflect the way things really are. Although we may value technological power more than sacred wisdom, scientific rationalism has so far failed to prove itself as a successful integrating mythology for industrial society; it offers no inner archetypal mediators of divine power, no cosmic connectedness, no sense of belonging to a larger pattern. Science, in the twentieth century, has had little to say about spiritual values, nor, it would seem, has art."

So wrote artist and critic Suzi Gablik in a 1984 article called "Julian Schnabel Paints a Portrait of God." In the essay, Gablik (author of Has Modernism Failed? and Conversations before the End of Time: Dialogues on Art, Life and Spiritual Renewal) looks at how modern and postmodern artists have struggled with living in modern and postmodern societies in which there is no public vocabulary for the sacred.

9 Aug

"In Defense of Memorization"

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 08/09/04

For a brief article that promotes both reading and memorization as ways to enlarge, strengthen, and free young minds, see the Summer 2004 issue of City Journal. In "In Defense of Memorization," Michael Knox Beran describes the contemporary anathema to reading and memorizing poetry, and why earliers eras would not have agreed. "Classic poetry and rhetoric," he writes, "give kids a language, at once subtle and copious, in which to articulate their own thoughts, perceptions, and inchoate feelings. They help awaken what was previously dormant, actualize what was before only potential, and so enable the young person to fulfill the injunction of Pindar: 'Become what you are.'" [Posted August 2004, ALG]

14 Jul

The Worm in the Brain

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 07/14/04

A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts supplies statistics that demonstrate that the number of readers in America is declining. The report is introduced in an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Literary Reading Is Declining Faster Than Before, Arts Endowment's New Report Says." As the article explains, the report portrays a steep decline in "literary reading" (described as the reading of any type of fiction, poetry, and plays) over the past two decades; it also describes some reactions to the report's findings.

"Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America" reports data gathered from 17,000 adults across major demographic groups categorized by age, gender, education, income, religion, race, and ethnicity. It addresses what and how much those sampled read, other civic activities in which they participate, factors and trends in literature participation, and includes a summary and conclusions. It comprises a preface and executive summary, five chapters, and appendices.

The report's role, says chairman of the NEA Dana Gioia, is not to offer suggestions for a solution to the problem, but to spark debate about how to perpetuate readers and the role of reading in a democracy. In his introduction to the report, Gioia (a guest on volumes 51 and 53 of the Journal) writes: "Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skill and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."

While the concern of the NEA report is specific to literary reading and its decline, others quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education article are concerned with a general decrease in reading in this electronically savvy age. In a 1995 interview with Ken Myers, Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, discussed the influence the printed word has on society. In his Volume 13 interview, Birkerts argued that when people read less and thus lose "habits of reading"—such as inwardness, empathy for the lives of others, and a sense of the significance of the past—they understand themselves and the world differently. Barry Sanders concurred with Birkerts in his Volume 17 interview about his book A Is for Ox: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word. Sanders argued that literacy is an historical invention and thus can dissipate in time just as it developed in time. As it becomes extinct, he said, people will begin to lose their conscience, memory, and sense-of-self and regret—all outgrowths of literacy—and thus will no longer be able to recognize others as human beings.

Another guest on the Journal, Robert Jenson, is concerned more specifically with the diminution of the attention given by the community to books in the University and the Church, and the consequential enervation of the vision for knowledge and wisdom at the core of both institutions. Descriptions of the Birkerts, Sanders, and Jenson interviews are available through the MARS HILL AUDIO web pages.