Art is justifiably dangerous for this reason

It is hard to walk away from art, to be done with it. Even just to label what one has done Art becomes a query of philosophy. It is, yet never will be, complete; not to mention the consensus around what constitutes it being a constant subject for mutability.

I guess there is no question that us, human beings, are compelled by some inspired urge to create. But why do we enjoy creating and contemplating aesthetic objects? The answer is likely due to pleasure. It opens the doors to a momentary sublime; creation, that is. A more enigmatic question I believe, is why this pleasure taken in art so often pairs with the sufferings of existence. Or, why do these shiny, rhythmic, cathartic objects of art, once wrenched from the imagination, hurt? Or develop into sources of regret, anxiety, shame? Making art good, or viewing good art, is not a guiltless process. Or at least, it shouldn’t be!

Good art, perhaps more often than it doesn’t, generates controversy. It comforts the disturbed, and disturbs the comfortable, to paraphrase the poet Cesar Cruz. In this way, art conspires with controversy, becoming as it were, an agent of social change. After all, who decided the socially responsible course of action was to demand of our artists that they play things safe? Art should be dangerous! One of its functions, but not its primary function exactly, should be political agitation. Our artists should become mystical detectives, tasked with uncovering subterranean worms under the rocks of our collective psyche. Such worms, coded in taboo, overly repulse society to the point that, we so often call for their destruction in ignorance. We do not stop to consider that there may actually be something quite human, perhaps even something mysteriously lovely about them. Almost certainly, they are imperfect things, as all things are. But, is there really so much to fear from imperfection? It is, in fact, the perfect, the pristine, the unsullied; as well as the desire, worship and fetishization of these things that we must become more skeptical about. For beware that evil often wears a godly mask…

Brand me a radical for suggesting as much. Although, the true extremism I believe is in ensconcing morality in ignorance, or goodness in the hatred of evil. Let us call up the devil; ask him how does he feel today. Society will otherwise continue to perpetuate cults made in the image of Charles Manson…

But to return to the point. Why did I just feel a nervous tingle in my chest having written that previous sentence? Why does some art threaten to undermine whole veneers of respectability? Why this tendency to produce in its creator, or to imbue in creation itself, a source of guilt? My theory is because art is always confronting us with the problem of creating value. Art confronts us with the problem of discovering its purpose; a process that on a metaphorical level, becomes a symbol for life itself. A work of art is in a way, its own, autonomous reality. On some level, so are we. Yet, no work of art is an isolated phenomenon and similarly, we are interacting with each other at multitudinous points of reference endlessly variegated within the cosmic play.

What great engine drives this fathomless pool of energy? Change itself, transformation! An often messy, but ultimately satisfying aspect of being human; precisely what is undergone in the creation or contemplation of Art. So… why desire to be done with it? Why insist on labeling it? Let us simply be it. Let us expose ourselves to the elements. Digest their intricacies. Absorb their essences. Let us expose ourselves to the eternal within us, that lies dormant, dreaming of being exposed.

Art and Propaganda

“…every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message’, whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda.”

–George Orwell–

I wonder to what extent Orwell’s famous statement about art and propaganda applies to Hollywood in this age of the cannibalistically unending franchise. I am of course referring in general to Disney’s Star Wars, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, DC’s Cinematic Universe, etc. etc. Because sure, everybody knows that propaganda is used to formulate and solidify certain paradigms in the human mind, but it strikes me that we do not talk nearly as often about the way in which popular entertainment also does this. “On the other hand, not all propaganda is art,” Orwell continues. Sidestepping the old concern about whether or not distinguishing good art from bad is merely a matter of taste, I think we can all agree that bad art exists but what I am saying is that much of what passes for popular entertainment nowadays is exactly that. So taken in this way Orwell’s insights have informed my condemnation of bad art for being nothing more than what it truly is namely, poorly concealed propaganda. Coming as no surprise to anyone familiar with the theories of textual analysis, whether we consider popular entertainment to be valuable or not in an artistic sense nevertheless, every text necessarily contains its level of subtext. One may debate whether this happens intentionally or unintentionally but I contend that it’s quite logical to allege that wherever subtext exists in Hollywood, the official message being sent has been designed, consciously or unconsciously, in support of our national agenda. It’s true, ‘subtext’ operates on most people only at the unconscious level; but in so far as any message is subtly designed to be psychologically persuasive—precisely this is what is propagandistic about it! Indeed, for this very reason, the way propaganda in art appeals to the unconscious more indirectly than say, overt political rhetoric, makes that coding process all the more nefarious. Consumers of popular entertainment are going to come away from the experience having been affected in some implicit way, so I implore those who would sit back without awareness of that fact to recognize “[you are] absorbing a set of beliefs… [you are] being pumped [with] the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist [which is] all the better because it is done indirectly.” Provided one does not take the author out of context, applying Orwell’s thoughts on art and propaganda to 21st century popular entertainment—monopolized as it is by totalitarian media conglomerates—I think is warranted.