Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Notes from Barzun's, The Use and Abuse of Art...and what gives art the power to destroy?
In his Human, All too Human, Nietzsche foretold the decline of western culture, that society has fallen away from the heavenly conceptions and someday only tales will be told of the past art. Barzun certainly becomes the storyteller in this case. He states that the power of art is sufficiently strong to “shape the minds and emotions of men” toward good or evil. Before the eighteenth century, Art’s purpose was to imitate or represent the best, the ideal and the godly—to communicate the good, the true and the beautiful. Its effect tended to lift mankind. Since then, modern art has gradually purported the opposite in its new ideals— to “expose the worst, degrade society” New art is ‘meant to bruise the beholder’s feelings and senses,” in order to create the “new man” with new ideals. The new ideals are variable standards imposed by the mind as artistic pretensions that gradually become new models and precedents. Think of Lydia Bennet’s unrefined and wild behavior that becomes her new model for how she should behave in her mother’s eyes.
Barzun warns that if “man’s most sophisticated relation to art is to be casual and humorous...then the conception of Art as an all-important institution...is quite destroyed.” When the ideal, the best and the godly are removed, when the imitation, the representation and the natural are put aside, what remains? The lowest reality, anti-ideals, unrestrained brutality, anger, obscenities, cynicism, and the lowest quality of everything persists, essentially rendering art as meaningless, thus destroying art.