Tag Archives: Art

Poor scribblers!

Truly dissatisfied persons, maybe more than anybody else, take a large proportion of their experience from books. Or they find they can double their experience, and make a second pass at the day-today, by writing it down. Poor scribblers! Such people are closest to a solution, and yet to everyone else they seem to be using up time, wasting life, as they spend fewer hours “living” than anyone, and gain less direct experience. Serious reading often starts from a deep frustration with living. Keeping a journal is a sure sign of the attempt to preserve experience by desperate measures. These poor dissatisfied people take photographs, make albums, keep souvenirs and scrapbooks. And still they always ask: “What have I done?”

From “The Concept of Experience”, by Mark Greif (Against Everything, Verso, p85)

In praise of “economic waste”

J M McDermott’s heartfelt essay at SF Signal chimed with me for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that certain recent Life Direction Decisions™ of my own are now pointing me toward an economically wasteful Masters degree, but also because McDermott seems to share a lot of my own value systems. You should surely read the whole thing, but here’s a few favourite bits:

Be proud of me. Be proud of my economic waste. The greatest tragedy of our culture is that we have allowed the financiers to take over our young imaginations. Our brightest minds from our greatest universities flock to high paying jobs, where they try to make as much money as they can before they die. The best and brightest children our nation has to offer have all been seduced into believing that ownership of large houses is more important than the environmental footprint that our McMansions smear all over our fragile ecology. The systems of wealth culture have brainwashed our youth into believing that upward mobility is something everyone should aspire to, and that being a leader is something glorious and respectable and sexy, and everyone else is a slacker or failure, and that it is a shameful thing to be a janitor or a waiter or a truck driver or a stay-at-home mom.

We, all of us, need to stop that shit right now. The best and the brightest of our world should neither be measured by how much money they earn, nor by whether they own big houses, fancy clothes, or all the consumerist bullshit things like that. The only measure of a person that matters is how they affect other people, and how we all can find a way as individuals, communities, and continents, to contribute in a meaningful, positive fashion to the very tiny world we all share. The best and the brightest should, in fact, in a fair world, see high-paying jobs as corrupting influences on the pursuit of true value in the world.

[…]

As this experience winds down, I like to think of all these supposedly economically useless degrees, especially degrees in the creation of artistic things like poems or pottery, like getting a degree in being super heroes. By day, people with useless degrees are, most of us, working hard to keep our pantries stocked with food and our lights on. If we are lucky, our daylight work is engaging and interesting. If we are not, it is a minor inconvenience as long as there is food and light. Then, we leave our day jobs and our lives open up. We read, and analyze, and create. We engage in debate on the internet and in the magazines of our fields–for instance, at SFSignal. We continue pursuing our interests, beyond graduation, and maybe we make things or ideas that whisper out into the world, rippling chaos theory’s caribou sneezes to rend the walls of Jericho. We go out to buy groceries afterwards, and nobody knows us. We go to work, and maybe we tell one person there over lunch what happened in our esoteric pursuits. We work hard, raise families and/or pets, and most people don’t even know what we really are in the wee hours and the corners of our lives, when we pursue what interests us.

But, at night, in the corners of our lives, when no one is looking, we are superheroes.

Yes.

Distinguishing the good from the great

The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones on why the creative world needs critics more than ever before:

It is the job of a critic to reject the relativism and pluralism of modern life. All the time, from a million sources, we are bombarded with cultural information. A new film or the music of the moment can enter our minds regardless of quality and regardless of our interest. In fact, in this age of overload, indifference is the most likely effect of so many competing images. If we do make an aesthetic choice it is likely to be a consumerist one, a passing taste to be forgotten and replaced in a moment.

[…]

Real criticism is not about distinguishing good from bad; it is about distinguishing good from great. There’s plenty of terrible art around, but it usually finds its level in the end. The curse of our time, in the arts, is mediocrity and ordinariness: the quite good film that gets an Oscar, the OK artist who becomes a megastar. Truly remarkable art is rare and to see it when it comes, to fight for it, to hold it up as an example for the rest — that is the critic’s true task.

Not sure I agree with him entirely (I’m not letting go of pluralism just yet, because I see it as less of a creed and more of a phenomenological map of the human cultural consensus, if that makes any sense), but I like the general shape of his argument. What about you?

The perennial cheesy cover art debate

Looks like the good old cover art debate has reared its head again, with Rick Kleffel ranting passionately about the need to abandon ‘slabs with abs’ and ‘Fabio-alike’ cover art, especially in the fantasy genre, and the always lucid Andrew ‘SFBC’ Wheeler deflating the issue with the perspective of a man who works in publishing – those covers get used because those covers sell books.

You want my opinion on this issue? Well, I don’t really have one. Sure, I can appreciate a good piece of cover art, and I can see when one is cliched and out of kilter with the book’s content. But it’s what’s beneath the cover that really interests me, and if the fiction is good enough I don’t give a damn what’s on the front and back. I’ve never understood this idea that people are embarrassed to be seen reading certain books in public – I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that I can’t imagine it ever happening to me.

That having been said, I spent my teenage years as an RPG geek who read every spin-off novel he could get his hands on, so maybe I self-medicated against chainmail bras and leather nappies with aversion therapy early on. Then again, those who’ve seen what I look like are probably well aware that the last thing anyone sat opposite me on a train is going to notice about me is the book I’m reading at the time! 🙂