Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

The New Art

Books lying around In 2005 there were 172,000 books published in the great U-S-of-A. That same year the average American managed to get through a measely 14. Having to keep up with the thousands of magazines, hundreds of newspapers, and the effectively infinite blogosphere, means that same average American will never read finish their reading list.

Since the invention of the radio, the television, the computer, the cell phone, information is more accessible than it has been at any time in human history. Television news shows broadcast 24 hour a day. Blogs are updated by the hour. Blackberry’s route breaking news by the minute. RSS feeds disseminate new information at the speed of light. And human beings? We still move at the same speed we always have.

Relative to our technophile culture with its Baudrillardian suicide looming on the fringes of our collective unconscious, human being seems to be moving slower and slower. There are days when we lament the effective deceleration. But for Badiou our slowness isn’t slow enough. Referencing our cultural velocity he says, “this speed exposes us to the danger of a very great incoherency.” In Infinite Thought he argues for a philsophy that insures lugubrious action, a slow appropriation of the impossible number of truths being created. Philosophy becomes for Badiou a truth analyzer rather than a creator of truth.

I wonder if we have entered a similar phase of art in human culture, a phase where the once prescient artist is blinded to an impossible future and turns attention instead to the present, to the past. Which begs the question, is the new art retrospective rather than prophetic?

Cezanne relativized points of view decades before Einstein produced his theories of relativity. Picasso fractured the portrait 2008-05-10 New York 072 Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror well before we became aware of the cracks in the foundations of our self image. Rilke spoke ecstatically of the act without its symbol decades before talk of the murder of signs, or the hyperreal, or deconstruction, or the death of meta-narrative.

This is only a guess, but I’ll hazard it anyway. As the technological dissemination of our constructed reality approaches full realization, we are estranged not only from our being (our ontos), but we are removed from any meaningful context of the present. The artist then is constrained to work retrospectively. They cannot look forward, because their senses, their unique sensitivity to the warp and woof of our iteration, are blinded by the infinite having been presented as reality.

Two modern poets come to mind as I close this blog. I’ll leave you with their thoughts.

Bob Dylan: “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…”

And I think Thom Yorke may have said it best on In Rainbows: “Has the light gone out for you / cause the light’s gone out for me / this is the twenty-first century / this is the twenty-first century…”


  1. Nice post!

    Let’s assume for a moment the truth of the following: “the technological dissemination of our constructed reality approaches full realization.” Let’s also assume that this removes us from any meaningful context of the present. In what sense, then, can the artist have any access to history? To the past?

    If we are entering a fully media-ted reality, then we exist in a one dimensional flow of hyperreality, abstracted from both future and past. Thus the artist loses both of Janus’ faces and simply stares straight ahead into a screen. Depending on your definition of art, this would be its death.

    I wish I had a better feel for contemporary art (un)scenes! Nevertheless, it does seem that this ‘great divorce’ happens often, and that it is linked to information dissemination. But then again we probably have more would-be artists then we ever have, and I am not ready to say that artists have lost their third eye.

    Here’s another line from Yorke: “I hit the bottom and escape.”

  2. Well I like your train of thought here. I do feel occasionally sentimental for the time when a renaissance man could be proficient or at least conversant with the bulk of human endeavor. Might be a mythical figure, but there is some truth in there.

    I do have to take issue with your premise that art foreshadows other fields of knowledge. I think that music, visual art, science and other fields lurch toward the future if not in sync, then at least as a group. We can, I’m sure, point to many times when science foreshadowed art.