As we’re all aware, there’s some pretty heavy shit going on in the world. I’m pretty sure you’re all as exhausted with current events as I am, so let’s whisk ourselves away from the trials of the real world by talking about something we all love: entertainment.
As a concert pianist, composer, and online ranter, my life generally revolves around entertainment. When I perform and compose, I try to communicate my emotions as honestly as I can and amplify all my favorite parts of the pieces I play, because I know that the people who come to listen to me are there for an exciting and original experience. Whenever I honk like a goose on the internetz (like right now), I make sure that my honking is as representative of me as possible. I believe that one of the greatest sins in any field is to be boring, and that the only antidote to being boring is authenticity. Unless, of course, you’re authentically boring. Then I can’t help you.
So recently, I performed a charity piano recital, and included a few of my compositions in the program. After the concert, I was happy to hear the words of one of the audience members. He found my original works relatable and emotional, compared to what he deemed “the atonal claptrap you can find on college campuses these days that is so far removed from the world.” He bemoaned the lack of understanding of the human spirit in modern classical music, and was happy that I had offered something that spoke to him.
I thanked him for his compliment, and started to think a little bit more about what he said. I suddenly had flashbacks of an electro-acoustic music concert I had to review as an assignment while I was still in school some months ago, and with a traumatized wince at the memory, realized how right the man was about the music composed in conservatories today. The concert entirely featured the works of composition majors, and the pieces that were performed involved both traditional instruments and electronic apparatuses, like computers, synthesizers, and even steam engines. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing I heard there was a work in which a large speaker was placed onstage by two men. One of them switched it on with a remote, then sat back, put his feet on a table, and relaxed. The speaker proceeded to shriek unpleasant electronic noises for fifteen whole minutes, and only when the situation got close to tortuously unbearable did it finally stop.
What surprised me the most about the whole affair is that the obviously jaded audience actually clapped at the end of it all. I had to fight the urge to stand up in defiance in the hall and loudly ask everyone who or what they were clapping for. Was it for the inanimate speaker onstage hogging the limelight? Was it for the apathetic guy with the remote control who had his feet up in the ultimate statement of nonchalance? Or was it for the “composer” of this poppycock, who was shrewd enough to make everyone think his creation was meaningful? Why would I go to a concert hall to listen to a speaker? I could’ve done that at home, thank you very much, and with far better music. I certainly didn’t need to haul my ass out of bed on a chilly March night in Toronto just to hear some screechy, pre-recorded horseshit.
Composition students (and many performance students) today seem to have jettisoned the fundamental idea that good art needs to be entertaining, exciting, and emotionally connective, and have gotten lost in a whirlpool of pseudo-profundities and pseudo-aesthetic jargon. This is not all their fault – some of the blame rests on professors, who compose and play this kind of lazy, auditory mumbo-jumbo for a living and encourage their starry-eyed sheep, er, students to espouse colossal delusions.
It’s not just academic music suffering from this phenomenon. Pop music, quite unsurprisingly, has also become increasingly bland, repetitive, and emotionally detached. Sadly, pretty much all of the arts in the modern day, including the fine arts, theater, fashion, and literature, are experiencing similar problems.
One thing that really drives me nuts is the overt politicization of this issue, and how simply having an opinion about it lands you in a camp of some sort. As throughout history, people still use their views on art to discreetly push their political agendas. Traditionalists and conservatives cry constantly about how great the arts used to be in the past and that the postmodernist movement (read: the left) degraded it to a scatological carnival of absurdity, leading to a “moral decay” in society. They believe that in order for something to be called “art” or “music” or anything else, there should be a great amount of time, hard work, and skill behind it. Artistic relativists, on the other hand, believe that everything under the sun is art, and bend over backwards (and forwards, sometimes) to prove that such things as Yoko Ono screaming her head off or this creepy guy fooling around with a metal penis are somehow meaningful and deserve to be perceived with utmost seriousness. They argue that criticizing such art is an act of close-mindedness.
As a firm believer in art and a firm nonbeliever in politics, I’m going to address this needless polarization in the simplest way possible. To the traditionalists out there: shitty art existed in the old days too. It simply didn’t stand the test of time, so you don’t know about it today. Ultimately, time is the only true judge of art. Worthy art, like Michelangelo’s David or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, will persist, and unworthy art will be rendered obsolete. The same fates will befall the art of our time, too. Also, please take a chill pill about “moral decay” already – because nothing in the world is permanent, there’s no such tangible thing. Even in Shakespeare’s time, people complained about this perceived “moral decay”. Your perpetual outrage only betrays your fear of change. Just relax, go with the flow, and appreciate the art you enjoy without worrying about the art that you don’t.
To the postmodernists out there: you’re right that everything is art in the technical sense, regardless of the amount of work or time that was put into creating it, because there is some level of creativity and strategy behind everything man-made if you think about it. Planes are art. Buildings are art. Comedy is art. Books are art. Even toilet paper is art. However, just because these things can be considered “art” doesn’t guarantee that they are meaningful, symbolic, or useful in any way. And no, flowery descriptions and reviews don’t have any power to ascribe meaning, symbolism, or functionality to any creation – the creation needs to speak for itself.
Everyone seems to be in a constant argument over what can and can’t be considered art, music, etc., but I don’t think that’s where the fight should be. I don’t care whether something is labeled as “art” or not. These are all meaningless, man-created concepts that hold no inherent value whatsoever. The real fight, as I see it, is over pompous asshats trying to police the primal, honest emotions that audiences feel upon perceiving a particular work, all in the name of preserving a certain sacredness and mystery around the idea of “art”. For instance, if someone were to watch Yelling Yoko or Delirious Dick Dude live, their instinctive reaction would most likely be to burst into laughter. The audience in the electronic music concert I went to would most likely have been bored out of their skulls and felt the urge to boo and hiss. However, most will self-censor these natural and valid impulses just because what they’re watching has been labeled “art” by the establishment. These poor people feel guilty for not feeling a divine, cosmic revelation upon feasting their eyes on a completely blank canvas or hearing a random bunch of jarring chords, just because the convoluted words of a stuck-up bunch of twatwaffles convince them that what they’re looking at or hearing is deep and meaningful.
These convoluted words are known as obscurantism – a word that can be summed up by the maxim, “if you can’t convince them, confuse them.” Ever notice how most reviews of conceptual art are so needlessly over-the-top? That’s so they could fool you into thinking that what they’re talking about is profound. Face it: if you truly believe that an oversized aluminum wiener is by any means deserving of a reaction other than laughter, you need to take a cold, hard, long look at yourself (pun totally intended).
The state of something being “art” should never be a demand for blind reverence towards it – in fact, most art is created to subvert the very notions that society holds sacred. It’s the obscurantism that has ruined the entertaining, emotional value of the arts and suffocated it in a smarmy sheath of snobbery and pretension. Not only does obscurantism offer an ego boost for supercilious artists and critics, but it is also responsible for creating cash cows, as with the case I’m about to describe…
In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) commissioned a project titled Levitated Mass, which was the brainchild of artist Michael Heizer and consisted of a huge rock placed on top of a long, gray concrete corridor. That was it. There was no particular skill required to put it together at all – just one guy’s whim and extensive logistics on LACMA’s part to haul the rock all the way from Riverside Country, CA where it was found to Los Angeles. Oh yeah, and ten million dollars. No big deal, right?
A lot of people were upset about money and resources being wasted over something so pointless, and rightfully so. While there were no taxpayer dollars spent on this venture, it still annoyed me that a lot of the donors who backed this utterly retarded idea could’ve spent their money on a much nobler venture instead, like funding the projects of a far smarter, passionate concert pianist (hint, hint).
But as if that wasn’t enough, snooty art critics and their odious ilk stormed in to stifle the public outcry, and tried to confuse everyone into thinking that Levitated Mass was something more than what it really was – a big-ass rock. Let’s analyze a few examples of blatant obscurantism dished out by these idiots about this megalith, and since I’m feeling a bit sadistic, let’s have some fun with it, shall we? First up is Christopher Knight of the L.A. Times…
Levitated Mass” is a piece of isolated desert mystery cut into a dense urban setting that’s home to nearly 10 million people. A water-hungry lawn north of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion was torn up and replaced by a dry, sun-blasted expanse of decomposed granite. A notched gray channel of polished concrete slices 456 feet across the empty field, set at a slight angle between the pavilion and 6th Street. Like a walk-in version of an alien landscape painting by Surrealist Yves Tanguy, quiet dynamism inflects a decidedly sepulchral scene.
I don’t know about “quiet dynamism”, but it definitely would’ve been a “sepulchral scene” if the rock fell on top of Mr. Knight’s vacuous, metaphor-filled head. Maybe such a scenario would’ve made a great improvement. I can just imagine the raving reviews: “Levitated Mass is no longer levitated, but is seen atop a crushed human male. The body is punctuated with abstract but vivid red spattering, and crimson flecks dance poignantly across the taupe concrete. This evocative work symbolizes nature asserting its dominance over humanity.”
But wait! There’s more!
The brooding sculptural ensemble marks time both cultural and geological. Adjacent to an urban art museum, repository for the relics of civilizations gone by, it’s also next to the La Brea Tar Pits, resting place for prehistoric bones sunken into the primordial goo. Unavoidably, it calls for contemplation of our transient place in the larger scheme of things.
Primordial goo. What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Here’s a thought: maybe you should ramble less about goo and focus more on fixing the constant stream of provincial sewage that flows out of your incontinent mouth, which you have so egregiously transformed into a second asshole. How does that sound, you intellectually-craven dingleberry?
Also, calling Levitated Mass a “sculptural ensemble” is like calling Harvey Weinstein a women’s rights activist. Get out of Bizarro World and come back to reality.
It will also surely beckon skateboarders eager to navigate its sloping ramp. Posted museum guards will likely thwart that urge.
Calling all Californian skateboarders: go on, have your way with the place! Be the rebels you were born to be! Colorize this lifeless gray landscape with your sick moves! I unfortunately can’t afford to pay your legal fees if you get in trouble, but I would offer to if I could. Instead, just know that I’ll be there in the courtroom in spirit, cheering you on.
Here’s even more shameless pandering, this time from Carolina A. Miranda, also from the L.A. Times:
It also offered an interesting lesson about the place of humans on this planet: We can make our paintings and build our toys but what really matters is standing right outside. Nature, it turns out, is often the best artist of all.
Yeah, nature is the best artist of all! That’s why you numbnuts spent ten million fucking dollars to cart the rock all the way to downtown L.A., harming the environment with increased carbon emissions in the process, to make this point in the most embarrassingly ironic way possible. If you truly want to appreciate the sublime art of nature, get yourself to one of California’s multiple national parks, which feature more authenticity and splendor then this artificial, pretentious project could ever dream to. If Michael Heizer really cared about nature, he shouldn’t have made LACMA waste so many resources on planning and transportation and should’ve just displayed the huge rock he has up his ass instead.
Thus, we see that the more the words used to describe something, the less value it has of its own. And even though words can’t add meaning to art, as I said earlier, they certainly can influence our perception of it. Let’s compare two individual projects, which only differed in the way they were viewed (and the revenue they generated)…
About three years ago, Cards Against Humanity decided to sell small boxes containing 100% literal bullshit as a Black Friday special. Their advertising was honest to the core, and they never claimed to offer anything other than what they were selling: 100% sterilized animal feces. About 30,000 people bought the boxes, and then quite stupidly got angry when they realized that they parted with their hard-earned money for nothing but dried poop. Serves them right, if you ask me. On the other hand, the Italian artist Piero Manzoni decided to fill ninety tin cans with his own poop in 1961, and gave his venture the very creative title, Artist’s Shit. He priced each small can at the value of its equivalent weight in gold (37 euros each at the time), and in the following years, the price of the cans fluctuated in accordance with gold prices. Many of these cans were bought by major galleries, including the Tate Modern, and in August of last year, one of the cans was sold at an auction in Milan for 275,000 euros (about 320,000 US dollars) – which is obviously far, far more than its equivalent in gold.
I solemnly swear that I’m not making shit up.
It’s obvious that both Cards and Humanity and Mr. Manzoni were simply taking the piss, as the British would put it (or should I say, taking the shit?). The former was trying to expose the stupidity of Black Friday consumerism, and the latter was trying to unmask the blatant gullibility of the art world. I would say both of them royally succeeded in theory. However, Cards Against Humanity only made $180,000 from their sales, but Mr. Manzoni’s cans raked in millions. The reason behind this is simple: Cards Against Humanity never claimed to be selling “art”, whereas Manzoni, as honest he was in labeling his work Artist’s Shit, was aiming his project at the art world, which immediately tried to justify why it was a sublime creation.
A lot of people say that you can’t polish a turd. But the art world can, and it literally did.
As I said before, it’s not just one of the arts suffering from the tendrils of obscurantism. As a film buff, I have seen these tendrils extend into Hollywood as well, practically strangling creativity in its sleep. Most movies today are rife with lazy storytelling and are saturated in identity-baiting, featuring two-dimensional characters and sleepy narratives. The Oscar-nominated films of 2017 are particularly notorious specimens. It seems as if it would make a more interesting film if we rounded up all the directors of these movies and made them hold their breath until one of them came up with an original idea. It would all be fun and games until someone dies. Then it would be hilarious.
Yes, I already know I’m going to hell. Everyone who comes along with me gets a vegan cupcake.
Take for instance Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year. Everyone was practically raving about it, largely because it offered a promising, unconventional premise: the life struggles of an underprivileged black gay boy coming to terms with his sexuality. However, when I watched it, I was struck by how mind-numbingly unintelligent the film was. It failed to give its main characters any creative attributes whatsoever, and everyone in the film came across as vapid, knuckle-dragging morons without a single profound thought in their heads. The dialogue was almost patronizingly basic. The two protagonists (the black gay boy and his love interest) had no dreams, prospects, interests, or pretty much anything that makes up a personality – both so intellectually shallow they could be practically be boiled down to their identities: Black Gay Boy #1 and #2. The movie moves at a snail’s pace, and ends with BGB #1 being single and jobless, both as a result of being in jail for going apeshit on a bully and his frustrating lack of aspirations, and BGB #2 becoming a fry cook.
Again, critics tried to make people feel bad about not liking Moonlight, through – you guessed it – obscurantism. Some even considered criticizing the film racist and homophobic, which added even more guilt and shame. Look at what poor Chris Rudd of the Huffington Post ended up writing:
I felt awful walking out of Moonlight bereft of any sort of rapture. I thought, “Am I crazy? Am I an awful person?
No, you’re not an awful person, you’re a perfectly reasonable individual who can adeptly sniff out hogwash. Please don’t berate yourself for possessing this incredibly valuable skill.
Another film that was virtually drowned in obscurantism was Boyhood. It was also pretty much universally critically acclaimed, likely due to the fact that it took twelve years to film – following the lead child actor from when he was five years old. As with Moonlight, Boyhood gets an A+ for effort, but an F for execution. The incredibly dull storyline follows the son and daughter of a divorced couple, who see their senseless single mother with an abysmal taste in men jump from relationship to relationship for personal validation. Their father has also made some colossal mistakes in life, but makes an effort to spend time with his kids and impart his free-mindedness to them.
When you Google the film and look at the top-voted tags, you find the words like, “emotional”, “intelligent”, “touching”, and “thought-provoking”, but the strongest emotion I felt was boredom, and the main thought this movie provoked in me was wondering when it would finish. All I saw was the rather uneventful life of a boy surrounded by delusional adults who served no other purpose than to doom him to their level of mediocrity. At least we are shown that both children were raised with love, and offered a glimmer of hope at the end of the film, when the protagonist is shown to pursue his passion for photography and (possibly) seek the true meaning of life.
Boyhood was also nominated for Best Picture, though it didn’t win the award. Where in the vast fields of Fucktopia do these people get the idea that such inane, platitudinous drivel contains even an iota of artistic profundity?
At this point, it is important to acknowledge that the very nature of art is subjective, and that someone’s crap is another’s masterpiece. I, myself, believe there’s no such thing as “good taste”. But what then qualifies as good art? Good art is supposed to inspire and empower us. It is supposed to be uplifting, showing us the zenith of human potential, not the nadir of it. By exalting the mediocre as the profound, we ruin the emotional power that art has to make us excel in our lives and encourage us to pursue our higher callings. This is not to say that mediocrity and the humdrum of daily life should never be showcased in an artistic way, but rather that it needs to be framed in a unique context that is conducive for viewers to experience an “Aha!” moment. Just dumping mediocrity on a pedestal without being creative is not enough. One could argue that the ending of Boyhood did fulfill this purpose to a degree, but its redeeming effect was marred by the oppressive sluggishness of the film as whole.
So what can one do to fight back against this growing movement of artistic puritanism, in which the establishment is pushing for the arts to be completely devoid of emotion and covered with a thin veneer of baseless elitism? I say we need to make tomatoes great again. In the old days, boring, lazy art was not met with jaded, choreographed applause, but with an enthusiastic rain of tomatoes. That was a time when people were honest – a time when your voice mattered, my dear audience. We have quite a few lessons to learn from that time.
Now, I would suggest going to town and throwing real tomatoes in concert halls, theaters, and galleries to voice your disapproval, but all that would logically accomplish is ruining your clothes and incurring astronomical legal fees (which I also sadly can’t offer to pay for). Besides, social media has rendered real tomatoes somewhat obsolete. No, I think we should give tomatoes an update – a Version 2.0, if you will. This is actually simpler than it sounds: we should all just listen to our instincts and react to art the way we want to react to it. If we feel like laughing at a priceless piece of modern art, we should go ahead and laugh at it. If we feel moved enough to cry, we should do just that. This is not to say we should all just prioritize our knee-jerk reactions and not make an attempt to truly understand a work, but that we should not succumb to any demands for brainless genuflection.
It is time for us to champion the truth, my friends. Reserve your awe for what truly impresses you. Feel free to treat the ridiculous with derision. And for you art and music students out there, stop uncritically listening to your teachers. If they try to confuse you into believing that the more boring something is, the more intellectually deep it is, or that electronically-recorded white noise is great music, they’re likely jealous wannabes who don’t understand the true power of art (and won’t help you understand it, either).
We need honesty now more than ever. Making tomatoes great again will make art and life great again.