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PART IV: The objectification of ART and the Death of CULTURE

Reflections by
Bosque (c) 2009 If you like this article please consider joining the
Spirituality & Art Group which is hosted by Bosque.
Scroll down to Part IV to read the newest addition or begin at the beginning to review the previous sections
Introduction Dominant culture art is high brow art. What the hell is high highbrow art? Highbrow art is Art that meets the standards of an elite group of intellectual professionals who are considered to be more cultured than the rest of us sorry asses. Oh by the way if you use words like “sorry asses and hell” you’re not highbrow but lowbrow! These intellectual professionals are usually the ones who land higher paying jobs and aspire to influential roles in society. Dominant culture is created by them, for them and promotes their worldview as being the ideal for a refined society. When it comes to art, it is their tastes which defines and sets the standard for what is considered “good art.” If you apply for membership in a highbrow dominant culture Gallery and are rejected it is because your art is sub-standard. In other words it doesn’t meet up to “their” standard, it doesn’t matter if the boyz in the hood think you’re a f _ _ k’n genius or your aunts and uncles think you’re the next Frida. If the art police at Gallery of the gods don’t like your sh _ t you’re screwed. At the top of the highbrow Art pyramid are the institutions that cater to the dominant culture of intellectuals, benefactors, politicians and their rich friends. These institutions are the Met, Art Museum, Galleries at schools of higher education (city/State), the membership Galleries run by the profs from these schools, Juried group shows and most professional galleries! Well it sounds like if you want to be a professional artist you’ll have to cater to the elite! Maybe … maybe not …
Part I: The objectification of Art and the Death of Culture Art as something to enjoy for pure aesthetic reasons is a relatively new phenomena coming out of the Renaissance. Prior to that time art was a tool for sacred ritual, for recording histories and adorning every day items. Those who created these things were considered craftsman. Art was the way stories were recorded and retold and art in the form of dance, song, clothing, masks and ritual drama was the way prayers, healing and renewal took place. Art did not stand independently as something to be enjoyed, in and of its own right. Traditional cultures were more holistic and integrated, so art was not a luxury to be collected, categorized and enjoyed but a part of the tapestry of life itself. With the birth of the Renaissance classical Greek and Roman cultures became objects of study in the hope of renewing medieval society, the Dark Ages. With the objectification of ancient literature and arts, these became intellectual pursuits divorced from their original moorings in life. The objectification of life gave birth to Modernism: Art lost its life connection and became something to contemplate, something to study, to enjoy, a commodity to buy and sell, to own and collect. Since the modern concept of art grew out of the Renaissance and its classical Greco-Roman models, the standard of art was set pretty high. As the study of art widened to include non-European societies, the art of these cultures were considered artifacts of primitive peoples in comparison to the high European standard. These folk arts and crafts, as they were called, were deemed products of low cultures whose peoples were crude and unrefined.
Part II: The objectification of Art and the Death of Culture The term low brow began to be used in the 19th century to describe the cultures and art of these peoples, who were out of the loop. The belief was that these peoples had a lower brow than their European counterparts who had a high brow; people with high foreheads they reasoned have bigger brains and more intellect, resulting in more refined art and culture. High brows, elite and intellectual became synonymous terms among those who prided themselves as superior. With Charles Darwin as the rage in intellectual circles, this low brow – high brow theory fit in nicely to his theory regarding mankind’s descent from the ape, the evolution of society and human mental abilities. In the 20th century social Darwinism went on to be linked with such ugly ideologies as racialism, imperialism, selective genetics for breeding a superior race, and therefore became one of the pillars of Fascism and Nazism. The consequences of applying "survival of the fittest" theories to ones worldview range from artistic snobbery to genocide. Several centuries earlier, during the colonial period, European adventurers and conquistadores felt justified in their treatment of indigenous peoples because they were bringing civilized European culture to peoples who were considered to be beasts rather than men. Later as the U. S. government expanded westward, it justified its ruthless assault on and extermination of North American indigenous peoples in the name of civilization. “Kill the savage, save the man” was a popular slogan among Church and State workers during that ugly period in American history. The way of save a pagan was by making him conform to European standards! These self-righteous expansionists considered it their “manifest destiny” imposed upon them by God Almighty to establish a Christian common wealth. Cultural snobbery linked itself with the zeal of Christian mission and the rest is history!
Part III The objectification of Art and the Death of Culture The new nation called America was modeled after European standards, the same standards used to judge and destroy non-western cultures. This meant it was a transplant with no unique culture of its own. It’s interesting to note that European critics of American society loved to point out that this new country had no culture of its own, and they were right. It wasn’t until the advent of the Blues, based upon the field laments of oppressed slaves that America started to form culture uniquely its own. Ironically, out of low brow peoples grew America’s authentic cultural art forms, such as the Blues, Jazz Rock-n-Roll and their sub-cultures. To add insult to these new cultural art forms, those with no unique culture of their own adopted their sound and antics bringing it into the mainstream. White artists like Benny Goodman, Sinatra, Elvis, Pat Boone, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles all copied Black Blues performers making America’s only original culture popular world-wide. By the way it was this later group who got rich off the Black man’s plight and it was their copy-cat culture that became a tool for America’s continued expansionist policies. It’s for this reason that protective foreign societies outlaw American television and Hollywood movies from entering their countries! These governments know that the way to overthrow or convert a country into an ally of America is by casting a spell on its youth, once they believe America is superior they will abandon their traditional cultures in mass. Hypocritically, dominant culture ruled by the elite has a way of laying claim to the art and culture of low brows whenever it advances their agenda to control and capitalize a profit! Sadly, dominant culture and its elite class not only set the standard for art but also for what cultures were to survive. Neo-colonialism by overthrowing traditional cultures and imposing elitist western standards masks itself behind many pretenses, including the war on terrorism. It’s best not to get caught up in its deception and as artists its best not to listen to and believe the labels others use to subject you to their control.
Part IV The objectification of Art and the Death of Culture Art transitioned away from its traditional role as an integrated part of the human experience into modernism, under the influence of science. However art as a modern objectified commodity fragmented from life, brought nothing but despair. To fill the vacuum, public galleries and museums sprung into being as venues for the modernist art movement. Objectified Art made its full transition into modernism when it became a field to be analyzed, categorized historically and written about by professionals who approached it rationally and scientifically. This break from life and the traditional expressions of it freed artists to operate in a vacuum and discover undocumented art resulting in multitudes of new movements each trying to answer modernism’s call. However Artists who naturally approach their craft with passion not reason fell deeper into despair. Despair, born in the shadow of humanisms intellectual disconnect from the gut brought cynicism to every discipline of life including the arts. Western civilization yearning for connectedness and finding only emptiness began to abandon the empty promises of the elite classes that technology and science was the way forward. The backlash came to a head in the 60’s with the death of God, anti-establishment and anti-art movements. These were the birth pains of Postmodernism. Everything which grew under the Modernist vision began to crumble. Within the art world a strong current of anti-commercialism was growing. Young emerging artists started turning their backs on market place art in favor of creative practices originating in their unique communities. Performance and experimental art events started to spring forth and question the art of the status quo. Expressive freedom over monetary concerns became the way out of the dilemma.
“The 60s was a particularly intense time of experimentation and activity, fueled by a new youth culture that placed a higher value on experience than possession, that preferred personal creativity to consumption, and that sought the spiritual rather than the material.” Cuba, Larry. "Media Art in the 60s: The Abstract, The Spiritual and The Psychedelic." Kinetica, 4 Catalog 2002. The tombstone on modernist art was set in place by Andy Warhol with his mass produced images from Pop culture of commercial icons, ie. Marylyn Monroe, Campbell’s Soup cans, etc. His art was an undeniable statement about the objectification of art and what it had become. The anti-art movement poised serious questions to the dominant culture and its definitions and standards for art. Behind the dissatisfaction lay several hundred years of oppression by the ruling classes who imposed their highbrow elitist standards on the masses. The revolutions of the 60’s were about rejecting those standards and rediscovering life and art for ones self. More to come …

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Comment by Art Zocalo on December 1, 2009 at 9:13am
Spiritual people should not think that their spirituality is superior to others but should humble themselves and esteem others as better than themselves. The position of Native Americans towards other spiritual ways is, NOT to judge other peoples visions. The Great Spirit speaks in many ways.

Sadly religious zealots during the colonial period (17th to 19th centuries) thought it was their manifest destiny to rule the world by force in their name of their god. The advancing tide of Church and State; in addition to stealing the homelands of indigenous people through trickery and murder, took the children away from their parents in order to indoctrinate them and impose European culture on them. This song from the Australian experience is about this crime, which by the way took place in America and many other places! May we learn to do things differently!

Here's a song and movie trailer that highlights of crimes of elitist cultures. The lyrics are after the video.

Song title: Took The Children Away
Excellent track by legendary Indigenous SInger-Songwriter Archie Roach with Rabbit proof fence trailer.


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The lyrics: Took the Children Away

This story's right, this story's true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep.
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land.
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away,
Took the children away,
The children away.
Snatched from their mother's breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.

The welfare and the policeman
Said you've got to understand
We'll give them what you can't give
Teach them how to really live.
Teach them how to live they said
Humiliated them instead
Taught them that and taught them this
And others taught them prejudice.
You took the children away
The children away
Breaking their mothers heart
Tearing us all apart
Took them away

One dark day on Framingham
Come and didn't give a damn
My mother cried go get their dad
He came running, fighting mad
Mother's tears were falling down
Dad shaped up and stood his ground.
He said 'You touch my kids and you fight me'
And they took us from our family.
Took us away
They took us away
Snatched from our mother's breast
Said this was for the best
Took us away.

Told us what to do and say
Told us all the white man's ways
Then they split us up again
And gave us gifts to ease the pain
Sent us off to foster homes
As we grew up we felt alone
Cause we were acting white
Yet feeling black

One sweet day all the children came back
The children come back
The children come back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back
Said the children come back
The children come back
Back where they understand
Back to their mother's land
The children come back

Back to their mother
Back to their father
Back to their sister
Back to their brother
Back to their people
Back to their land
All the children come back
The children come back
The children come back
Yes I came back.
Comment by SIN on November 8, 2009 at 3:20pm
According to God, art has been part of creation since the beginning of time. I see the art of our own community coming to a level of promise for us, the artists, though not at an easy cost. The intensity we experience through the highs and lows of personal creation can be beyond our own capacity, thus, we have no choice but to continue on in the mist. For many, our conscience is labeled by who we appear to be or what we create. Artists of the past have often had controversy over this. Many lives have been tortured, while many have excelled. Judgments come and go, they have ruled the world since the beginning, many so called judges proclaiming to be the highest power.
What we artists must always be ready for is a satisfaction from within, but not always from the outside. The world projects negativity, it always has and always will.
Pretending to be extraordinary is only a tool used by those whom have nothing else to offer, building up the progress of personal expectation. It is not unusual for an artist to back out of society due to these circumstances. It is usually the most unique that gather the attention of judgment. For some reason, ordinary is more accepted by the so called, "normal". Meaning, rejection, complication and failure of societal acceptance is in a sense, a compliment to ones own franchise. Never be too harsh to judge, being in your own mind, and forget about the highs, the lows can be very rewarding.
Comment by Art Zocalo on November 7, 2009 at 9:27am
Thanks Rosemary, I think you put your finger upon the underlying problem, which is artists destroying or bruising the creative spark in other artists. Such snobs feel these emerging artists are not artists and therefore are doing the world a favor by shooting them down.

It is the snobby air of superiority self-righteously putting down another human being that is the problem. While it is true some artists are far from their potential or perhaps should keep their art in the closet or sing only while taking a shower, it is equally true that if you can't comment on someone's art in a nice way then don't say anything at all! In the art world where fragile souls abound the last thing we need is the self appointed art police from the Gallery of the gods running rampant destroying those who are struggling.

Of course this problem is not restricted to the arts but is found everywhere.

We who are within this discipline called art have every right and duty to speak up and confront cruelty and snobbery. When we do we call those who view themselves as Art authorities to a new level of humanity.
Comment by Rosemary Lakovich on November 6, 2009 at 11:02pm
Forgive me for throwing up on line. I shall try to be more diplomatic. My comment was not to cause too much pain. Artist need to show their work in order to communicate to others. I love museums, have visted many on the west coast and Europe. God Bless those venues that would take a chance to display art. My frustration is with those that would squelch artist that have just began putting their work within the public arena, only to be discourage {politely}This is a delicate and fragile experience. There are those that have stopped producting creations because they have been criticized and feel discouraged. The ironic thing is, some of those that pass judgement {appear} to lack talent and rely on ego power. I hate to see a artist throw in the towel because they think they lack talent. Just the fact that one is able to enter the arena and bare themselves requires courage. I would rather be helpful than hurtful.
Comment by Rosemary Lakovich on November 3, 2009 at 10:26am
The venues that show art have the ultimate call in what is seen live by the public Joe's and Joans. However what is in the soul of the curators shines thru what is depicted by their choices. Many pieces of so called art lack substance and talent, the depleted soul shines thru. If ones art has to be explained in foolish unsubstantial words { gobbely gook} It lack the ablilty to shine by itself unaided . There are those that would put themselves as teachers that have no talent, only knowledge of craft. Long ago I came to the conclusion that I would pick my teachers and mentors and not the other way around There are those that are Bullies and Liars that would declare themselves authorities on art thru intimidation. Thank God for the internet we can bypass these arrogants
Comment by Rattananan Karninsee on October 20, 2009 at 6:28pm
That's interesting. Not only me thinking things like that.

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