BACK TO FRIENDS

THE ARTS AND PLANETARY SURVIVAL

by

Denys Trussell { * }

PART 1    - PART 2

Denys Trussell lives in New Zealand. He is author of The Life or Fairburn, New Zealand's foremost poet, published by Oxford University Press, 1985.

Man's ever-increasing separation from the natural world has been mirrored in an increasing artistic shallowness and aimlessness. The arts and philosophy must confront the ecological crisis and become a force in building a new world view. Art must once more enable us to establish the meaning of our existence.

 "And I can only hope that men of the new generation may be moved by this book to devote themselves to technics instead of lyrics, the sea instead of the paintbrush, and politics instead of epistemology. Better they could not do."

Spengler, The Decline of the West, 1926. [ 1 ]

 "Today we search behind the veil of external appearances for the hidden things of nature. . . We seek and we paint this spiritual side of ourselves in nature. . ."

Franz Marc, Die Neue Malerei, 1912 [ 2 ]


 Just as the continued existence of society is now in question, so too is the existence of the arts. Not only has the physical environment of Gaia been disrupted by the progress of industrial production and the unbridled working of capital; so has the moral and metaphysical environment of art and thought. The society of industry and the market is now a world "form". It has affected virtually all other societies, changing them, destroying them. The history of this century is essentially the history of this new world-order, its global dominance, its annihilatory logic. And humanity has no choice but to work out its spiritual and physical fate in the face of this unsympathetic and powerful mechanism.

The response of artists to this challenge has ranged from nihilist despair to a passionate affirmation of humane and natural values. There have been moments when art seemed to have no recourse but silence; as when Theodore Adorno, aesthetician and historian, said that, after Auschwitz, poetry was no longer possible. In the face of the unthinkable, what avails thought? In the face of such unfeeling, can artistically ordered feeling help us survive? The radioactive cloud like a mutant tree above Mururoa atoll is an image reminding us that a world without feeling or thought is an ever-present possibility.

Throughout this disordered century of 'high` technology, the arts have given meaning and nourishment to beleaguered human consciousness, despite instances when they have been made meaningless by the very impasse of spirit they depicted. By looking at the success and failure of art in the twentieth century, we may evolve a viable aesthetic, one that is not dogma, yet gives implicit support to the well-being of Gaia and the continuance of a tolerable human society.

An Unthinkable Civilization

 Warnings that we were heading towards an unthinkable civilization have been reaching us from artists and thinkers for at least two centuries. Blake, Thoreau, Marx, William Morris, D.H. Lawrence and Tolstoy all have made far-sighted attacks on the onset of economic culture and social alienation, Workers were being sundered from the product of their work, people were losing contact with their roots in nature and the cosmos, life was being seen as a meaningless evolutionary accident, and there was a complete perversion of economics. Whereas in former states of society, the economy existed to sustain the social organism, society now existed to serve the abstract purposes of economy. Economic man, that organo-mechanism stripped of all attributes other than production and consumption. had come to roost on this unhappy planet.

Society is now pulverized: all the multitudinous riches of symbolism and cosmology, agricultures and architectures is disappearing. An homogenized mentality of consumerism has liberated not the deep individuality manifest in the self-portraits of Rembrandt, nor the totemistic feeling for nature in the ghostly, beautifully stylized paintings of Australia's Aborigines, but a poisonous wave of nihilism and boredom. Here the social bond is the cash nexus. Cosmology has been reduced to advertising and direct connections with nature are withering away.

Such is humanity in its most 'developed' state: shorn of its history, reduced to commodity fetishism and threatened with ecological annihilation. The collapse of cosmology, of transcendant belief, has been corroborated by reductionist science that has failed to give back a sense of wonder in nature, a reverence for life, a sense of the unity in creation. Such science reinforces the worldview of a meaningless, atomized universe; a perspective that has entered many other fields. Philosophy has lost its nerve, and so too has poetry in some of the works of writers like T.S.Eliot:

 

"Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats' feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion." [ 3 ]

 

The Artist Destroyed

Insofar as he was portraying the hopeless, unmeaning landscape of modernity, Eliot was being honest. None can doubt the ongoing existence of the Hollow Men in our era. But his language is that of an artist destroyed by his subject - a not uncommon state of affairs in the twentieth century. The diminished cadences and flattened rhythms betray a personal defeat. This dried out speech lacks the resonance to encompass and objectify the evil it portrays. Nor does it imply the possibility of any transcendence of that evil. In it is the self-indulgent undertone of the depressive, incapable of participation either in the vital processes of his own existence, or in the greater energies of the macrocosm. In this mode then, Eliot is a symptomatic modern artist: a creator unequal to the chaos he faces, a creator destroyed by his creation.

That is not to say the artist should indulge in the rhetoric of a bombastic optimism. Such would be utterly false in this era. Nor would it produce truth and meaning for the artist to imply naively some kind of ecological Utopia: that would be to deny the depth and complexity of the problems with which we are struggling. Somehow, the arts and philosophy must neither deny the evil in our time, nor be destroyed by it. By the means of an acute and passionate moral perception. they may then become a force in the emergence of a new cosmology, one that encompasses good and evil, the pain and beauty in life; a cosmology that reflects a better state of psychic and social equilibrium. At present there is no equilibrium. Artist and society are adrift in an ocean of chaos. The hollow man simply lacks the psychic resources to navigate this ocean, to find new lands of meaning.

All serious artists are now faced with a struggle to 'ensoul` their work. For this. they can draw little energy from a society that is itself largely without soul. Will the work of artists come just to reflect this emptiness? Individuals will respond differently according to their courage, their temperament, their energy . But the artist who fails to ensoul the work of art will leave little for the planet; just the sterile ruins of aestheticism and intellectualism that litter the psychic environment of the twentieth century; the incommunicable bric-a-brac of those who believed their work was a self-justifying phenomenon. Cut away from roots in the life processes, such art exists only for itself, its own cause and effect. Narcissistic, esoteric and denying all connection with actual life, it reduces subject matter to a working out of its own technical processes.

Aesthetic narcissism is inevitable in an age of social and ecological breakdown. It arises in artists who have neither the temperament nor the power to give art a purpose in a society from which nearly all intelligible purpose has been erased. It is both the protest of such artists at this state of affairs, and their self-indulgent. fatal silence. It is no accident that much aesthetic theory and practice in this century has been concerned with the means rather than the ends of art. This reflects precisely the inversion of means and ends in society itself; an inversion that has people living to work rather that working to live; and an economy that exists for itself, and not for any human purpose.

Art and Human Purpose

 There is little doubt that art has had such purpose in the social ecology of other cultures and in other periods of Western culture. Art has always been a crucial means whereby we established our place spiritually in the macrocosm. Its meaning, purpose and origin lie in that deep strata of hope and terror with which our ancestors, facing an overwhelming universe, sought to communicate with it. Vestiges of art's primordial nature are still within it: there is little doubt that it arose out of ritual and magic, the proto-art of ritual being to ensure survival by coaxing the earth to bear fruit. With sympathetic magic, humans hope to persuade nature, year after year, to be generous, to make the vegetative spirit spring again into the quick of the seed, to make the crops grow. In hunter-gathering societies ritual was to safeguard the abundance of game. There could scarcely be any more ecological motive than this at the roots of art:

 "At the bottom of art,as its motive power and its main spring, lies not the wish to copy Nature or even improve on her. . . but rather an impulse shared by art and ritual, the desire, that is, to utter, to give out a strongly felt emotion or desire by representing. by making or doing or enriching the object or act desired. The common source of the art and ritual of Osiris is the intense, worldwide desire that the life of Nature which seemed dead should live again." [ 4 ]

 Art and the Imitation of Life

 So the mimes, the dithyrambs, the 'dromen' or acts to make the earth fructify: the dressing of humans to represent the life force of animals and plants; the sacrifices to the vegetative spirit that starts into amazing life each spring, were the first stages of art.

Ritual enacted the resurrection, but art went to the next phase of representing the thing desired without passively copying it:

"We must not only utter emotion, we must represent it, that is, we must in some way reproduce or imitate or express the thought which is causing us emotion. Art is not imitation, but art and also ritual frequently and legitimately contain an element of imitation." [ 5 ]

This vexed question of 'mimesis', discussed by Aristotle in his Poetics, is vital in clarifying the relationship between art and reality or nature. Mimesis is fashionably misunderstood by many modern aestheticians, who believe it simply means that art should passively copy life and nature. [ 6 ] This common mistake, first made by Plato, and now shared by those with an intellectualist view of art, is a particularly symptomatic error in our time, telling us more about the drive to escape from the realities of life and nature that it does about what mimesis really is. [ 7 ]

"The word mimesis means the action or doing of a person called a mime. Now a mime was simply a person who dressed up and acted in a pantomime or primitive drama. He was roughly what we should call an actor, and it is significant that in the word actor we stress not imitating but acting, doing..." [ 8 ]

Aristotle certainly did not mean that nature should be copied by art. His "art imitates nature" has been, through inept translation, misunderstood as a formula for passive naturalism:

"But by Nature Aristotle never means the outside world of created things, he means rather creative force, what produces, not what has been produced. We might almost translate the Greek phrase, 'Art, like Nature, creates things'." [ 9 ]

Art is a parallel process of creation, and its raw material includes the substance of nature, if only in the sense that the artist is an organism who creates out of the energy of his or her life, which is nature. The mating of the artist's demi-urge with the substance of experience is actually a fusion of two elements in the macrocosm that is finally and inevitably nature, no matter how urbanized the artist may be.

Yet, experience has become so disordered and bizarre, and appears to have so little relation to life's natural sources for many artists, that they have taken refuge in rarefied, platonic mental worlds. Believing wrongly that art is simply a copy of life, and finding life too traumatic, they then make a copy of abstruse mental states and intimations free of the pain of life. But this disembodied 'mentality' is an insupportable paradox, a kind of monstrosity. It denies implicitly that mind and organism are inseparable and that mind is the creation of nature. The disembodied mind can only create dead language, the language in fact of the Hollow Men. By contrast, mimesis is a vital act, not an ineffectual copying, and it allows for great subtlety and inventiveness in the making of artistic languages.

Art as Catharsis

  As well as enabling both artist and audience to participate in the creative process they share with nature, art is also a process of clarification. This is the famous concept of catharsis, the purging of emotion through the evocation of 'pity and terror'. To create an art work objectifies, for the artist, the very feelings that inspired it; to witness it, as emotion objectified, clarifies vital aspects of fate for the observer. Aristotle discussed catharsis in his Poetics, but has again been misunderstood. It has been implied that catharsis is just another way of reconciling people to cruelties and injustices in life that they would be better resisting. This is nonsense. A person who has gained an objective, 'purged' and de-sentimentalized view of good and evil through catharsis is much more fitted to recognize and act against the wrongs of the world at large than one who has not. Aristotle carefully qualifies catharsis in drama:

"Terror and pity may be raised by the decoration葉he mere spectacle; but they may also arise from the circumstances of the action itself; which is far preferable and shows a superior poet. For the fable should be so constructed that, without assistance of the sight, its incidents may excite horror and commiseration in those who hear them." [ 10 ]

No superficial horrors or indulgence in spectacular violence That only feeds our darker psychopathology; and Aristotle knew this just obscured moral awareness. Gratuitous violence and shabby spectacle, the hall-marks of virtually every television melodrama and inferior movie is, in a work of integrity, quite unnecessary. Yet, so misunderstood is Aristotle's suggestion in this age, that even well-read literati can mistakenly ascribe 'slice of life' trash serials on television to his poetics. Nothing could have been further from his intention than the proliferation of the derivative and the vicious which characterizes much mass entertainment, and even some work that claims to be art.

Sensationalism, the narcotic that drugs consumers of modern entertainment and anesthetizes them for the acceptance of the Apocalypse, is far from the attaining of moral insight and objectivity by catharsis. lt is the honest and artistic ordering of pity and terror that makes us look for meaning in the cosmos, in the affairs of humanity and nature; that compels us to work for a society that will not need an Apocalyptic fulfillment.

Purpose in Nature: Purpose in Art

The intimation of meaning. That too has been a task of art. Despite the quite unprovable assertion that there is neither meaning nor purpose in the universe, art and nature bring to us presentiments that they are charged with these. If we take the concept of the earth as a great self-regulating entity, we have meaning. It means something that such a huge entity can be seen as a resplendent and unified process. It affirms something in us, who must also maintain ourselves as stable and unified creatures. To perceive in the macrocosm what we are in ourselves is really an Epiphany: a revelation that we are one and part of one world, one universe. It is this perception of the 'one'葉he continuous and unified fabric of the macrocosm葉hat is the perception which both artist and audience share in a cogent work of art.

The coherence of such a work, whatever its medium or form, depends on its having gestalt - an intimation in the work that it is far more than just the sum of its parts. This is the artistic corollary to wholeness, to the complementarity that may be found in an ecosystem. In fact, art is a kind of psychic and metaphysical ecosystem that defies finally all attempts to break it down in a reductionist manner.

Everything now in the training of the modern intellectual tends to erode away a sense of gestalt. Academic and professional language betrays this. The clumsy and frequent use of words such as 'component', 'unit', 'module', 'digital ' and innumerable others has a banal yet seductive allure in virtually every discipline. It has built up an atrocious, synthesized jargon of reductionist sociology, criticism and science that now penetrates into a staggering range of descriptions. This is no mere fashion or accident. It warns us of a subtle breakdown in our perception of reality; a love of seeing, feeling and thinking in components; a syntactical unwillingness to express the noumenal and significant wholeness of things; a perverse will to reduce what is after all a mighty enigma容xistence擁nto a discontinuous series of banalities.

Unifying Perceptions

  The gestalt in a work of art is perhaps its deepest purpose. It helps us unify our perceptions and, in plain language, make sense of things, guarding us like a psychic shield against spiritual and social entropy. If art is strong in its gestalt, like nature itself, it becomes a source of renewal and of values alternative to the entropy that threatens. But art undermined by the entropy that it enacts lends itself to the process of dissolution. The penultimate hopeless stammerings of T.S. Eliot at the close of The Waste Land are such an art:

"I sat upon the shore,

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me,

Shall I at least set my lands in order?,

London bridge is falling down falling down falling down."

  The poem goes on to end with quoted literary fragments of great pathos which, the poet explains, are the "fragments I have shored against my ruins." The last line, "Shantih shantih shantih", an invocation of the "peace that passeth all understanding", is the blessing of a soul so undermined by historic disorder that it has in it as much of mockery as of beatitude. [ 11 ]

Eliot's famous fragments - the text of The Waste Land - pieced together as a gloss on the text of historical experience, are deeply savoured and respected by writers and teachers of the humanities throughout the modern world. Though published in 1922, it is still a key work in the formation of contemporary consciousness. This is a symptom of our condition. We identify with its landscape of smashed up traditions, personal impotence and deranged mental ecology. We do this because it is our landscape: a bitter mimesis of our non-doing, of our acceptance that the time of passion, commitment, meaning and vitality has passed; that there can be no gestalt either in life or art.

  But The Waste Land, implying no escape from its own negations, is the end. If we would live, the poem is an impossible foundation upon which to build. Our very survival depends on establishing a more vital aesthetic, a more integrating poetic than lies in this shattered speech of a conservative, deeply timorous scholar who found his singular niche in the modern imagination while working as a London bank clerk. [ 12 ]

Art and Cosmology

  While it does not (or should not) preach, art inevitably implies or embodies a cosmology. The religious subjects of painting in the Quattrocento do not enjoin us to see a world in which the dynamic, optimistic exploration of nature had become a unifying passion. But that Renaissance fascination with materially perceived nature and the place within it of a transcendental and angelic consciousness is implicit in the actual style. Paintings that are at one level depictions of their subjects, be they the Holy Family, the Annunciation, or the Crucifixion, are also revelations of a cosmos in which humanity is becoming an ever more dynamic and active participant in an intensely detailed natural world. This of course was the beginning of our present troubles, but now our exploitation is merely utilitarian. The angel has been metamorphosed into a secular businessman-scientist who destroys the substance of nature so passionately observed in the Renaissance.

The cosmos implied by the succession of styles that has swept over us since Impressionism has, broadly speaking, been one of discontinuity. Humanity no longer occupies the natural world with any confidence, but has withdrawn into abstruse worlds of technics and paranoia. where their own creations loom, sometimes with malevolence. The giant machine city in Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis is such a production. And some art has resorted to a kind of anti-cosmology; a world of pain, silence and outrage to be sensed in some of Magritte's paintings or the dramas of Samuel Beckett. Such work neither implies nor alludes to a larger order of being in which humanity might have a place.

Giving Meaning to Life

  Cosmology and meaning flow into each other. Usually neither is explicit in art, unless the work is the simplest iconography or illustration, but each is its metaphysical underpinning. Meaning is there because humanity must have it as surely as it must have food. Extreme pessimists of materialism may believe it a delusion, but life is not livable without it. Carl Jung saw in his practice of psychiatry that, time and again, psychic illness could not be fully cured in a context of meaninglessness. He had to conclude that mono-causal, positivistic explanations of the patient's predicament were inadequate:

"Although the theories of Freud and Adler come much nearer to getting to the bottom of the neuroses than does any earlier approach to the question from the side of medicine, they still fail, because of their exclusive concern with the drives, to satisfy the deeper spiritual needs of the patient. They are still bound by the premises of nineteenth century science, and they are too self-evident葉hey give too little value to fictional and imaginative processes. In a word, they do not give meaning enough to life. And it is only the meaningful that sets us free." [ 13 ]

Aesthetic experience is an important aspect of meaning. The will to give an aesthetic shape to life is an instinctive and innate behaviour Ancient humanity left plenty of evidence of this:

"Whether there was a conscious aesthetic motive or not, it is true anyway that earliest known man could and did draw, carve. chisel and model; that he was able to satisfy an interest, whether independent or subservient, in qualities of form, design and colour; and the things he fashioned come to us with aesthetic appeal through 25,000 or more intervening years." [ 14 ]

  Aesthetic experience is an attribute of consciousness in homo sapiens, pervading the life of the species, as much as sexuality. Meaning, gestalt, cosmology and the aesthetic dimension flow into a great confluence of consciousness that is embodied by way of art.

Without this spiritual confluence, there is psychological and eventually physical death. Samuel Beckett was only telling the truth in Waiting for Godot when he depicted a group of men, stripped of meaning, placeless, rootless, their selves incommunicable, their days spent waiting for a god/symbol/meaning that never arrives. But this truth is so all-encompassing in the play that its telling cannot release us into meaning. The blackest of comedies, it numbs the centres of those who watch it:

Vladimir: We'll hang ourselves tomorrow (pause). Unless Godot comes.

Estragon: And if he comes?

Vladimir: We'll be saved. [ 15 ]

But we all know that Godot will not enter this existential desert. And the only tree in the play will act, not as the tree of life, but of death. It will be the gallows. This is the dramaturgy of ashes. A world of holocaust with no values implied. Suicide is the only way for Vladimir and Estragon, though there remains some doubt as to whether they have the energy even to hang themselves.

Nature Censored

  This absurdist end has had long beginnings. Machine civilization and the working of the market freed people from older forms of social contract, but destroyed the sacramental basis of society. The arts, struggling to adjust human vision to this, had to throw off the academicism, bourgeois rhetoric and sentimentality that were part of the new materialist order emerging through the nineteenth century. But efforts to adjust to the increasing dehumanization of social relations forced artists out into a nihilist wilderness, where they were threatened by weakening coherence and, in some instances, immolated by the very forces they sought to exorcise and condemn.

The full depth of the crisis was not apparent until the emergence of works such as Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal in 1857, and the skeletal late piano works of Franz Liszt, written in the 1880s. Works like these hinted at new possibilities of artistic language, not to be developed fully until the twentieth century; but they also spoke of a moral universe where values might not be transvalued but quite devalued. There only the most spiritually self-reliant would have any hope of survival. [ 16 ]

This was to be the bane of development in twentieth century art: on the one hand audacity, inventiveness and the sheer courage of attempting mimesis in a society ripe with premonitions of unprecedented atrocity; on the other, the risk of losing all good while trying to objectify and exorcise the evil.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) led us straight into this dilemma by his dandyish championing of a world of human artifice. This great poet of disgust, corroded by the acids of late city sophistication, foreshadowed the flight from nature, fashionable in our own time:

"We can see that nature teaches nothing or nearly nothing . .it compels man to sleep, drink, eat and to protect himself as best he can against the inclemencies of the weather. It is nature too that drives man to kill his fellow man. . . Review, analyse everything that is natural: you will find nothing that is not horrible. Everything that is beautiful and noble is the product of reason and calculation. Crime . . . is by origin natural. Virtue on the other hand, is artificial. . . Evil is done without effort, naturally, it is the working of fate; good is always the product of an art." [ 17 ]

With a supercilious flourish, Baudelaire serves up a common nineteenth century fallacy"nature red in tooth and claw" the terrifying competitive jungle which existed, ironically, not nature, but in the society of men struggling for survival among the artificial creations of their new industrial cities.

The censure of nature has a long history. Even Socrates: reputed to have said he stayed in Athens because the countryside taught him nothing; he learnt more from people. But a technology which fosters the delusion that nature can be dispensed wit is a modem phenomenon. Combined with Baudelaire's vision of the natural world as being a kind of reservoir of original sin, it has produced some extreme repercussions in the arts.

Most vocal in favour of an art celebrating purely mental and technological universes were a series of theorists and practitioners in the plastic arts葉he Futurists, the Suprematists, the Neo-Plasticists and the Purists謡hose pronouncements have influence to this day. Their rejection of experience and nature range from a platonic disdain for the senses, a reverence for the mathematical and formal skeleton of human conception, to a naive machine optimism; a belief that the machine could improve on nature and release the full imaginative potential of humanity.

The most famous and possibly the most gifted artist involve in these anti-naturalistic theories was Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). In his early career he had been a strong expressionist painter of nature, but his increasing purism took him on an inner journey away from this or any natural order. A leading figure in the movement of De Stijl, founded in Holland during the First World War, he shared their aspirations for abstract purity, harmony, cleanliness and clarity. It was an austere aesthetic that had its roots in Dutch Calvinism:

"Almost the first act of the early Calvinists was the destruction of the images of worship in their churches. . . The De Stilj artists. . . had similar reasons for their banishment of every representation of nature: any representation of a natural object was for them, a distortion of the divine purity of the laws of creation. Abstraction was the only way to maintain their faith in universal values." [ 18 ]

For Mondrian, as for Plato, nature was an inferior copy of an essential and beautiful original. Only a pure, geometrical image could reveal the moral and spiritual nature of existence, which was also the essence of art:

"One can express our very essence through neutral constructive elements: that is to say we can express the essence of art." [ 19 ]

Mondrian prophesied an aesthetic technotopia where organic forms would play no part in inspiring art:

"It would be illogical to suppose that non-figurative art will remain stationary, for this art contains a culture of the use of new plastic means and their determinate relations . . . This consequence brings us, in a future perhaps remote, towards the end of art as a thing separated from our surrounding environment, which is the actual plastic reality." [ 20 ]

  The environment of artifice would supplant the dual environments of nature on the one hand and art on the other, creating a new 'plastic reality' of platonic purity and abstract platonic forms: "an atmosphere not merely utilitarian or rational but also pure and complete in its beauty." [ 21 ]

Descending into Gimmickry

  The pity of this fervent idealism is that it was implicitly directed against nature as a world of beauty in its own right. The concern with ultimate platonic forms is an attempt to escape the mess of experience and the fact that nature is, in no simple sense, rational. In practical terms it has resulted in geometrical abstraction, both in art and architecture, creating some of the most sterile and boring environments in human history. [ 22 ]

The aesthetic integrity of people like Mondrian in the first wave of avant-garde theory is undoubted, and their best work is the design of beauty and tranquility. But their rejection of the untidy 'outer' world gave aesthetic credibility to the flight from nature, the full consequences of which they could barely have imagined, since their lives pre-dated a full and general awareness of ecological breakdown. It is the task of our time to evaluate their immensely influential art and architecture less sympathetically as a misplaced and naive idealism預 misunderstanding of the fact that even the most esoteric geometrism underlying, say, the building of a Hindu temple, puts on the flesh of organic and figurative forms in order that the divine essence may be manifest in terms of the living world. We can now see as folly their belief that humanity could actually construct physical and psychic states independent of nature, its forms and exigencies.

Their idealism is refreshing nonetheless, by comparison with the cynical nihilism of the later avant-garde. The repudiation of nature continues, but now it has a mercenary edge. As wave on wave of avant-gardism broke over the arts, it inevitably became less 'avant', and represented evermore reactionary and commercial values. What started as high idealism has at times degenerated into expensive and fatuous entertainment for the contemporary bourgeoisie, whose palates are so jaded by novelty that they can scarcely distinguish significant originality from trite opportunism.

That relevant new ideas can degenerate into stupidity and dogma was fully recognized by one of the greatest and most inspired idealists of the early avant-garde, Wassily Kandinsky:

"Gradually the new value conquers man. And when many men no longer question this value, indispensable and necessary today, then it will form a wall erected against tomorrow " [ 23 ]

  Now, shallow novelty rather than deep necessity produces new art gimmicks, for the same reasons that motor manufacturers vary the superficial details of junk cars. Each creates an illusion of progress and value where none actually exists. This state of affairs has not been changed by the break-up of the theoretical monolith of modernism into the more eclectic phase of 'post' modernism. The last twenty years have seen some of the most flagrantly stated relationships between the content of art and the corruption of commerce. According to Mario Amaya, Pop Art was meant to have:

"popularity, transcience. expendability. wit, sexiness, gimmickry and glamour. It must be low cost. mass-produced, Young and Big Business." [ 24 ]

It is a recipe that could be used to describe any inferior consumer good. Such art is powerless in the expressing of meaning or universality. One critic described the work of the French 'artist', Yves Klein, as simply registering "the sociological reality without any controversial intention." There is no room for human concerns in this milieu of dead-pan banality.

The kaleidoscopic variety遥et essential sameness熔f the later avant-garde is illustrated by Andy Warhol (1930-1987). a colourful charlatan and impressario of consumerism who confessed, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that he really wanted to be machine making, not art, but industrial products. His famous pop images include the tomato soup can and rows of juxtaposed Coca-Cola bottles. Whether he produced these as a satiric comment on supermarket culture or not, their real affect is to anaesthetize the consumer of mass production and vindicate its banality. We may be amused, but given the urgencies that now face us, is amusement with junk culture a strong enough aesthetic base on which to build an ecologically possible future?

As post-modernism emerged, so did a chic marriage of monetarist values and art. In one phase at least of his work, David Hockney (1937-) represents this 'monetarist' phase of aesthetics. His immense celebrity as a painter of swimmers and swimming pools is not due to any profound insight, but to the fact that he has hit a nerve of yuppie aspiration. Faintly cynical, tasteful, 'laid back' and ultimately shallow, these works give expression to the recent escapism of the new bourgeoisie; privileged denizens in a suburban culture, whose comforts are gained at the cost of stripping the planet of much of its resources.

[ 1 ] Spengler, The Decline of the West, George Allen and Unwin, 1926 'Introduction ' .

[ 2 ] Franz Marc, 1880-1916, was a German Expressionist painter and profound theoretician of art. Famous for his deeply spiritualised paintings of animals.

[ 3 ] T.S.Eliot. 'The Hollow Men', Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber an Faber, London 1963, 89.

[ 4 ] Jane Harrison. Ancient Art and Ritual, Moonraker Press, Bradford on Avon, 1978, p.10.

[ 5 ] ibid. p.15.

[ 6 ] Charles Biederman, an aesthetician who summed up much of the theoretical justification for geometrical abstraction in the late 1940s and earh 1950s, had this totally erroneous view of mimesis and of the relationship of nature to art.

[ 7 ] This fallacy underlines Plato's discussion of poetry in The Republic.

[ 8 ] Jane Harrison, op.cit., supra 4, p.21.

[ 9 ] ibid, p.109.

[ 10 ] Aristotle, Poetics, J M Dent, London, 1934, 27.

 [ 11 ] T.S. Eliot, 'The Waste Land', Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber and Faber, London, 1963, p.79.

 [ 12 ] Eliot worked as a clerk in the foreign transactions department of Lloyd's Bank. London 1919-1925.

 [ 13 ] C.J. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Ark Paperbacks, London, 1984, p. 259.

 [ 14 ] Melvin Rader, Bertram Jessup, Art and Human Values, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1976, p.97.

 [ 15 ] Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot. Faber and Faber, London, 1955, p.94.

 [ 16 ] Nietzche. 1844-1900, had envisaged the transvaluation of values as a moral renewal when he used this phrase, not as a formula for nihilism.

 [ 17 ] Charles Baudelaire, Selected Writings of Art and Artists, Penguin, Books, Harmondsworth, 1972, p.425.

 [ 18 ] Mildred Friedman (ed), De Stijl; 1919-1931, visions of Utopia, Phaidon, Oxford. 1982. p. 13.

 [ 19 ] Piet Mondrian quoted by Harold Osborne in Abstraction and Artifice - in Twentieth Century Art, Clarendon Press. Oxford, 1979, 141.

 [ 20 ] ibid. p.142

 [ 21 ] ibid.

 [ 22 ] The Bauhaus group in architecture. also highly idealistic and with strong geometrist tendencies had strong theoretical links with de Stijl.

 [ 23 ] Wassily Kandinsky, 'On The Question of Form ' in Wassily Kandinsk and Franz Marc (eds) The Blaue Reiter, New Documentary Edition. Thames and Hudson, London, 1974, 149.

 [ 24 ] Mario Amayo cited by Edward Lucie-Smith in Late Modern, Thames and Hudson, London 1969, 139.

{ * }

The Ecologist. Vol. 19. No. 5, September/October 1989

The second part of this article was published in the January/February 1990 issue of The Ecologist - and will be published here soon.

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