Saturday, March 29, 2008

Clarity is Needed

I'VE BEEN ATTEMPTING to study contemporary art theory and unfortunately, it is nearly unreadable.  (But I've been told that my own writing is also confused and unreadable, but that won't stop me.)

It is funny:  as you go back into the past, art theory becomes more understandable and common-sensical, and some of the original texts in the Greek language, I am told, are a delight to read and have remarkable clarity.  But even stranger still, the traditional theory handed down the from alien cultures of the Orient also seem to be quite understandable.  But not contemporary theory.

As far as I can tell, contemporary art theory is derived from the philosophy of 'post-structuralism' (dating from ca. 1968, also known as "the year the world ended"; or when Satan was unbound) which states that meaning is subjective and culturally and historically relative.  If this were true, then I would assume that I ought to understand the texts of that theory, having lived in approximately the same milieu as those theorists.  But I don't understand them and must rely on encyclopedia articles on the subject.  Likewise, I should not be able to construct a plausibly consistent meaning from ancient and foreign texts, but I can.

When a Chinese artist states that a painting of a tree must capture the essence of treeness, that the paintbrush must become an extension of the artist, or if a Hindu artist says that a painting must capture spiritual reality, I get it.  After all, it's all in Plato.  Likewise, the old Chinese parable of the artist who drew thousands of pictures of fish until he was able to do it well, makes good sense, and Aristotle would agree.  But when a postmodern philosopher states that "reality disappears underneath the interchangeability of signs" what are we to make of it?

But contemporary theory is, at its core, Marxist.  The theorists do not clearly state that their goal is to enslave the masses in a totalitarian State, and to eliminate their bourgeois opponents, for that would open them up to direct attack.  But bad art, derived and judged according to bad theory, is instead an indirect means of achieving this goal, by subverting the natural order of things.

We ought not be intimidated by the obscure jargon of contemporary academics, but rather try to get a clear understanding what they actually propose to do.  

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