October 7, 2012

Camille Paglia on our "strange and contradictory culture" where our "primary aesthetic experiences" — iPhones and such — have "no spiritual dimension."

In the Wall Street Journal:
The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time....

Young people today are avidly immersed in this hyper-technological environment, where their primary aesthetic experiences are derived from beautifully engineered industrial design.... But there is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone, as there is to great works of art.

Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed.

57 comments:

Dante said...

I need a good definition of "spiritual."

Here is Wikipedia's

"Spirituality is the concept of an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality;[1] an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the "deepest values and meanings by which people live."

Sorry, I'm dense and don't understand that.

Reproduction/survival is tops, right? I would suppose in the olden days it was the thing that allowed one to get through the tragedies and suffering. Watching a child die of disease, or wondering how to get the food so they don't starve with bloated bellies and protruding eyes. There had to be a lie to make it bearable.

Shouting Thomas said...

The fine arts are irrelevant. Why are we supposed to mourn the death of the fine arts?

My field, multimedia has won the day. The destruction of the fine arts is a good thing.

But there is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone, as there is to great works of art.

Baloney. The spiritual dimension of the iPhone is the wild proliferation of communication that it enables. Programming and developing for the iPhone and iPad is a richly rewarding artistic and intellectual pursuit.

I am so glad that I no longer really work in the humanities. Technology changes dramatically every few years and offers me an intellectual challenge that the humanities simply no longer offer.

Workers in the humanities are now simply workers who no longer have a marketable trade. Like all workers who have been left behind, they weep and wail that the world will not remain static for them.

Thus, all political discussion from the left begins and ends with the accusation of "bigotry." That's the only job skill the left has, and they are furious that it has been rendered obsolete.

Shouting Thomas said...

By the way, the demise of the blue collar tradesman is a myth. Paglia probably believes it because she never encounters such people. (She does say that such people are invisible to college bound kids.)

My work as a musician has kept me in close contact with blue collar tradesman, because that's the ID of many, if not most musicians. In general, those guys are doing very well.

My son-in-law and my girlfriend's son are both blue collar tradesmen, and they are both doing far better in surviving the economic chaos than white collar workers.

We always need plumbers and electricians.

The Crack Emcee said...

Camille is a NewAger, as was Steve Jobs, and so are most of the people who buy Apple products, so basically what she's acknowledging is the emptiness at the heart of what they've (all) created. I'm not surprised:

NewAge is a doctrine of contradiction.

You can think of yourself as a caring person, while doing whatever to so-called "energy vampires" (or SPs in Scientology). Mormons can lie their way to Heaven. It's O.K. to punish those who don't "believe enough," etc. You, basically, must - must - knock people down, and step over bodies, to walk "the path." The Nazis didn't mind and I don't see too many people, now, too concerned. They're selfishly on that "never-ending search."

It should come as no surprise that this particular flavor of spirituality results in none.

I'm reminded of a recent story about Oprah going to Fairfield, Iowa to do a show about 1,000 pandits flown from India to do Transcendental Meditation. She went, meditated with them, got a tour of the facilities and left - never once realizing they were captives.

That's how NewAge "works".





Shouting Thomas said...

And, excuse my verbosity, but our "young artists and thinkers" have all migrated into my field.

In the past, I've taught multimedia at several colleges (night school) in NYC.

I met the most incredibly talented and challenging young people in those classes. The most talented among them were fantastic illustrators, animators, programmers and web designers. Amazing people!

pbAndjFellowRepublican said...

Ha!

When you go to Apple's website they are currently featuring some video re Jobs instead of going to the main site.

That video explicitly claims that technology alone is not enough. Jobs says that it's technology married w/ lib arts, w/ humanities that yields our result, that makes our hearts sing.

Apparently singing hearts is the goal for Apple.

EDH said...

Made me think of the "Capitalism is Cool" message of "A New Radical's Guide to Economic Reality" (1970), by "Angus Black".

Here is a book.
Right on!
A radical book.
It says so on the cover.
It tells it like it is.
You'll dig what the Business Pigs are really into!
It's heavy on Taxes, Dope, Grapes and the Draft.
And on Chicks, Spades, and Landlords.
Pollution, man. And Inflation.
It's an Economics High that'll freak you out! And turn on Dad in the "Burbs" too!
It's a groove for all the people.
It's the story of Robin Hood.
Only in Reverse!


While it made me think outside the box in the late 1970s, reviews were mixed.

Angus Black is a pseudonym, but the word is out that the book was written by a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Chicago. The Chicago influence is strong. In fact, in many ways, A Radical's Guide to Economic Reality is a "hip" version of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom. Black is apparently trying to appeal to participants in the drug culture, and other such "dropouts." He seems to be making an honest effort to educate his audience to economic reality by speaking about subjects that they're likely to have special interest in, and in terms that they will understand. However, Black has adopted an exceedingly patronizing attitude toward his readers. One doubts that any of the people to whom he is ostensibly appealing will either appreciate his style, or accept his arguments (indeed, some of his readers may be impervious to any form of argument, but that is another matter).

Nonapod said...

I think Steve Jobs would've contested the assertion that iPhones have no "spiritual dimension". He obsessed over form and aesthetic and, as a Buddhist and a child of the 60s, I'm certain he thought of himself as spiritual.

She seems to be conflating a lot of ideas here: the saturation of today's youth by technology? The lack of respect for the free market system, and also art, and religion? I'm not sure if they're all congruent.


Shouting Thomas said...

And, let me restate something I've been stating here for some time.

Venture capitalists funded the startups that are mostly responsible for the deep content development that you all rely upon on the web.

The evidence that capitalism continues to be the dynamic engine of growth, both intellectual and financial, is this medium that occupies so much of your time.

This digital space is now the dominant art form. You can weep as much as you like, and demand a Luddite world, but the future is in this digital space.

Freedom and capitalism have triumphed here. Althouse's blog is even further proof that this is true.

wyo sis said...

The users supply their own spiritual dimension. They can do that because the technology dimension gives them more information that they ever had before. More information, more possibilities.

Tim said...

Much of the soul of Western Civilization, battered on the battlefields of WWI and WWII, was subsequently hollowed out during the Cold War era and later.

Why would a people who've lost sight of meaningful spirituality, including the spiritual foundations of Western Civilization, be expected to have art reflecting a spirituality that no longer exists?

It makes no sense.

Worse yet, it has nothing to do with empty factories in mid-sized cities scattered across America.

Dante said...

I'm reminded of a recent story about Oprah going to Fairfield, Iowa to do a show about 1,000 pandits flown from India to do Transcendental Meditation. She went, meditated with them, got a tour of the facilities and left - never once realizing they were captives.

Ugh: What the hell?

YoungHegelian said...

In a modern context, when I hear the word "spiritual", I tend to start looking around the room for an exit. I won't look for the exit with Paglia because I think she really is talking about the "spiritual dimension(s)" that exist as, if nothing else, penumbras of religious traditions.

For most of human history, art was essentially religious art. That art could exist outside a matrix of shared symbols & values (both of which were religiously based) was unthinkable. Even stuff we don't think of as religious (e.g. Greek comedy & tragedy) was religious (even the obscene satyr plays!).

A good read on the religious underpinning of fine art can be found in Etienne Gilson's The Arts of the Beautiful (available here, as long as one has a stomach for a good dose of Neo-Thomism.

That

Lyle said...

Camille Paglia is a good contrarian; just like Christopher Hitchens was.

The Crack Emcee said...

Dante,

Ugh: What the hell?

Dude, that's nothin' - Scientology's got it's own concentration camp in California.

But everyone around me is steadily encouraging this phenomena, rather than discouraging it.

Electing cultists to political leadership is NOT helpful,...

Chip Ahoy said...

Aren't the Solyndra tubes bee-you-tea-full?

cokaygne said...

A lot of the talent that used to go into painting has moved to movies, TV, photography, etc. As for spirituality and capitalism. Look at those beautiful altar pieces produced during the Renaisance. In the middle is a painting of the virgin and child. On the sides are various saints looking on with adoration. Right beside the adoring saints are the donors of the altar piece.

Successful artists are successful because they know where their money comes from. The greedy and rapacious capitalists who built our economy were too busy raking it in to think about spirituality. When they pass on they keep the money under the family's control by creating foundations wherein the children and grandkids can indulge their "taste".

Palladian said...

The iPhone is a tool, not an artwork. Paglia's conflation of these two categories of human invention is non-sensical. It's like expecting to have a profound experience by looking at one of the Panavision cameras that Kubrick used to shoot "2001: A Space Odyssey" instead of looking at the movie itself. Or looking at a Guarneri violin locked in a glass case, instead of listening to someone play Bach's partita for violin No. 2 upon it. Of course looking at a complicated camera or a beautiful violin are interesting experiences, especially for the technically-minded, but it's not the primary function, or the greatest power, of these tools.

The tool might be beautiful and innovative, but it's a means to infinite ends, not an end itself.

Nora said...

There are a couple of books on the subject by the British art critic Julian Spalding. http://www.amazon.com/Eclipse-Art-Tackling-Crisis-Today/dp/3791328816/ He is considered controversial for sounding some of the same ideas as Paglia more than 10 years ago.

Actually, I do not know if it's correct to call him a critic, he is more of art historian/thinker/phylosopher. I loved this his book too: http://www.amazon.com/Art-Wonder-History-Seeing/dp/3791331507/

Nora said...

"The tool might be beautiful and innovative, but it's a means to infinite ends, not an end itself."

The same is true for religious art (most of art before last few centuries) and architecture.

yashu said...

But there is a larger question: What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it? Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber. The art world, like humanities faculties, suffers from a monolithic political orthodoxy—an upper-middle-class liberalism far from the fiery antiestablishment leftism of the 1960s.

Very true.

The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time.

Very true.

But there is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone, as there is to great works of art.

Yes, I guess, in a way. But this seems something of a non sequitur. Was/is there a spiritual dimension to the typewriter, the car, the video camera, etc.? I'd argue that, in a certain sense of "spiritual," yes there was/ is.

I think she's pointing to something very significant, but I don't know that I see it in quite the same terms.

A hypothetical right-wing cultural orthodoxy would be just as dull and oppressive. But then, it's tricky to imagine what such a thing would look like... so maybe not. (For one thing, a right-wing "conservative" cultural orthodoxy would inspire great artistic rebels, no? Whereas in our days "rebellion" is the most boring and predictable artistic pose of all.)

There's something about left-liberalism that lends itself to this kind of flat, shallow, jejune cultural orthodoxy that we see in late capitalism. Maybe Paglia is right that it has something to do with the death of the "spiritual" (or its conflation with/ substitution by the political, a very conventional, platitudinous liberal ideology). But it's hard to figure this all out.

Some of the most profound and even "transcendental" spiritual/ metaphysical/ existential experiences I've ever had were derived from art created by atheists (even some I might call nihilists). So the dichotomy here isn't so simple to spell out. It's not about religion, exactly.

I find myself wanting to invoke Nietzche, and how necessary a quality of "untimeliness" is to be a great artist or thinker-- to be a great artist or thinker of your time. Most art nowadays is boringly... timely. Too "current" and immediate (and thence immediately outdated). Too "political" in a boringly predictably contemporary way.

I notice that Paglia has very conspicuously omitted any reference to cinematic art (movies or TV). That seems a glaring omission. For cinematic art is arguably the quintessential art of our age, combining what Paglia calls "performance" and "visual" genres, and is of course deeply intertwined with capitalism. And I'd argue if any contemporary art has provided occasionally profound/ transcendent experiences to a "general audience," I'd look to cinema first of all.

(Though even then, most of the movies I'm thinking of are from decades past. But not all of them.)

yashu said...

Palladian made my point re the iphone before I did, and much better.

Yes, she's conflating the "tool" and the "artwork."

And yet, on the other hand, I think you could interpret that conflation as intentional, as part of her point. She's saying that the deepest or richest "aesthetic" experiences (e.g. of the "beautiful" or related categories) in our contemporary world are not derived from works of art, but works of "applied" art.

The world of design and technology.

Of course, this goes back to a common origin in the Greek term techne.

FleetUSA said...

Thank you.

I have always enjoyed reading Camille Paglia's comments. She thinks outside the box and is provocative.

FleetUSA said...

Thank you.

I have always enjoyed reading Camille Paglia's comments. She thinks outside the box and is provocative.

edutcher said...

Agree with Palladian on the idea of a tool versus a work of art. Was there anything more "spiritual" about a Princess phone or the one your Mom and dad used?

Shouting Thomas said...

The fine arts are irrelevant. Why are we supposed to mourn the death of the fine arts?

No, they touch a part of us that the workaday world suppresses.

The problem is they've been taken over by the Lefties and will be made relatable again when wrested away from them.

The Farmer said...

The Crack Emcee said...
That's how NewAge "works".


Hold the phone. What's this about New Age? You don't like it or something?

Rusty said...

What Palladin said.


The medium changes, but the compulsion to create never does.

Palladian said...

The fine arts are irrelevant.

Nonsense.

Why are we supposed to mourn the death of the fine arts?

Because, accepting your premise, you'd be mourning my death as well. The will and desire to create is the only thing that has motivated me to continue struggling all these years.

tim in vermont said...

I had a few friends over recently, liberal Obama supporting friends, but friends anyway, and Aretha Franklin came up on Pandora singing a bit of Gospel.

I was asked to change the music due to the religious content by these open minded, tolerant people.

tim in vermont said...

What is killing fine arts, IMHO, is so much crap that is around everywhere for sale as "local artists"

The craftsmanship is completely lacking, as if these people had never been to an art museum with high quality work with any other agenda than to see how much laziness and lack of talent they could get away with.

AprilApple said...

"Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible.

Yes.

Palladian said...

There has always been crap art: in the middle ages, during the Italian and Northern Renaissance, during the "Age of Rembrandt", the 18th century, the 19th century, during Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, Post-Modernism, and on and on.

Most people don't see the crap of previous ages, because either history has removed it from the world, or curators and collectors don't (for the most part) display it today.

Crimso said...

"Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom"

I don't think engineering students undergo any such indoctrination.

The next time she's riding in an airplane, she should contemplate the lack of spirituality in the Bernoulli effect.

ndspinelli said...

If you want to understand Paglia @ her core you need to be a first or second generation Italian. Male or female is almost irrelevant. I love her intellect.

madAsHell said...

They are distracted!!
They won't listen to me make shit up!!

Shouting Thomas said...

I was asked to change the music due to the religious content by these open minded, tolerant people.

Gospel is the wellspring of that great fountain of American blues, jazz, country and rock.

If you don't understand that... how can you appreciate the music?

AprilApple said...

So I see Chavez cheated to win. Standard dictator-for-life op.

schmidt said...

Tim, you seem as open minded, tolerant as your friends.

Quayle said...

There is no art when there is no innate good and evil.

All is a compound in one, and art looses its essential tension.

So if anything, the left's rejection of innate good and evil is what's killing art in the younger generations.

They can do anything they want so what's the big deal?

I mean, when you've reduce the pillars of society to rubble, art is left to focus on the relative size of the pieces which is boring.

The Farmer said...

Quayle said...
There is no art when there is no innate good and evil.

All is a compound in one, and art looses its essential tension.

So if anything, the left's rejection of innate good and evil is what's killing art in the younger generations.

They can do anything they want so what's the big deal?


You nailed it, Quayle. To a lot of young artists, evil entails things like the GOP and Christianity. But if pressed, they'd probably admit that they don't even really believe those things are genuinely evil; the concept of actual evil is mocked as something peddled by their Republican, Christian enemies.

There are a lot of young conservatives who think the concept of evil is silly too, but most of them aren't trying to make art.

Paddy O said...

"In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip.

"The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed."

What?! Reactionary art to the contexts of the early to mid-20th century is considered reactionary and unhip by younger generations?!

Kirk Parker said...

"Hold the phone. "

That's a baby-blue Princess phone we're holding, right?

phx said...

The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time.

I need this explained to me. What are "the authentic cultural energies of our time?"

TosaGuy said...

In my teaching days, I taught a history class through the lens of the development of arts and humanities.

Basically, art mirrored society until the 1950s and 1960s when artists began see themselves as above or apart from society, instead of being part of it. This has not been to the benefit to the quality of art or the general public's appreciation of art.

I have a history degree and work in that field, but I grew up working with my hands and back. Much of the work was pure drudgery labor, but enough was creative and it left you with a feeling of satisfaction -- my hands and skill built that.

I was the only person in my graduate school program who had done anything with their hands. The only person who had engaged in pure physical labor meshed with creative skills. Once I got over my amazement that they couldn't assemble a shelf from Target, my appreciation for my upbringing increased tremendously.

Today, these people are accomplished historians, but their understanding of work, creativity, craft, etc. within the history they write still rings with a standoffish academic knowledge of the topics, rather than an intrinsitic understanding.

People need to be well-rounded in their types of work and their social structure. It reduces their ability to express contempt -- both deliberate and unconscious.

chrisnavin.com said...

I think Paglia is stuck in the 60's. That's what she may mean by the authentic cultural energies, the ones released when she was young.

She's on the materialism/spiritualism dichotomy which is always important in a society with a lot of capital moving around, if not a capitalistic one. The 'where shall we find meaning?" has been big in the humanities for generations, so she's tapping into that too.

She could be a closet Catholic, too.

THat's my hack reading.

Moose said...

Palladian - true to a point.

Paglia, whom I love, makes the -point regarding the sterilization of art at the hands of people like Warhol. The iPhone is just a continuation of that process, and one that is even more insidious due to its availability supposed infallibility.

Tools have a way of making people think a certain way. Remember the old adage regarding a man with a hammer.

Much of what passes for art these days seems - to me - trivial or completely irrelevant to my fine arts background. It could just be my history as an oil painter, but I find much of what is art today to be lacking in "soul" for want of a better term - just like the iPhone.

Mitch H. said...

Spirituality is by definition numinous and not embodied in physical things, but rather ideas and emotions evoked by things. Spirituality being the milquetoast bullshit term for the ecstatic response, that which the audience brings to the art experience.

It's funny that she cites Rothko, Pollack, and Mondrian, who are pretty much the epitome of soulless, cynical 20th Century abstraction. There is as much ideological content in a Rothko atrocity as in a powered-down iPad, and considerably less once you've turned the device on and observed the contents, the tracks of the owner's mind. These mid-century artists turned their art into tools, things - a sort of elaborate class of funhouse mirror, to reflect the viewer's education back at the audience. There is no more of the artist in these works than you might find of the craftsman in a dollar-store mirror. Ultimately anonymous, and thus empty "art" might as well be a tool for the masturbatory status-stroking of the viewer.

Of course, I'm basically echoing her hero Warhol in the above paragraph. Which makes it very strange that she'd end that essay by talking bosh about spirituality and the Abstractionists. Paglia always did strike me as self-negating, fundamentally confused in her thinking. In that way, she is very much the heir to her mentor, Marshall McLuhan - a dizzy, self-infatuated, giddy fool.

deborah said...

Speaking of "2001: A Space Odyssey," the iPhone rather reminds me of the obelisk.

Cokaygne, what kind of, and how much, art is produced in a totalitarian society?

Is a princess phone art? Yes. When I was young, I had access to a Selectric typewriter for term papers. Magic. But a turn of the last century typewriter was also beautiful and magical to its contemporary beholder. One of my favorite themes is the Technium, a word coined by Jim Kelly, that talks of humanity merging with its technology. There are interviews on Bloggingheads and Econtalk with him, about his book, 'What Technology Wants.'

I understand that the phone and the typewriter are tools, but they are also elegant, and required designing. And also automobiles are art, allowing you to merge with your environment in new and fantastic ways. As some point out, these tools yield other art. Today's shows like Madmen, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, etc., are works of art, far and above the old mini-series format, available on thin, pretty, shiny discs.



phx said...

So some of you think disposable stuff, even teevee shows, qualify as art, too?

deborah said...

Mitch H. said...
It's funny that she cites Rothko, Pollack, and Mondrian, who are pretty much the epitome of soulless, cynical 20th Century abstraction. There is as much ideological content in a Rothko atrocity as in a powered-down iPad, and considerably less once you've turned the device on and observed the contents, the tracks of the owner's mind. These mid-century artists turned their art into tools, things - a sort of elaborate class of funhouse mirror, to reflect the viewer's education back at the audience. There is no more of the artist in these works than you might find of the craftsman in a dollar-store mirror. Ultimately anonymous, and thus empty "art" might as well be a tool for the masturbatory status-stroking of the viewer.

*~ *~ *~

http://cmybacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/rothko_cookies.jpg

The Crack Emcee said...

chrisnavin.com,

I think Paglia is stuck in the 60's. That's what she may mean by the authentic cultural energies, the ones released when she was young.

Actually, being a NewAger, that would be the 70s, but your point is valid.

chickelit said...

Yashu reminds: Of course, this goes back to a common origin in the Greek term techne.

There's also technetium, the first artificial element, as a reminder. link

yashu said...

Great blog post, chickelit! Learned some very cool things.

Kirk Parker said...

"humanity merging with its technology"

My KX and I were like that.

Mitch H.,

Even granting all that, she makes me think and reconsider, and that's worth the price of admission even for those times when I end up going, "Nahhhh, she's all wet."

yashu said...

So some of you think disposable stuff, even teevee shows, qualify as art, too?

Depends on the TV show. Remember that Dickens first published many of his novels in serial form too, through newspapers. Pretty disposable.

But you can (re)read a Dickens novel in its entirety, and can (re)watch an entire series on DVDs.

I think the long-form narrative of the TV series is a unique genre with a great deal of potential; and IMHO there have been TV shows that I'd say qualify as art, for sure.

Tarzan said...

If I read a Buddhist sutra on my iPad, does it have a spiritual dimension?

The thing that really sucks is, unlike the sutras written on paper, I can't burn that freekin' iPad on the lonely Tibetan mountain top when it gets cold.

Sure, I can play Angry Birds, but it just ain't the same.

ricpic said...

Most artists, no, make that all artists, are makers, which is to say they are struggling with and against the obdurateness of materials in order to achieve something and get somewhere, they know neither what nor where. They work in the dark their whole lives and occasionally what they make they know not how "works." And that is the great day. That is the day that makes it all worthwhile. The next day...the next day is the same mountain to climb. Plus it's steeper. All of this, all of what they go through has nothing to do with spiritual. The word spiritual has nothing to do with it. But it is a word that comforts aesthetes.