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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Makes an Artistic Work a "Classic" ?

As proof that the world is coming to an end, the collapse chorus claims (alongside Charles Murray) that no artistic classics have been made since 1950.  Their definition of a classic is somewhat murky, but falls somewhere along these lines -- "Something respectable professors in tweed coats can teach college courses about and have philosophical debates over," and "Something that is still popular and widely known even after 100 years."

This was also Charles Murray's definition of a classic.  It isn't a terrible definition, and it usually does sort out the best work of the past, but obviously it is useless in determining the great art of the present.  By definition, art from 1950 on is at most 60 years old, therefore it is impossible for any work of art to be a classic after 1910 according to this 'must still be popular after 100 years' rule.  Given our inability to time travel, it is impossible to prove that the art we feel is great today will be popular 100 years down the road, and therefore there is always going to be plausible deniability concerning whether some recent work of art is truly 'great' or not.

What's worse, this 100 year requirement doesn't take into account how swiftly time has accelerated in the modern age.  For one thing, the population of the world is what, six times as high as it was 60 years ago?  Therefore 10 years of current time is equivalent to 60 years of 1950 time.  IE, if you take into account population, even recent artwork has long since passed the 100 year barrier.  How should one judge time?  As the number of revolutions the Earth makes around the sun?  A measurement of change in the human condition?  The sum total of mental human experience?

If humans have thought, say, ten trillion thoughts from 1990 to 1991, and have also thought ten trillion thoughts from 1,000 BC to 0 AD, then those two time periods are equivalent.  This is a better calender of human experience than the solar calender, which more properly reflects the experience of plants than humans.  Since history is the chronicle of human events, not planetary rotations, it's meaningless to treat a year with low population as equivalent to a year with high population.

It may well be that none of the 'classics' of today remain popular after 100 revolutions of the Earth around the sun.  Perhaps by then, all of the art we thought was great will be long since forgotten and discarded, replaced by newer and better versions of the same.  But this doesn't mean it was bad.  Said art could be far better than anything made in the past -- in an age of progress the old will always be discarded for the new.  In fact, your best chance of being a 'classic' is to live in an age of mediocrity or backwardness, so that you stand out above your peers and nothing emerges that can beat you.  In an age of progress, even extremely good art can be instantly eclipsed by something better that comes out the year after yours.  Why should mediocre art surrounded by dwarfs be considered better, because it was retained, than great art surrounded by giants, just because it was discarded?

The only reason the Greeks wrote so many 'classics' we still admire today is because Europe became a wasteland for the next thousand years and didn't manage to contribute any further art that could supplant said classics.  Greco-Roman culture is great, I've read most of their works and they were definitely worth reading, but does anyone think the same works, published today, would last two thousand years and be world renowned?  It is precisely because they were written so long ago that they are marveled over, not due to their intrinsic worth, but solely due to their relative worth compared to what everyone else was capable of writing in the past.  They are mediocrities surrounded by dwarfs, there is nothing genuinely superb about them that could compete evenly with the modern age.  If we consider how small, and how illiterate, and how stupid, the populations of the past were, it's no wonder the few decent works that were made in the past survived for so long.  It was impossible to replace them or improve upon them, not because of the inherent merit of the work, but due to the worthlessness of the populace that was transmitting it.  Today we could produce a dozen works as great as the entire Greco-Roman corpus in the blink of an eye, and we do.  A contest between modern and past art would be like a contest between our Olympians and the Greco-Roman Olympians.  Our technology, sophistication, and training far surpasses theirs.  We respect the venerability of the past, and how far ahead of their times the Greeks and Romans were, but they'd look pathetic if they actually had to compete with the geniuses and talents of today.

So if time (as measured by the solar calender) is not an accurate measurement of greatness, what should be?  Let's move on to the next requirement, that respectable professors are still talking about it in college courses.  This might work in a non-biased age, but at present I have no respect for the profession of professor or the College educations being disseminated.  They are full of propaganda, lies, and lazy, prejudiced, unthinking hive-mind blobs who don't deserve the title of intellectuals.  So long as college is a gathering of deceivers, it is pointless to consult their judgment on artistic merit.  We will know when college professors' judgments can be trusted again -- right after they admit the truth about race differences, sex differences, and all of the moral implications thereof.  For now, the role of a college professor is A) to keep his own job by covering his ass -- B) to feed his or her students the new religion of egalitarianism so that the ruling powers keep a choke hold on power and legitimacy.  All other instruction is influenced by these two overriding priorities.  Therefore all art criticism will be, like in the USSR, simply a question of whether it properly reflects the proper priorities of 'Socialist Realism.'  This is why, say, modern art gets so much approval among college professors.  It helps propagate the egalitarian myth that everything is equally bad and everything is relative and nothing matters, and therefore is praised to the heavens even though common sense can see the Emperor has no clothes.

Having discarded the two possible measurements Charles Murray and the collapse chorus relied upon, what would I set up in preference to help find great art in the modern age?

First, a simple definition:  Great art is that art which is full of Truth, Beauty, and Love.  I hold that Truth, Beauty, and Love are all objective, universal absolutes and therefore all independent human observers can equally perceive them.  Intelligence and discrimination (the art of separating the good from the bad) help people see these traits more clearly, just as stupidity and coarseness (the inability to separate the good from the bad) cause people to see these traits less clearly -- but even the coarsest, stupidest human will still see through the glass darkly that there is something divine inside great art.  No one is immune to its touch, aside from some insane psychopath or brain-dead retard, or people who intentionally refuse to judge something fairly and openmindedly.  If it has Truth, Beauty, and Love, people will find it.  By corollary, I can extend this definition to say that wherever I notice something has Truth, Beauty, or Love, then that work of art really does have these traits and that any other human would also perceive them, especially if they shared the same intelligence and discrimination as me.  Therefore my judgment is a sufficient indicator of whether art is great or not, without having to consult anyone else.

It's helpful to explain why something is great, though, rather than just saying, "Trust me," so I'll try to break greatness down further.  There are many symptoms of a great work of art, a 'classic' for our times:

1)  It is memorable.  Once you've seen it, your mind keeps floating back to it and referring to it in later conversations.  You could also say, something that makes an impact.  No matter how much time passes you still treasure the experience of that artwork in your heart and the memory of that experience never strays far from your inner thoughts.

2)  It is popular, especially among the smart fraction.  Where there is smoke there is fire.  If a lot of independent observers all end up liking the same thing, especially if they're intelligent and discriminating, it is almost certainly great.  Popularity in the modern age is much more demanding than popularity in the past -- there is much higher competition for someone's entertainment time and many more people in the world.  If something is popular even amidst these hurdles, there's a high chance it's great.

3)  It has high replay value.  Whether it's a book you end up reading many times, or a movie you view many times, or a picture you stare at over and over, or a song you put on repeat track and add to a best of playlist, great art is something that endures.  It surpasses the benefits of novelty and claims an entertainment value superior to the run of the mill.

4)  It engages your mind and your heart.  It makes you think and learn, but it also makes you laugh and cry.  This is the height of artistic accomplishment.

5)  If the art is inspiring.  If you feel like a better person after having experienced the work of art, even if it doesn't reflect very tangibly on your behavior, odds are you've been touched by the divine.

I can say that Ender's Game, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Clannad, One Piece, Star Wars, and many other works all fit this definition, and therefore are modern Classics.

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