Sunday, August 09, 2015

Leonard B Meyer in 1967 observing that Romantic individualism had been displaced by a literally more corporate approach to the arts

... The genius, the brilliant creator struggling alone with momentous discoveries or decisive decisions, has given way to the research group, the managerial team, and the governing committee. The arts, particularly the arts of mass media, also involve group activity in which the final product (a more precise word than creation)--a motion picture, television show, or Broadway musical--is the result of conference and compromise among script writer, director, actors, producer, and so forth. Impersonality characterizes human relationships: the master-pupil relationship has given way to the class of 500 and the television lecture; the physician-patient relationship has been replaced by the clinic of efficient but detached specialists; the intimacy of the personal has yielded to the impersonal mass.

In the arts, impersonality has taken different forms. In general, it has meant that "we must no longer confuse humanism with romantic individuality or with an anthropomorphic view that put the self at the center of things."

Music, The Arts, and Ideas
Leonard B Meyer
copyright (c) 1967 University of Chicago
ISBN 0-226-52143-5
page 155

So as of basically half a century ago popular art had been revealed to be a group project. Durkin's eagerness to dismantle the ideologies of "authorship" and "authenticity" in Decomposition doesn't go far enough.  What he really would need to do is blow up the legitimacy of the entire Romantic era as an ideological movement.  But progressive politics more or less depends on taking precisely that ideological idealism as given. 

Even for those who are ostensibly traditionalist, the ideology of self-discovery and self-refinement is more or less a given.  Meyer mentions this:

few traditionalists have given way to total despair, to nihilism. Most have sought and found some sort of meaning and purpose in existence. Often these have been found to lie in the discovery and perfection of the self--a state of secular grace in which the human will or spirit is specified, shaped, and refined by the choices and commitments made by the individual. Such purification and self-realization through what we undergo--what we suffer--is not a new goal. Rather, as Susan Sontag points out, it is a secular "translation" of an established doctrine, an instance of "the latest and most powerful legacy of the Christian tradition of introspection, opened up by Paul and Augustine, which equates the discovery of the self with the discovery of the suffering self. For the modern consciousness, the artist (replacing the saint) is the exemplary sufferer."
page 230

As Martha Rosler put it, artists have had a lot invested in having a literally messianic self-perception and this may be as an emotional reaction to inevitably being the servants of whatever patronage empire was in place:
Especially since the romantics, artists have routinely harbored messianic desires, the longing to take a high position in social matters, to play a transformative role in political affairs; this may be finally understood as a necessary—though perhaps only imaginary—corrective to their roles, both uncomfortable and insecure, as handmaidens to wealth and power.

Paradoxically viewing the result of the creative process as an actual product rather than as a distillation of the transcendence of an individual soul might be the real solution to the actual problem.  Durkin's best point in Decomposition is that even the most solitary act of creativity is still a social action toward a social end. The shame of even this good idea is that because Durkin avoids committing to the proposal that there are aesthetic criteria that could or should be used to assess art as art, all that's left are the identity markers of a social community and with only that left over what do we inevitably crash into?  The question of the authenticity of membership in said communities.

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