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There’s Too Much Art

Sunday, May 20, 2007
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Back a few years ago I had a ritual: every Thursday I would head up to a little Korean place on Bloor St. for lunch, and in that time I would read the latest issues of both NOW and Eye magazines (for those who don’t know, these are weekly ‘arts and culture’ papers based in Toronto — our equivalent of the Village Voice). So for a while I was pretty in touch with what was going on — or at least, in terms of what was ‘hipster-chic’ at the time.

Eventually though, I started to feel a certain fatigue. I would read about a particular band or a certain art-house movie and think ‘I should see that,’ but then before I had a chance there was already some other new great band or movie to see, and this whole cycle just kept tending to repeat itself. I just found myself too busy with work or life or trying to create my own art that I inevitably didn’t have time for anyone else’s.

Now it’s gotten even worse. Now I find myself actively disinterested in most new stuff coming out — new bands, new movies, new authors (I’ve still got about forty books sitting on my shelf that I haven’t read yet — why would I care about who won the Booker Prize this year? Am I supposed to run out and buy that or something?) I’ve been steadily whittling down my tastes and trying to determine what is truly important to me and what I could do without. Ergo, I really don’t care about new bands right now. I care about new material from bands I already know I like, hence my recent acquisition of the latest Björk and Emm Gryner records (the former, great — a positive return to early form; the latter, whiny and annoying), and hence my excitement to see Spider-man 3 on opening weekend (and we all know how that turned out).

TV shows? Ha — forget it. While I love good tv for its unparalleled ability for serial storytelling, it’s so incredibly time consuming that there’s very little chance of my ever giving any new shows a chance. I’m quite sure that Lost, Heroes, 24 etc. are all great shows — just don’t expect me to watch them any time soon (if my family wins the lottery and I don’t have to work I’ll take a week and rifle through all of them on DVD, I swear).

Where does it all leave me though? Am I doomed to hang on resolutely to those things I came to love in my formative period, disregard all else and become a whiny old man complaining about how ‘kids don’t read the classics anymore?’ Or do I have a valid argument?

We’re in a time where ‘culture’ is more mass-produced then ever before. Now — with the internet, programs that let anyone with a laptop make music, DV cameras which anyone can use, creative-writing programs at universities that ‘teach’ anyone to become a writer — you can’t throw a stick without hitting someone with some sort of artistic aspiration. Problem is, most of these people really shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing — how many of them are actually any good?

I believe that the percentage of the population who wants to be an artist hasn’t really changed since time immemorial, it’s just that the majority of bad or mediocre stuff never saw the light of day because it took either a publishing house or a record label or a major studio to get it out there, and they tend to be very picky (I know that there were obvious flaws in this process as well — I’m not trying to idealize it); but now, anyone can write anything, throw it up on a blog, send it to their 200 friends on Facebook and expect to be adored. Or a couple of guys can get together and make a bunch of songs on their computers, throw it up on MySpace, do the whole internet social networking thing, accumulate 60,000 contacts who have basically done the same thing and then . . . what?

I think it might all come down to that huge, age-old question: what is the purpose of art? Is it for the fulfillment of others or the fulfillment of oneself? I used to think it was a bit of both — that ‘he who writes about himself writes of the world entire’ (I forget where that quote comes from), but now there’s so much saturation, I’m really not sure of what anything is anymore. Anyone with a blog can fancy themselves a poet and just start ‘self-publishing’ stuff; out of the millions of crappy poems you could potentially read on said blogs, what about the few that actually are really good? Would you even notice it at this point, or simply add them to your blogroll and move on? And how many people actually buy published poetry anyway? It’s like trading ‘art’ around like baseball cards, in a way.

I’m going to go read a book right now — maybe making a dent into my bookshelf archive will make me feel better.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, May 22, 2007 7:44 am

    I think you have to pick your battles. I go through periods where I think I have to see every ‘important’ film out there, even though I know this is impossible, and at other times I just don’t care, and I’ll go see Spiderman 3.

    Same with books. (If Spiderman 3 was a book, of course).

    With music, I’ve always been a bit behind the times (hey, have you heard of this great new band called The Arcade Fire? I hear they’re pretty good).

    Still, there’s nothing like the rush of viewing, hearing, reading, a great, new piece of art for the first time, and those experiences will always keep me coming back.

  2. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, May 22, 2007 9:22 am

    But then there’s the feeling that comes along, where you fall in love with something and it’s so important to you, and you add it to the list of other stuff that you feel the same away about, and then that list becomes longer and longer and longer and then it’s damn cumbersome and then the old stuff doesn’t mean as much anymore . . .

    I read an article by the Star’s Lit. critic once, where he was commenting on the fact that all of the books he regularly told people were his favourites, or the books he would claim to be the most important he had ever read, he hadn’t actually read in over 20 years in some cases. He wondered how he had allowed himself to continue to hang on to those books as these defining moments in his literary life when he admittedly could remember little about them as books themselves — it was more just the impression they had on him that he remembered.

    Where was I going with this . . . oh yeah. Sometimes, you get to a point where you just have to shut it down either because a) you just get fatigued with the sheer amount of stuff out there, and b) you don’t want to lose those old things that you hold so dear, or risk having them supplanted by something else.

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