Sunday, July 26, 2015

Future Art

The archaeological record indicates that humans have always created what we now call art. From a qualitative standpoint, I don't think there has been any substantial improvement since the Chauvet cave paintings, the epic poems of Homer or the plays of Euripides. The aspects that change over time are the social function, the media, the style, the materials and the subject matter, but not the quality, though some periods do inevitably produce better art than others. As I wrote earlier, I don't think that the contemporary arts, or at least the ones that are widely known and with which I have some familiarity, are particularly good by historical standards, and I attribute this to commercialization, which is not to say that there isn't some better contemporary art that is presently inaccessible to the public for one reason or another.

Extrapolating into the future, if you assume that we won't become extinct and that we won't be replaced by an evolutionary successor to ourselves, I think art will become more important than ever as a pastime, because we simply may have nothing better to do. This scenario assumes that we will remain more or less the same as we are now, automation will obviate the need for most human labor, the political systems globally will maintain a higher level of equality than at present, and human conflict will fall to significantly lower levels. It is a rosy picture that may end up depending on dumb luck to materialize, but I think it is worth discussing if one takes an optimistic view on human destiny. The principal alternatives are gloomy if not unsettling.

Speculating this way, what is interesting to me is how good art would be if you took money out of the equation. In the current art world, the flow of money is a stand-in for quality measurement, with the art that draws the most money often becoming the de facto important art as far as the public is concerned. I don't think Damien Hirst, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg or Madonna are likely to make it into any future lists of great artists, and it would be an improvement for humanity if its members somehow managed to become more discerning. If money were removed from the calculation of quality, it seems plausible that a more meaningful form of measurement might replace it.

In a world in which people had no financial pressures and an abundance of free time, everyone could become an artist of one kind or another if they so chose, and this would change the rules of the game entirely. Idle people like me might, for example, write a blog as a form of art, take up painting or write poems. Systems might even be devised to provide recognition to those who felt that what they produced was important despite the absence of monetary ramifications. No doubt social status would somehow work its way into any reward scheme, but it most likely would be far less pernicious than what we experience under the current system of financial recompense.

Let this be a word of advice to those who produce art now under circumstances which they find unfavorable. Produce your art as you see fit, forget the present and think about a less philistine future, even if that means that you must earn a living doing something else.

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