Moving on from Cheap and Plenty

Waste – where does it all come from, where does it all go? In a closed system (Earth), a little of it goes everywhere and all of it goes nowhere. We ‘deal’ with waste by putting it out of view, all the while we make more stuff, want more stuff, buy more stuff, sell more stuff, invent fake stuff to buy and sell, even if it’s a ponzi scheme [Narrator: It’s a ponzi scheme].

Now comes the lament that the good days of cheap goods and easy access to them is coming to an end. It is but a scare tactic. And from the perspective of waste – and not only that – were those days so good? The ethos, such as it is, of disposable _____ (goods, culture, food) creates a self-fulfilling emptiness. We could argue that cultivation of these seeds of despair have bloomed and blossomed, and as we feast upon them, they only serve to further famish. Why? What’s the mystery? From wanting nothing issues the inability to figure out what is wanted, what is meaning, what’s it’s all for. As the noted philosopher Jethro Bodine reminds us, “naught from naught equals naught.”

We shudder at the very thought of empty shelves or infringements on long commutes, when fewer shelves and shorter drives represent a signal turn for the better. But gladly to rush into the arms of division and destruction only to maintain the misery fix, we’re only the worse and will fight to keep it.

These failings are ours, but within them lay great tools of rebuilding – not more new things, but better new selves. All of our many advantages were not achieved just to make money off of money, but to make music – whether that means actual notes and tones to you or not – to enjoy and enjoin.

How to channel the urge to exploit? Realize every instance of the act reserves a double portion for the actor and we won’t need to worry with saving the Earth (closed system) when we get serious about saving ourselves.

Two good shoes and all.

Dollar Values

A digression on dollar values, with color accents. An essay by Jed Perl on the occasion of a book on Thomas Kinkade’s painting; a review titled, appropriately enough, Bullshit Heaven. snip from p.2:

Karal Ann Marling, a professor at the University of Minnesota and a proud collector of all things Kinkade, strikes me as almost guileless, though I wouldn’t put it past her to be giving me a campy wink, too. In any event, she opens her essay by explaining with apparent delight that “the detachable flap on the remittance envelopes of no fewer than three of my credit card bills this month” offer the opportunity to buy one of Kinkade’s lighthouse lithographs for $9.95. You cannot argue with her when she declares that “it is one thing to buy a Picasso at auction in New York with all the attendant hoopla, and quite another to wallow in ‘collectibles,’ including checks, pictures sold through credit-card companies, resin figurines based on old Norman Rockwell magazine covers, and the kinds of dust-catchers collected by little old ladies who also collect cats.” What seems to have eluded Marling is the fact that for most of us a Picasso is not something to buy at an auction but something to look at in a museum or in a reproduction. And here is a big part of the problem. For many of the authors involved in this book, dollar value appears to be almost the only salient value. By this logic, a Kinkade reproduction that is specially hand colored and therefore costs more than a Picasso poster deserves the same kind of attention, if not more.

But in an art world where auction prices are more closely followed than critical opinions, why should this not be the case? At a time when Lisa Yuskavage, an artist no more or less schlocky than Thomas Kinkade, is exhibiting at the blue chip David Zwirner Gallery, which also represents the estate of an old fashioned austere modernist such as Donald Judd, the wonder may be that anybody feels any need at all to justify their interest in Kinkade’s crap. And yet I detect a note of something like belligerence in even the most unabashed of the cheerleaders in this collection, the artist and art critic Jeffrey Vallance, who exhibits his own work in cutting edge galleries in Los Angeles and New York. He opens his essay by proudly announcing that “I am writing this from my handsome Kinkade La-Z-Boy recliner”—and it is as if he were saying, “Take that, you snotty readers.”

Vallance has the distinction of having organized what he calls “the first-ever contemporary art world exhibition of the works of Thomas Kinkade,” which some might take as an elitist declaration that the exhibitions of Kinkade’s work in America’s malls do not count. But no matter. Vallance’s essay, with pithily labeled subsections, is like a ride in a clown car. His first meeting with Kinkade was in the Kinkade Chapel that was set up in the exhibition at California State University in Fullerton to showcase the artist’s religious works. Here is Vallance. “The only way I can describe the scene is that it reminded me of the legendary account of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger kneeling together in the Oval Office. … A Nixonian glow emanated from Thom’s countenance as he divulged his divinely inspired design for the Kinkade empire.”

Two forms of sacrilege

When we live as though certain things do not matter, we should not be surprised at the result. What do you have to learn from beauty? From the essay by Roger Scruton:

Those thoughts return us to my earlier argument. We can see the modernist revolution in the arts in Greenberg’s terms: art rebels against the old conventions, just as soon as they become colonised by kitsch. For art cannot live in the world of kitsch, which is a world of commodities to be consumed, rather than icons to be revered. True art is an appeal to our higher nature, an attempt to affirm that other kingdom in which moral and spiritual order prevails. Others exist in this realm not as compliant dolls but as spiritual beings, whose claims on us are endless and unavoidable. For us who live in the aftermath of the kitsch epidemic, therefore, art has acquired a new importance. It is the real presence of our spiritual ideals. That is why art matters. Without the conscious pursuit of beauty we risk falling into a world of addictive pleasures and routine desecration, a world in which the worthwhileness of human life is no longer clearly perceivable.

The paradox, however, is that the relentless pursuit of artistic innovation leads to a cult of nihilism. The attempt to defend beauty from pre-modernist kitsch has exposed it to postmodernist desecration. We seem to be caught between two forms of sacrilege, the one dealing in sugary dreams, the other in savage fantasies. Both are forms of falsehood, ways of reducing and demeaning our humanity. Both involve a retreat from the higher life, and a rejection of its principal sign, which is beauty. But both point to the real difficulty, in modern conditions, of leading a life in which beauty has a central place.

Read the whole thing, especially the bit between the lines. Unfortunately, kitsch represents the ultimate in sustainability. Fortunately, remedies abound.

Thanks, Andy.