Thursday, July 8, 2010

High Art

High art, the kind we see displayed in museums, awarded at film festivals, literary prizes, or acclaimed by music critics is the kind of art the serves to set the boundaries of what is proper and admissible. It is how the elites, the wealthy and the insiders, decide what the rest of us should watch, read, and listen to. It sets the 'reasonable' boundaries of discourse. If we agree, if we accept what passes for high art, we can feel a certain sense of belonging even though we don't get the privilege of deciding what high art is. Or maybe, if we strive to be some music, or film critic, we can participate in picking the winners and loser who litter the history of art.

Since no human system is infallible (ask British Petroleum!), when something slips through the cracks, when something truly subversive makes it all the way to the top, all the better. Such 'glitches' in the system reinforce the illusion that we live in a free and democratic society, a society in which we are all supposed to be active equal participants (or so the myth goes). The true free market society believer, might say something like: "How can you possibly say we don't live in a free society when someone like Noam Chomsky is free to spew if anti-American bile?" And while true, I wonder why a person considered one of the leading living public intellectuals by the intelligentsia is rarely, if ever, featured in the corporate media. But mine is a rhetorical question, and this very fact demonstrates Chomsky's own propaganda model.

In a recent development, film festivals have been boasting the democratizing effect of their audience awards. Wow, We the people get to decide! Until I ask myself what kind of people can actually go to Cannes, or Venice's Lido, the most exclusive places on earth, to attend such events. I once attended the Venice Film Festival, when I was young and I thought that art was something more than egotistical people making a living by entertaining the elites, by making them feel they too have a soul, as well as entertaining distracting the rest of us, from the least to the most discerning. But all I could see were tuxedos and refined talk, Armani suits chatting with de la Renta gowns while sipping french bubbly champaign. Beethoven is famous for having once exclaimed: "I don't write for the galleries!" And so it still is, because that's where the money is and we all know how much Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) is really concerned about Africa.

As a side note, I just discovered that Giorgio Armani and other fashion designers are proudly designing the uniforms of italian troops in Afghanistan, as well as the uniforms of the police and carabinieri (who pays for that, I wonder?). I am not sure what this has to do with high art, but it sure has something to do with the suits worn by the elites at high art gatherings. And it may just be me, but these uniforms have an eerie resemblance with black shirts. Maybe this is supposed to remind me of something ancient, something that happened almost a century ago somewhere in Europe, a war of some kind, but I just can't remember what that was. Maybe it's because I had entrusted my memory to an iPhone and now I've lost it.

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