Thursday, September 30, 2021

Low to High

How high can you go; how low can you go? Well, it's a matter of perspective, even though our perspective is skewed these days. It would be better to wonder what being stuck in the middle feels like.

Building off last week's subject, I wanted to talk a bit about the dichotomy between Low Art and High Art, what the terms represent, and both are essential for thriving artistic scenes. This subject has been coming up more and more in recent times, and after last week's post on how we are currently trapped in pastiche and parody it should probably be reflected on, at least a little. 

What is Low and High Art, and why are they both extremely important to have in any culture? The answer is simpler, and more complex, than one might realize.

Western culture has been so degraded by mindless subversion and adolescent snark masquerading as insight that we've even lost sight of what art itself consists of being about. We can't even define what the definition of art is. Just attempt to ask some random person and you'll get weak responses like "Everything is art!" or "Everybody has their own opinion on what makes art!" or the like. It's very pedestrian, shallow, cowardly, and completely and utterly incorrect. This idea you have been taught about what art is fortunately has no bearing on reality.

Think about it. No one, not a single soul, honestly believes "Modern Art" is actually art. We all know this, even if we don't say it out loud. It is a money laundering scam for hipster urbanites to get handout money while saying nothing and doing nothing except sniffing their own behinds and puffing their own chests. What they are making is not art, and everyone knows it, but we don't say it because we've been trained not to think beyond the surface level.

And this precisely the problem!

Art is very straightforward. It is a piece of work made to a specific standard. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. What is that standard? The one forged by tradition in the spirit of those who came before us. You are following a line of ancestors, and working towards the future, even when you strive to make something "new" or "original" or whatever you think it is. Art is tradition realized. Denying this is the root cause of Modern Art's abysmal state. 

To throw out all care and respect for your ancestors is to say your ego is of higher importance than the rest of humanity--and that is exactly what "Modern Art" is saying. It is not art, it is objective trash that has no positive value to humanity except as a comedy piece. And that is why it is only ever brought up as punchline by sane people to mock the insane. Because that is all it is or will ever be good for. It is anti-art.

Abandon the standard, abandon the art. This is slightly different if you are creating your own form, but that is rarer than supposed revolutionaries actually think it is. Even then, there are standards and ideas you are learning from those who came before to apply them to your very original work. Even early punk music, supposedly a revolution of anger and noise, contained surprisingly accurate rockabilly covers. To lose the beating heart of tradition is to fade into irrelevancy with humanity and the world. Looking into yourself instead of outward is no good.

It would take a particularly out of touch individual to believe this isn't where the western world is right now. The endless onslaught of plastic-dripped nostalgia and snarky adolescent attitudes is a sign of stagnation with no way forward. We did this to ourselves, and the only way out is to take a step back and reassess what got us here. Only then can we change course. We're lost at home because we thought we knew this place like the back of our hands. Clearly, we do not. We never actually did, at any point.

So why is the above definition of art not used anymore? Why was it replaced by its satanic opposite? Simple, because certain people didn't like that there were certain standards and worked to replace them with their own nonsense instead. There are countless examples of industries currently on death watch because of these anti-art and pro-ego attitudes seizing control of subcultures. Unfortunately for them, in their rush to say those that came before don't count, they have also disqualified themselves from the conversation and can be safely ignored.

If your argument is that the past is bad and should be replaced with your material instead, do not be shocked when the generation after you does the same to you. This is the monster you built. It was never sustainable or built on any firm foundation. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that these changes are completely disposable and created by those that had no authority to change them in the first place. Hence the current death spiral of just about every artistic industry in the west. They did it to themselves, and they deserve no pity for it.

We are living in the scrapyard of what was once a motorway. Once we pulled out the loadbearing beams, the structure fell down around us.

Endless defilement of heroism killed western comics, abandonment of country and the blues killed most guitar music, throwing away stuntmen and practical effects lost the human touch to "B" cinema, turning away from higher subjects and humanity destroyed "A" cinema, writing for anti-social and anti-human degenerate writing circles killed publishing, and the quest for an extra dollar at the expense of craft killed western animation.

It's all dead now.

All of these things are currently gone because every one of them deliberately turned from what made them what they were to begin with. They did it to themselves. However, they also refuse to change course or acknowledge what they've done to their own industries. This is why things like NewPub have emerged from the cracks to offer more to audiences. Art finds a way, even when those supposedly in charge of it completely drop the ball.

But this is the world we live in right now. Half of it wants to destroy the other half (and themselves in the process) and they got to that point by living on a code that puts subversion and deliberate backwardness as the be all standard of progress and health. Is it no wonder that we live in a stagnated culture of broken people?

This stunted nature of being called modern culture has led to a stunted attitude among those given the keys to the proverbial castle we call art. Essentially, the people in control or those who shouldn't be. This isn't a dig--choosing successor's to empires isn't easy, but choosing successors that wish to destroy all you've built is disastrously inane.

And yet, that is exactly what happened.

We can go into this a bit more. First one must understand the mentality of the ones meant to be in charge of the wider western culture.

To begin with, the Low and High Art terms do not refer to the quality of the Art being discussed. It is about where they aim their arrows. They are complimentary, and both intensely important to every single art scene that has ever existed. Without both, you are doomed to fail. This, of course, means each have been mortally wounded by modernism. That's par for the course these days, though. What we need to discuss is what makes their differences so vital to art.

That they are two sides of a coin is what is important here. The reason these terms exist is because they refer to the position from which the story is being told from. Low starts low and aims High; High starts high and aims Low. The former is told from a low position looking up, and the latter is told from a high position looking down.

Allow me to expand. Low Art is escapist in nature, meant to start from the baseline of normal life and moves into looking outward into the world around them. This is where you get things like pulps, b-movies, comics, games, and the like. They work by starting inward and moving outward. This is what is meant by weird fiction being the beating heart of adventure fiction. All weird tales use the abnormal swooping in on normality to begin the tale. 

In order to make good Low Art, one must have a love of others and a desire to connect with them. We start from ourselves, a low position, and turn outwards to see those around us and how we can grow to meet each other. In essence, we move from Low to High.

High Art is not the same thing. It is reflective and thoughtful, insular, and meant to start from a high position as in looking down on creation from above, making an observation about what one sees in the complex tapestry of existence, and then zooming in on it. You start from a high position, and you descend towards it, sort of like tactical bombing. Think of works like Brideshead Revisited, The Idiot, or American Psycho, which take a glance at a specific area of creation and bear down on it with full intensity to explore this one piece of it inside and out. 

They start High so they can easily see the full picture they are attempting to fill in by swooping in Low to meet it. This is the exact opposite approach of Low Art, but a very important half of the whole picture. If you don't have some semblance of wonder at creation and humanity, you simply can't make good High Art. You can only make cheap imitation.

Both of these sorts of stories are extremely important and are required to exist for healthy art scenes to grow. You need Low Art for escapism and a reminder of wonder outside yourself and your predicament, and you need High Art to help grow your knowledge of the world you live in to accept your place in it. Hence why they are two sides of the same coin and one who prefers to ignore one or the other is missing a vital piece of the picture.

As you might be able to gather, you're not going to find these stories on an OldPub bookshelf these days. The issue with High and Low Art is that the mainstream has absolutely leveled each of them into a fine paste, gutting them in the process. Audiences no longer get the complete experience of a healthy art scene--they get a cartoonish funhouse version of them.

Today, nobody in the mainstream can make High Art, having no idea how to have higher thoughts and how to apply them to modern life. This is why they focus on shallow, yet aesthetically pretty, experimentation of prose over stories about how nothing actually matters. The fact of the matter is that literature circles are filled with egocentric secularists who can't think in terms beyond 20th century clich├ęs and therefore have nothing to say. They won't see the whole picture of creation, so they cannot bear down on it. Instead have some pornography and gore interspersed with obvious thesaurus usage and narrative gimmicks to distract from the story literally being about nothing. This isn't High Art at all, but they want it to be so very badly.

Conversely, this set also cannot make Low Art either because they do not have a have a higher vision of life beyond what they were told in school. They take simple stories of good and evil and put themselves or cartoonish versions of other people they wish to "raise up" as protagonists and political and social enemies from the Bad Guy group as puppet string versions that they can easily knock down. They aren't aiming high from a low position, they are aiming down into their own foot. As a result, sales in these industries are at an all-time low, and getting lower.

In other words, these chosen successors of the crown are developmentally stunted, and it prevents their art from having impact or connecting to others on a base level. they are speaking a foreign language and think others not speaking it are lower than dogs. As a result, they can only tell the stories that are little more than pastiche on other people's works, only it is worse because they do not understand those who created the things they steal from. The sad truth is that these false kings have nothing to say or contribute, but they think they do because of their vain and undeserved egos.

They are eternally trapped in adolescence, and the only one keeping them there is their own choices. nonetheless, they were given the keys to the kingdom by people who were asleep at the switch, and now our art suffers for it.

One could say a lot about the negatives of social media, but there were a number of good threads on this very topic recently. From twitter, of all places. The speculation as to why those in charge of the western art scene are so juvenile and awkward has been brought up and discussed many times. I decided to compile some of them below. You can search on the site for these threads. They are definitely not difficult to find.

Here are some examples:

This is undeniable, and one would have to lie to themselves to say they have never seen this behavior at all from modern creators. It is, unfortunately, very prevalent in the modern day. The arts are no less infected with this immature attitude than everywhere else. And being that we as artists are meant to lift people up, this is a poisonous mindset to have. How can you create if creation embarrasses you? How can you hope to create meaning if meaning makes you wretch? Judging from the current art scene, you cannot.

The question then has to be asked regarding why this mentality even exists at all. Unfortunately, it is because the subversive art culture that had been growing in the west and constantly watered since the 1930s finally hit its fever pitch after becoming the baseline standard. Now everything must be filtered through a teenage mentality of What Makes Dad Mad Is Good before anything other aspect of the creative process. The subject of "Dad" being any authority figure or annoyance the creator wishes to lash out at, of course.

But this is why it fails.

Starting from this immature position of adolescence to create something leads to art that is neither Low nor High. It isn't anything at all but a glorified tantrum.

This creation isn't Low because it is not looking outward to anything--it is made specifically to be a negative and therefore reactive piece; it isn't High because it is not taking a high position and looking down on anything--some even deliberately call said works "punching up" and wear this immaturity like a badge of pride. However this approach does not looks at the bigger picture, these creators just wish to attack and destroy.

If this sounds childish, it's actually not really. Children don't wish to destroy. This approach is only adolescent.

Perhaps this culture was birthed and fostered by the late 20th century's bubble on unreality that kept kids shielded from actual reality. They grew up without a sense of struggle, familial or fraternal attachment, or higher purpose beyond consuming and indulging in baser pleasures. All they knew was what they had pumped into their brains as young adults in public school. The world was heading toward utopia, after all, so there was no need to look to the old ways. Why would they ever need to grow? They are perfect as they are, right? That is what they were taught and still are teaching to the poor unsuspecting children of today.

You can see this attitude in what were once known as subcultures. These circles were called that because they were smaller parts of a bigger whole. In other words, the word alone signifies being attached to something bigger than they are. It is a humbling term.

So what do they call them now? They call these groups communities, which is the exact wrong thing to call them. What does the word "community" invoke? Well, for those who have lived in them, they refer to neighborhoods one lives their life in and where they volunteer in, meet new people, get married, and grow families with. However, instead of centering on the place they live their physical and spiritual lives, these poor souls instead put that focus on their hobbies. And it has been a disaster for everyone involved.

Basically, "subcultures" turned into "communities" and with it took warped expectations to spaces not built for them to begin with. This is yet another deconstruction of reality that has subverted common sense for those who do not understand reality. It is putting things out of proportion and order, which in turn effects everyone involved.

As an example, let us discuss what happened to the western anime fandom. What was once a subculture for people who liked interesting eastern animation, turned into a clique that has since decided to seize control over the east's scene for itself. It is a bizarre mentality that only makes sense when you remember that you are dealing with permanent adolescents who refuse to grow up. So they just throw snarky quips around instead.

The most important takeaway to the above discussion is that the people "in charge" of the scene are insular, inept, selfish, and completely unaware of what they are trying to seize control of. This is the sort of thing that makes people distrustful of supposed "trusted" institutions or authority. In case you didn't know, this skeptical mentality didn't fall out of the sky. There is a reason for everything, whether we understand that reason or not.

When the supposed experts are only out for their own personal gain above all then you have to wonder at their true motives. How could you trust someone like that? It shows they are more interested in themselves than the subculture the are a part of--no, sorry, I should say "the community they wish to rule" instead. Are you seeing the game for what it is?

But who knows how deeply ingrained a lot of things meant to be "obvious truths" are actually not true at all? Unless you look into it yourself, how can you know? And when those in charge discourage you into looking into it, then how can you help but wonder at their motives? Truth doesn't fear investigation: it welcomes it.

This wouldn't be the case if everything in modern society wasn't run like a high school lunch table, but it is. And that's the biggest, and most embarrassing, tragedy out of all this mess. You are dealing with people who hate you because you aren't sitting at the right lunch table.

Can you give such people respect? I would imagine it must be very difficult.

This comes back around to the topic of High and Low Art. Do you think the people described above, the ones that created a "community" around something that wasn't a community, who don't look deep into their supposed passion, and then think they should be able to assert control over it, are people capable of creating art at all? At best, they will make pastiche, or they will become "critics" that grade on scales out of sync with the actual, normal audience of the subculture. We know this is true, because this is basically every scene for the last twenty years.

The above anime fandom example is just one such example, but you have seen it in other spaces, even those described on this very blog before. It isn't about the art, or the people, or even creation; it is about the ego that isn't getting the due it deserves for just existing. Specifically, it is about control for people who have none.

In other words, it is an adolescent mindset, one that cannot comprehend a world or existence outside their limited space and area of knowledge. They are incomplete, and therefore are incapable of creating anything bigger than themselves. It isn't childish--that is an entirely different thing. Children don't have illusions of grandeur that they won't immediately cop to. This a teenager on the cusp of adulthood that can't quite make that final jump, and maybe they never will. This is someone who will eternally by holed up in their dark room listening to Linkin Park, writing bad poetry, and swearing at mom and Dad for Just Not Getting It. Adolescence is now forever. 

Perish the thought.

We set up a whole society of unreality, brought on by the advances of the industrial revolution, leading us to create a figurative alternate universe in response. This makeshift reality is completely detached from the past, by design, and has no way to build a future. All that remains is decay: the same decay we can clearly see from our perspective in the twenty-first century looking back. We are off the rails and unwilling to get back on to right ourselves. Until we do, things will never improve. forget looking Low or High, we can't even look forwards or backwards.

Art can't really be made in this plastic bubble. It was for a time, but it thrived on novelty and trends which is why so many flash in the pans kept coming at higher and higher frequencies throughout the decades. That is, until the 1990s when there felt like there was a new fad just about every other week. But then with the crash of Cultural Ground Zero finally hitting by century's end, we were due for a slide into the muck. And that is precisely where we have been for quite some time. We finally see the edges of the bubble that desperately needs to be popped.

How do you create Low Art that looks up to higher things when you can't imagine higher things? How can you create High Art when you don't believe there is any bigger picture to look down upon from? The answer to both is that you don't. You can't. 

Instead you rely on shock value, subversion, perversion, and pastiche, to keep the train going. Keep those wheels spinning eternally and hope you can cash out in case the road falls out under you. but this isn't art--it's just vanity. 

In such a climate, High Art no longer really gets made and Low Art has been co-opted by the above adolescent mindset to provide cover for fetishes and misplaced passions. Essentially, Art is secondary to teenage ego.

Can you even tell what year this picture was taken in?

We can even review the above poster's take on the teenage mentality and how to apply it to our modern entertainment landscape. It lines up very easily.

Children uncritically accept everything, only filtering out what is too much for them to process. Teenagers, however, overcompensate for their basic childhood tastes by going hard in the opposite direction to prove just how much Individuality and cool points they have. As a reminder, let me repost the list from earlier.

The teenage attitude:

1. Viscerally disliking and/or ignoring what they do not like

This is self-explanatory. Spend five minutes online and you will see intense hatred of some piece of art, usually frothing and nearly incomprehensible. Only those who sit at the lunch table are acceptable. This mentality tends to center on "childish" and therefore "dumb" pieces of art that must be knocked down a peg. And guess who has the authority to decide that?

2. Mean-spirited irony

This is a key trait. It's the most prevalent adolescent attitude poising art today, a shallow way of ego boosting to put yourself over others. Think about watching movies to mock the people who made these works and call said creatives down. This is different from watching bad movies for enjoyment of insanity or just odd taste. This mentality instead exists as an easy way to boost self-esteem in order to remind yourself how better you are than the idiots you are currently watching. The only type of person that would need to do this would be insecure teenagers that want to feel above it all. And yet you'll catch full grown adults doing this sort of thing today. however, no adults were doing this fifty years ago. The ones that did were rightfully called weird. Yes, including those who mocked The Eye of Argorn back in the 1970s. There is a reason that scene has always been disliked by healthy-minded individuals.

3. Elevating baser tastes to higher levels

When you get to this entry, you begin understand the insecurity issue better. You remember being a teenager and thinking dark, edgy things are inherently cool. Incessant swearing, blood and guts, and nihilism is great . . . it also just so happens to be the complete opposite of the things you liked as a child. And wouldn't you know it that means it must be high class art! So you then spend your time thinking up ways to make it seem like the greatest thing ever. It simply has to be. Then you need to find a way to justify the things you like as having some sort of credibility over other things you don't. It really is that simple. Japan calls such a thing "Chuunibyou" and plays it as the immature joke such a mentality is. In the west, we live it everyday.

Here is the main issue: normal people grow out of this mentality. They don't have the uncritical acceptance of children, nor the posturing ego of the adolescent. Adults like or dislike things for what they are. They do not need the ignorance of the child or the delusion of the teen in order to filter the world through any longer. Being an adult is putting away childish things and realizing the truth of it all. you now know your place in the world. Raging against reality is not something adults do. This is what growing up used to mean.

This doesn't seem to happen much anymore, or at least it isn't as common. You'd be hard pressed to go out and not run into an adult who embodies the above adolescent attitudes, even though they should have left such things behind way back at high school graduation. Then again, what reason would they have to do that? The modern world does not expect or desire you to grow up. This fugue state of modernity will go on forever, won't it? We are evolved now.

There is that ego again!

Unfortunately, we have nurtured and allowed a culture of permanent adolescence to form up around us, keeping society trapped in a limbo state where we cannot move forward. Unless we get out, we will remain stuck in the middle, unable to see the true excitement and wonder that life can potentially offer us. We have willingly crippled ourselves.

You cannot make exciting art if you cannot find the world exciting. And that is more or less where we are right now as a culture. We hate existence itself.

All one would have to do would be to look at the political situation in the west these days. You can find all sorts of supposedly Love-filled people turning to a frothing rage when they meet someone who disagrees with their Very Educated views. You can find certain types wishing death upon those who didn't vote for the Good Guys or has an opinion that colors outside socially acceptable lines--the same people who will then unironically go into purple faced rage ranting about Mary Whitehouse or the PMRC for censoring True Art. Like a teenager, they have no self-awareness that their posturing is hoisting them by their own petard.

These same individuals apply labels to themselves and others that they can use to easily file human beings away in categories--this way it makes it easier to dehumanize and treat those around them accordingly. All under the guise of "compassion" and "love" or whatever buzzword their peers are using. None of this involves actual critical thinking skills, it is just reactionary. It is just empty gesturing. It is just adolescence.

Does the above sound like normality? No, because it's not. It wasn't normal even by the end of the twentieth century. Why it is common now can only be because we've reached the end of the road. There is no more pretending that the plastic bubble we've shaped over reality has only succeeded in damaging us and ruining our natural immunity to Truth. It is time to take the wrapping off and accept the world for what it is.

It should also go without saying that rejection of reality, and authority as a concept, is peak adolescent behavior. It does not get more juvenile than refusing to interact with other human beings without condescension and in a position of assumed superiority simply for parroting talking points and ejaculating insults to inferiors at the drop of a hat. And such people wonder why they feel so terrible, sickly, and angry all the time.

An adult realizes his place in the world and in creation. He does not rage against reality for being what it is. This is because a key factor in becoming an adult is realizing that you live in the universe you were given to live in, like it or not. Sure, you can work to change the parts that do not work, but you cannot deny that what you are living in is real.

You want to know why the art world is at a loss in how to continue on? It is because we are lost, and it will not fix itself lest we fix ourselves first and find our way back onto the road again. Take the helmet and pads off. It is time to face the pain. No sense being scared of a little blood. Unlike your moral guardians, you know the value in getting hurt.

Babies cry because they do not know how to process pain. Adults do, and that is why they do not cry even a fraction as much. We can use it to our advantage in a way children cannot. It comes with growth and life experience.

You are no longer a child. You are no longer a teenager. You are an adult, and you will be until the day you die. That's simply the way it is. 

So what are you going to do about it? This is the question we need to ask ourselves, because the current way is not working out.

If we want to reclaim our place in the stars from our current position down in the gutter, we need a new direction. We've been on the wrong track for so long it feels as if we will never get back to where we need to be again. Things will always be this bad, won't they? They'll never get better, right? Is the world only destined to get worse?

Deep down you already know the answers to those questions. Doubts might assail you, they always will, but you do know the truth.

Only then once we remember what we've lost will we see the stars for what they are, our neighbors for who they are, and the world for what it is. Until then, you cannot expect a magical flick of a wand to put reality back together again. That is our job.

It's easy to get discouraged with how things are, and especially with how we treat each other these days, but you can't lose focus of the bigger picture. Things will get worse, things will get better, things will be different, but the state of things as they are today simply can't remain that way forever. It never does. That was the one flaw from 1984--they thought they could maintain that charade of a false society forever, simply by planning. However, it would never actually last. Human beings always find some way to wriggle out of the net, good or bad. That's kind of what got us into this existential position in the first place.

Regardless, there is plenty of good out there, including in the world of art. Those who have found this post clearly care enough to search for some of it on their own. As long as we retain that sense of hope and gleeful curiosity we will continue to grow, just like adults are meant to. The road never really ends, but it does wind off the beaten path in weird ways. And it can get very weird. But that's what makes it fun.

And doesn't it make for good storytelling, too? I'd definitely say so.

High or low, it doesn't matter. Art always finds a way to hit you where you least expect it. And thank God for that!