Monday, December 19, 2005

A Discovered Manifesto

I am getting ready to move from my office to a new building, and so I have been going through things and packing. A few days ago I came across the following in a stack of papers. I copied it from a lecture delivered by Frederick Turner, author of New Classicism and Culture of Hope, and I was very happy to rediscover it, because I find a lot of the values expressed inspirational. At the end, I have included my own addendum:

We stand for:

1. The reunion of artist with public.

Art should grow from and speak to the common roots and universal principles of human nature in all cultures.

Art should direct itself to the general public.

Those members of the general public who do not have the time, training, or inclination to craft~ and express its higher yearnings and intuitions, rightly demand an artistic elite to be the culture's prophetic mouthpiece and mirror.

Art should deny the simplifications of the political left~ and right, and should refine and deepen the radical center.

The use of art, and of cheap praise, to create self-esteem, is a cynical betrayal of all human cultures.

Excellence and standards are as real and universal in the arts as in competitive sports, even if they take more time and refined judgment to appreciate.

2. The reunion of beauty with morality.

The function of art is to create beauty.

Beauty is incomplete without moral beauty.

There should be a renewal of the moral foundations of art as an instrument to civilize, ennoble, and inspire.

True beauty is the condition of civilized society.

Art recognizes the tragic and terrible costs of human civilization, but does not abandon hope and faith in the civilizing process.

Art must recover its connection with religion and ethics without becoming the propagandist of any dogmatic system.

Beauty is the opposite of coercive political power.

Art should lead but not follow political morality.

We should restore reverence for the grace and beauty of human beings and of the rest of nature.

3. The reunion of high with low art.

Popular and commercial art forms are the soil in which high art grows.

Theory describes art; art does not illustrate theory.

Art is how a whole culture speaks to itself.

Art is how cultures communicate with and marry each other.

4. The reunion of art with craft.

Certain forms, genres, and techniques of art are culturally universal, natural, and classical.

Those forms are innate but require a cultural tradition to awaken them.

They include such things as visual representation, melody, storytelling, poetic meter, and dramatic mimesis.

These forms, genres, and techniques are not limitations or constraints but enfranchising instruments and infinitely generative feedback systems.

High standards of craftsmanship and mastery of the instrument should be restored.

5. The reunion of passion with intelligence.

Art should come from and speak to what is whole in human beings.

Art is the product of passionate imaginative intelligence, not of psychological sickness and damage.

Even when it deals, as it often should and must, with the terrifying, tragic, and grotesque, art should help heal the lesions within the self and the rifts in the self's relation to the world.

The symbols of art are connected to the embodiment of the human person in a physical and social environment.

6. The reunion of art with science.

Art extends the creative evolution of nature on this planet and in the universe.

Art is the natural ally, interpreter, and guide of the sciences.

The experience of truth is beautiful.

Art is the missing element in environmentalism.

Art can be reunited with physical science through such ideas as evolution and chaos theory.

The retentiveness of art can be partly understood through the study of nonlinear dynamical systems and their strange attractors in nature and mathematics.

The human species emerged from the mutual interaction of biological and cultural evolution.

Thus our bodies and brains are adapted to and demand artistic performance and creation.

We have a nature; that nature is cultural; that culture is classical.

Cultural evolution was partly driven by inventive play in artistic handicrafts and performance.

The order of the universe is neither deterministic nor on the road to irreversible decay; instead the universe is self-renewing, self-ordering, unpredictable, creative, and flee.

Thus human beings do not need to labor miserably to despoil the world of its diminishing stockpile of order, and struggle with one another for possession of it, only to find that they have bound themselves into a mechanical and deterministic way of life.

Instead they can cooperate with nature's own artistic process and with each other in a free and open-ended play of value-creation.

Art looks with hope to the future and seeks a closer union with the true progress of technology.

7. The reunion of past with future.

Art evokes the shared past of all human beings, that is the moral foundation of civilization.

Sometimes the present creates the future by breaking the shackles of the past; but sometimes the past creates the future by breaking the shackles of the present.

The enlightenment and modernism are examples of the former; the renaissance, and perhaps our time, are examples of the latter.

No artist has completed his or her artistic journey until he or she has sojourned with and learned the wisdom of the dead artists who came before.

The future will be more, not less, aware of and indebted to the past than we are; just as we are more aware of and indebted to the past than were our ancestors.

The immortality of art goes both ways in time.

In the light of these principles we challenge contemporary thinking and urge the reform of existing institutions.


8. Art should facilitate conversation and reflection about things that matter.

Artists should create opportunities for spectators to share ideas and emotions with each other and with the artist.

Artists should strive to create a community of reflection around their art.

Artists should see themselves as part of that community.


George Hunka said...

It appears that this is the product of one Fred Turner, the son of anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner and something of a Renaissance man. He's written for American Theatre and hundreds of other publications.

MattJ said...

So, a new humanism maybe?

I've read this post carefully, Scott, and after some initial doubts, I really think it has a lot of important things to say.

Two of my favorite parts include something I've posted a lot about: "No artist has completed his or her artistic journey until he or she has sojourned with and learned the wisdom of the dead artists who came before."

And the reuniting of art and science. I've been battling with this idea for awhile. Is the theatrical process and product organic, systematic, both? If it's both, how do they work together in synthesis? And what does that say about the nature of an artist?

The two passages which I'm not sure about:
"Beauty is incomplete without moral beauty." - what "morals" are they referring to? Something classical? If so, what does that mean?

"Theory describes art; art does not illustrate theory." - I think in the spirrit of reuniting the past and present through passion, as they seem to call for, the theoretical impetus comes from a similar place in some ways as the artistic impulse, especially when we are uniting art with science.

While not always the tool of creation, I think there is something interesting about the theatre artist's challenge of illustrating theory through art. And I'm not just talking about forcing Hegel or Kant into your art or something like that. Would any director approach a play without a theory in mind? What theory does is create a sort of intangible structure and through-line to a given set of elements. As an artist, that through-line is your ticket to discovering truth and creating beauty, I think.

But there's a lot of interesting stuff here, great post, Scott.

Alison Croggon said...

I felt more and more depressed reading this post, well-intentioned though the ideals might be. It sounds very like Matthew Arnold to me, and Arnold of course disapproved completely of even legitimate revolt against the State, since the State was sacred (something I've talked about elsewhere). It is impossible to separate these ideals, in fact, from the exercise of brute political coercion, since the application of "universal" cultural values has always been an instrument of the colonising State.

But to move to more specific questions - who are the "general public" lauded here? Aren't they a bunch of individuals whose tastes and desires are impossible to second guess? Aren't there assumptions, in the phrase "universal principals of human nature" and the "universal" standards of art, that the GP is, um, basically white, western and middle class? (Not Neruda's audience, for example, the poor of Latin America). In denying the "simplifications of right and left" (I'm all for that), what about the complexities of, say, a thinker like Adorno, still a prescient commentator on society, and most certainly on the left - but hardly simple? And while popular and commercial art have their virtues - I am no elitist in that sense - they are not the only soil in which high art grows, only part of the fertiliser - and the industrialisation/commodification of art itself is probably the biggest dilemma facing the serious contemporary artist.

The bit on science was beginning to be interesting, but the leap from the complex sciences, which are most "unclassical", to an assertion of "classic" aesthetic (classical aesthetic would associate more with the spare beauty of Newtonian physics) makes no sense at all.

It all seems very muddled to me, demanding on the one hand new forms and attention to new forms of knowing, and on the other stating that certain cultural forms are "innate" and "natural" and demanding a return to 1400. But the subtext is conservative, quite clearly (for instance) implying that contemporary poetic forms have eschewed both tradition and "standards" and "excellence", something that anyone familiar with the best of contemporary poetry would know just isn't the case. The argument makes magisterial and staggering assumptions - that poetic metre is "innate" is bizarre. It's only one of the forms of prosody - rhythm is "innate", metre culturally conditioned. The upshot is, back to "real" poetry that does what you expect of it.

Much more to say, but this is getting rather long...yes, there's something seductive in the cry to moral beauty. I am all for moral beauty in art, but I suspect I think of it rather differently.


George Hunka said...

I've had to read this through two or three times with a growing sense of confusion; then wonderment; then bitter despair. I explain why here, Scott.

I'm afraid we're going to have to disagree. In the cold light of morning I find this conception of art very suspect, potentially stifling and the very rationale for the censorship and self-censorship I've been fighting (not least in myself) for many years.

Edie said...

I recommend "Art as the Cognition of Life," by Bolshevik and Left-oppositionist (anti-Stalinist) literary critic Aleksandr Voronsky.