Art and Democratic Production



S. Eliot writes:

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead… what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new… the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.”

The artist is in dialogue with his predecessors, in dialogue with the whole cultural tradition, and each new work is not an isolated phenomenon but a piece that is connected to the whole and has the ability to transform the whole tradition with its emergence. Thus the artist to T. S. Eliot is a figure charged with a great responsibility in every single one of his creations, a responsibility not to himself but to his predecessors stretching back millennia of other great creators. With the advent of technology there has been a democratization in artistic creation. Whoever has an internet connection can now claim to be an artist and artistic creation becomes about a short-sighted expression of the self. Everyone is now a creator, an artist, but how many know the great responsibility they are charged with, while they chase their 15 minutes of fame?

Democratization through technology has not only affected production, but consumption as well. While works of art were initially like private conversations happening between the educated, wealthy elite, greater advancements in technology have allowed the ‘rabble’ to join in and listen. The printing press brought literature to the masses, $15 will allow the bored consumer to spend an evening at the cinema, and music has experienced democratization in consumption as well, as Kundera relates with the invention of the radio in L’ignorance:

“Already in 1930, he [Schönburg] wrote : “Radio is an enemy, an enemy without pity that avances irresistibly and against whom all resistance is without hope,” it “force-feeds us music, without wondering if we have a desire to listen to it, if we have the chance to receive it,” so that music became a simple noise, a noise among noises.)”

Music, which has become noise, is now a hodgepodge “where everything gets mixed without one knowing who the composer is (music-turned-noise is anonymous), without one distinguishing the beginning or the end (music-turned-noise does not know form) : the dirty water of music where music dies.”

What is art now but mere distractions for facile consumption and immediate forgottenness? No longer is it an extended conversation among distinguished luminaries lighting up the present to bring it forward into the future, the work of men and women who have vanquished Time and conquered death with their creations, which are the greatest achievements of a culture or a people. Now it is merely a commodity with a short shelf life, a hit of non-thought and momentary bliss into a fifty shaded world rooted in the groundless present, an isolated ephemeral manifestation of mediocrity.

While consumers and creators of the democratic arts drink to their inability, bathed in the drunkenness of the forgotten present, in an inebriated fiesta of mass consumption and gaudy glitter, the great wonders of cultural achievement lie forgotten a short distance away, accessible to any who are willing to sober up and walk to the public library…* (to be continued)



*a manifestation of the same mechanisms of technology and democratic production!


Translations from French:

“Déjà en 1930, il [Schönburg] écrivait: « La radio est un ennemi, un ennemi impitoyable qui irrésistiblement avance et contre qui toute résistance est sans espoir » ; elle « nous gave de musique […] sans se demander si on a envie de l’écouter, si on a la possibilité de la percevoir », de sorte que la musique est devenue un simple bruit, un bruit parmi des bruits…“

“où tout s’entremêle sans qu’on sache qui est le compositeur (la musique devenue bruit est anonyme), sans qu’on distingue le début ou la fin (la musique devenue bruit ne connaît pas de forme) : l’eau sale de la musique où la musique se meurt.“


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