It was the brilliant Oscar Wilde who originally noted, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” in The Decay of Lying, which later found itself in the introduction of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In so doing, Wilde made it painstakingly clear what his disposition was in regard to the philosophical debate pertaining to the Aristotelian concern of mimesis, and its opposite counterpart anti-mimesis, which maintained a position of life imitating art, and as such, he became arguably the most noteworthy spokesperson for anti-mimesis. That being said, when considering the overall gravity of art imitating life, or vice versa, and considering both the implications and connotations that such notion carries with it, one cannot emphasize enough the unprecedented significance that art has in all of our lives. Moreover, one could also make the ostensibly paradoxical argument that art, in its many forms and mediums, is to a certain degree not necessarily given the appreciation that it deserves, or at the very least, that it is something that is taken for granted. Take for instance the family that much to their disappointment finds out that their beloved child has decided in their young adult life to pursue a career in one of the arts, and they do everything in their power to talk some sense in them, to pursue a more respectable occupation, one that is more realistic; perhaps something in the medical field, or in education, or even something in the family business. No, let it be anything else that offers a sense of pecuniary and socioeconomic security, as opposed to pursuing childish dreams of making art. It was this very type of family ordeal that very arguably cost Van Gogh his sanity, and yet, he preserved and created countless works of art, a great majority of them from a mental institution no less, for all he wanted to do was to show us the stars. At any rate, when we stop and think of the art created in this specific epoch of human history, as juxtaposed to the works of the past, especially in its relationship as a means of imitating human life, one can not help but note that we should reevaluate, rethink, and reshape the popular culture that proliferates through our many different media formats as they will one day be the very representation of who we were.
To fully appreciate and understand the importance of art, is to quite simply see the artists attempt to capture the human condition and the many aspects of it. Art is after all the greatest form of expression, both of our own individual selves, and of the collective. As such, there lies with it a strong direct correlation without human history, culture, and other such identifying marks of a given people’s civilization. When we read Shakespeare, we are reminded of a time in our past where religion was an extremely prominent aspect in the lives of the people of that time. Through the works of Hamlet, Macbeth, and his many other works, we get a glimpse of a conflicting time where religious views oscillated between strict Catholicism and Protestantism, as is exemplified in the conflicting views inherent in his writing, and we are thrown head-first in a period where the written bible emerged, as is evident in scholarly works devoted completely to the topic of biblical references in Shakespeare, and which was also illustrated in such cases as Dante’s Inferno, or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Following this similar trend, we observe this same trend in the case of DaVinci’s Last Supper, and so on and so forth with each respected art form, and that only touches on the tip of the ice-burg in trying to access the incalculable value of art. To try and best summarize, art depicts the entire spectrum or gamut of our human existence.
When one stops and contemplates the matter, there is not a field or other subject known to man that cannot be expressed through art. As contradictory as it may sound, there are even studies that there are direct parallelisms between art and the mathematics and physics or science of any given time. Although we may only see an interesting pixilated and swirly designs in Van Gogh’s works, there are those that believe that his work, as a result of his compromised state, best illustrates concepts of fluid dynamics. Or, while at first glance The Great Wave off Kanagawa, we may only see an artists portrayal of a Japanese landscape surrounded by roaring ocean waves, as the title implies, a closer examination of the waves reveals to the observer the artists understanding of fractal geometry Through this same lens, we can observe a similitude of the same capacity, such as the relationship between abstract art and imageless physics, surrealism and relativistic distortion, modern art and Newton triumphant, naïve art and nonlinear time, amongst many others. In the same capacity, there is not a conceptualization that has not been expressed through art, whether it be an epistemological issue, or one pertaining to metaphysics, existentialism, transcendentalism consciousness or the collective unconscious, ethical and moral sentiments, or any other idea known to humankind. Even still, it is through our art that we document and archive our greatest achievements and events and pay tribute to great individuals. As we see in the case of such works as First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln, George Washington Crossing the Delaware, or just about any monument as found in Washington D.C. for that matter. To this end, great or high art is exactly that in its ability to describe the zeitgeist, or spirit of an era, to evoke strong visceral effects in the observer, and to portray the ideals of a generation.
Art is such a substantial part to a civilization’s history, that it is for this reason, as well as some of those mentioned above, that during WWII Hitler stole countless works of art to be included in his Fuhrer Museum, as well as for the purpose of attempting to erase the past and history of the people that he invaded. Actor George Clooney tried to shed insight into this intriguing story, as well as his views on the importance of art in his movie The Monuments Men, which told the true story of the platoon of professors, curators, and other individuals studying art that were sent into combat to recover the artwork that had been stolen by the Nazi’s. From this production, the audience is given some very thoughtful dialog concerning the overall importance of art in such great statements made in the film as, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for,” as well as postulating the question to the audience as to whether or not art in its many forms was worth a life, as several of the troops in the movie lose their lives in the pursuit of recovering the lost art.
It is through this scope that we must consider and examine the art that propagates throughout our popular culture. First and foremost, there is an issue that we must address of great concern that regards the violence that dominates the media. It is particularly interesting that throughout the decades we have to a certain extent, become desensitized to violence as it has become commonplace in the many different contexts of the media that we consume regularly. This is particularly intriguing when considering that it is the exact opposite in European countries where the human body and sexuality is more culturally embraced, and violence is a taboo to them, as sexuality is taboo to us, especially when considering that the human anatomy and sexuality is more natural and synonyms with creation, as violence is synonymous with destruction. We must also contemplate the trends of the past several decades in terms of seeing what boundaries we can push and producing art for the sake of shock value under the guise that sin or sex sales. Just as in the last decade or so, we have seen horror films subtly tone down there content to receive a PG-13 rating, so that they can receiver as many viewers as possible. We must access these issues, as they essentially establish certain exigencies as to what is acceptable in terms of cultural norms, just as we see in the case of commonplace drinking, partying, smoking, and drug use in collegiate level films. While the themes that are typically explored in popular culture is of major concern, so too is the fact that, for the most part, that they are lacking in providing any sense of sustenance regarding our historical and cultural values.
Perhaps the greatest exemplification of how popular culture is lacking in sustenance in providing any sense of historical or cultural value, can be found in the assessment that Stephen King made in regard to his own writing, as found in his work On Writing, in that he essentially called his work the fast food of literature. Bearing this in mind, this pattern of sorts, repeats itself through most art forms as found in today’s day and age. We see this in the movie industry, with songs like Milf Money, or Stupid Hoe, or as is apparent in the derogatory language that permeates throughout the lyrics, making swear words and vulgate level of diction and acceptable and commonplace thing. This same derogatory language objectifies woman, worships money and the material world, and incorporates the same sort of desensitization of violence. Now imagine if you will, a future archeological dig sight that unearths a great amount of artwork that was typical of our popular culture. Is this the type of representation that you would want to make its way in the history books, and speak of the day and age that we live in?