“The logic of Michelangelo’s David, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Einstein’s Physics [has] been replaced by that of the Stock Exchange Year Book and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” I like this sentence from Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitros.
What does it mean? It can be stated as a sinking bottom line i.e. when there is no foundation there is no building and no edifice. The meaning can be found in other ways. I must paraphrase H.L. Mencken: No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. A third way of saying the sentence comes from Georges Clemenceau covering the American Civil War for French newspapers and in World War One French Prime Minister: (paraphrased) America went from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization.
A question always arises is the relative importance of culture and its excellence to society, the economy and to a nation’s well being. Until 1870 France was becoming a stilted, static place. After a crushing military defeat in 1870 and a harsh peace of 1871 France transformed itself initially by culture. In the fine arts French painting, music and sculpture excelled and pushed the envelope in those media. France became the place to write, paint, sculpt and compose, a reputation it maintains. France is the most obvious example telling the importance of excellent culture and artistic output and those significant influences they have on the people of the country. In short excellent culture allowed France to rebound quickly and strive ahead.
When culture and art become idleness, slight entertainments, annoying diversions or amusing ephemera, it represents nothing more important than something produced on an assembly line – pieces of throw away stuff. How often do Americans hear about a one-time “priceless” work of modern sculpture sold for its scrap-metal value, like a Pentagon weapon system gone bad or an awry government computer program? Art is supposed to entire forever, not be dismissed because it has served its purpose: The artist [creator, originator or mechanic] has been paid and has garnered more commissions off the recognition of the sale. Yet Americans continue to treat music, painting, writing as something thrown against a wall, and if it sticks it will be there offending until it the environment forces it to fall off.
Culture allows a people to backstop problems, issues, events and potential solutions. It lets people retreat to what is good about the society, perhaps live a fantasy or a dream, while the pile emits its bad or good seeps from it. What has a solid footing and does not seem obviously derivative, inordinately temporary, brazenly artificial may survive, be accepted and become part of the lives of the people. But that seldom happens. Today what remains of art produced 10 years ago? About artists I know of, musicians, which pieces of music introduced in 2004 are played today other than franchise themes? Music to TV shows, ads, ditties on computers. The best anyone can say about America is that it is in a rut; it is at sea without an anchor. The backstop supposedly holding American culture is actually a canyon into which we empty more and more stuff.
Alarmingly, Americans seek solice not in the excellence of human activity and production, but in religion, faith or secularized philosophy. No one can disagree with those individual choices, but they provide and afford few, if any, comprehensive solutions. Religion, faith and philosophy are terrific means to provide comfort to individual means and to guide individuals, but extending those belief systems are not conducive to acceptance or they are offensive to persons with contrary religions, faiths and philosophies. Imposing laws are to force compliance is coercive and debilitating. It results in less respect for law. Because law seems not to work, Americans attempt to rectify imperfections by voting solely for representatives who believe in their religion, faith or philosophical systems.
The so-called Right has justly been accused of voting this way. The so-called Left also votes this way. The commonality of Left and Right is the means of obtaining money and power, but no community remains – Right or Left. And there is no culture except a buzz, a ring, static, a din. And Americans are left to accept the meager entertainments coming to them cheaply and engaging them momentarily. None of it feeds the spirit, the enlightens the soul and fills the essence. None of it braces an individual for the uncertainly of tomorrow.