Is Art Disposable?

It seems that humanity has a schizophrenic attitude toward art.  Some works are considered scarce, valuable and precious and definitely not disposable, whereas other art forms are happily, gracelessly, casually trashed, without a care in the world.  We have funny aesthetic prejudices.

I recall when a painting by Jackson Pollock, called “Blue Poles”, caused uproar in Australia, because the national gallery had paid what was deemed to be an enormous sum of (presumably taxpayer) money for it.  It’s now one of the nation’s most valuable tangible assets, because they’re not making Jackson Pollock paintings anymore.

Musicians were always treated as disposable, by their record companies.  When one star fades away, another will come to take their place.  That was how the contracts were written and how the master tapes were treated, in any case.  Well, there hasn’t been another Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon or Freddie Mercury and there never will be.  Those artists came, gave us their art and are now gone forever.  Their works, it turned out, were not disposable after all.

We spend inordinate amounts of money on the preservation of country piles, built on the proceeds of the slave trade or some other imperial exploitation, crafted by semi-slave labour, to aggrandise what amounts to a sanctioned and glorified thief.  However, go and try to find the site of the invention of the jet engine or the workshops where they pioneered the bouncing bomb.  See if you can find where Turing did his most groundbreaking work, or where the first Formula One racing team worked.  Seek out George Martin’s Caribbean studio.  Those sites, of genuine historic and economic merit, are gone.  Disposable.

Answer this question truthfully: Has there been another Vincent Van Gogh?  Or Monet?  Or Caillebotte?  Gustave Caillebotte’s finest works were destroyed by invading armies, who used the canvases for more prosaic purposes, like butchery and food preparation.  Those paintings are lost forever.  A life’s work.  Every artefact that is destroyed takes away a piece of our collective memory and a tangible reminder that once, greatness graced our species.

Today, most music is copied and consumed as if it were disposable – with a status no better than plastic coffee cups or those infernal plastic bags that supermarkets used to thrust upon us.  Nobody makes any money, as a professional musician, because their product has been reduced to the status of a commonplace, unloved commodity.  Of course, if music stopped being made, how would people miss it?  Terribly, I submit.

We’re altogether too cavalier about some of the finest expressions of the creativity and originality of the human mind, while simultaneously too willing to sanctify works which displayed no great skill, insight, innovation or risk at all.  We love our monumental art, so long as it doesn’t disturb our nice, safe world views.

I think that the destruction of any art, which displays genius, extreme levels of skill, stunning originality or extraordinary creativity is a sin against humanity.  It is the barefaced denial of the fact that a mind superior to most of the rest of humanity’s once existed and produced beauty.  That denial is rooted in violence and jealousy.  There are people only willing to acknowledge art as being any good, if they feel they could have produced it.  Others denigrate art they claim they could have produced (ignoring the fact that they didn’t produce it, or anything comparable to it).  Still others deny that art that reaches far beyond their insights, understanding, capabilities and skills is worth a damn.  The valuation of art is a twisted business, laden with psychological twists and turns, signifying enormous ingratitude.

I think art is too fragile and too ephemeral, too precious and too remarkable, to be disposable.  And yet, we dispose of great art, in quantity, each and every day.  It is a measure of our barbarism and failure to evolve into higher-thinking creatures, as a species, which is at the root of this wanton waste.  And while we deplete the stock of beauty in our world, we are doomed to inhabit a permanently ugly one.

Creative work is important.  It is not disposable.  The geniuses that walk among us come too infrequently to be ignored and denigrated.  The myth of the nobility and necessity of the starving artist is a pernicious one.  It allows others to see art as worthless and disposable, made by people that haven’t the wit to become “successful” in this money-obsessed culture.  It’s all lies.  Some of the most incredible people that ever walked the earth were artists and they deserved better treatment from their fellow men than they received.  It’s scandalous that such creative people were treated so badly.

This is why art is not disposable.  It’s a monument and a testament to more evolved human beings; remarkable people, whose example ought to be emulated, not forgotten.  If you think art is disposable, you’re one of the less evolved.  One’s opinion on the disposability of art and the status of creative individuals in society is a pretty good yardstick to measure one’s relative sophistication, enlightenment and refinement.

I fear that the barbarians are still in the majority.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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