“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, October 18, 2013

High Art/Low Art Is Now OOObsolete

Gosh I wish I'd been able to say that in the Q&A just now. There was a very good question that I answered by talking about indigenous cultures and modernity. But another way of thinking about some of the issues that the conference goers understand really well is that they suffer, as performers who use paper, puppets and “things” like that, from the denigration of “kitsch” or low art.

OOO gives you a way to see the high art/low art distinction (cf the art/craft and artist/artisan distinctions) as unworkable products of modernity that are not simply socially invidious, but ontologically unsustainable and ecologically dangerous.

This is why the makers of automata and puppeteers at this conference understand implicitly what I was saying in my talk, better than the kinds of words about it that come out of my mouth! They get that when you do art you are messing with causality and they get that love and a kind of sincerity coded as unsophisticated and childlike (and denigrated as such by high art and the cynical reason that underwrites it) are a way out of modernity.

In his talk João Florêncio was using high art examples precisely to say that even here, in sophisticated art, there are relations with nonhumans going on that transcend the “anything you can do I can do meta” syndrome.

I often wonder whether some of the reaction to Harman's thought is a displaced reaction to what is denigrated as kitsch and “low” by the avant-garde, who are, as he keeps insisting, fighting yesterday's war.

OOO shares with deconstruction a love for going back to the old philosophical jazz standards of the past and reworking them into really interesting tunes. And so do the makers of automata and children's books find interesting things in “old” aesthetic phenomena.

I wonder whether it's a kind of snob reaction, at bottom.


cgerrish said...

I was reading the "Amateurs" chapter of David Byrne's book "How Music Works" last night and thinking exactly that. Byrne tries to make the argument for low art by cutting high art down to size. For me it just ruined the high and the low. I kept thinking, I need to get this guy in a room with Tim Morton. Byrne needs a new way to think about this.

Ben said...

I think you're absolutely right, and I think it's why in my field (art history), we've seen OOO embraced very quickly in medieval art, where the distinctions between high and low have largely been erased. Fields like renaissance art, for which this distinctions still matter, have been somewhat slower to buy in.