Sunday, July 31, 2005

Fear and comfort in art

Thoughtful post at Zero Degrees Art. In Travelogue 34 Mery Lynn McCorkle writes
The concept of the avant garde is based on the superior/prophetic perception of the artist. In times of complacency, shaking up the bourgeoisie through confrontation is a good growth mechanism. In times of fear, though, at least for centuries in the past, art was about offering comfort and perspective, trying to discover and share the harmony and order of the universe. And order, even in mathematics, is indelibly connected to the idea of god. Einstein overtly equated the order of the universe with god. So don't pooh-pooh comfort. It isn't about providing an opiate to the masses. It's about ameliorating fear through changing the viewer's perspective of life events. Fear, as politicians and religious leaders know too well, can be an effective motivator. When it crosses a threshhold, though, fear physically impedes hearing. Literally, physiologically. Offering a way of de-escalating fear and stress is not a shabby job to have.
And, I would add, not an easy one. De-escalating fear cannot be done merely by distraction from the fear - the fear has to be acknowledged somehow. I should be using "fine" art examples here, but as I'm brain dead (and have been ensconced on the couch all weekend) I'm going with the pop culture. Compare how recent television shows deal with the terror of becoming an adult: Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. regular teen-angst shows like Beverly Hills 90210 or The OC. Buffy at first glance is more unreal, a genre show, and easily dismissed (though really the same could be said for the other shows mentioned - not exactly Big Drama). However, it manages through metaphor to get at deeper fears than 90210 every could - fears that adults don't always have the answers (and are often part of the problem), and that the monsters in the closet might really eat you. But it also shows that young people have power to live through and overcome these fears, and the comfort of knowing that others are going through the same things you are. These are kind of lame examples to use after Mery Lynn's lovely writing, but hey, that's where I'm at today. Plus, I'm a nerd. For more nerdy goodness (or ridiculousness, depending on your perspective) listen to the NPR report or go to Slayage.


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