Sunday, September 04, 2005

Life: The Limitation of Art

Although you wouldn't know it, I'm not only an extremely mediocre blogger and writer, but I am also a cultural critic. That's right! And here's a little piece of cultural criticism that I've had published just recently!

I'm here today to talk to you about art, which is a very important thing. In fact, art is so important that it has changed the world in many profound ways.

A lot of people may scoff and say, 'Art? Ha! Art is just a representation of life!' But they're only half right. Consider a recent historical example: the invention of the colour TV. Many people believe that this seminal cultural development had no effect on the world whatsoever. They believe that life went on after this invention just as it had done before. In fact, before the invention of the colour television, the whole world was in black and white. That's right. People lived in black and white houses, on black and white streets. Every morning the women would put on black and white dresses and black and white hats, and go and sit in black and white gardens and eat black and white cakes. It got very dull after a while, and if someone hadn't invented the colour television, I don't know what they would have done.

Apparently, it happened when an old lady called Mavis was pottering around in her black and white azalea garden. Her grandson was fiddling with a film camera and her home video set, when he discovered the secret of colour TV. In a flash, the whole world changed. It was as if God had walked in the room and switched on the light. Mavis was violently assaulted on all sides by riots of colour: gold, green, and red marching in murderous rows into her eyes. It was all too much for her. She promptly had a heart attack and died.

With the introduction of technicolour, many other revolutionary changes in society followed. The dull 50s gave way to the swinging 60s, where people did all sorts of colourful things, like have cheap and degrading group sex or do fun things like divorce one another. Others liked nothing better than to drop tabs of acid and watch the world explode in pretty colours all about them. Pretty soon, the old world of black and white didn't look so bad. But they couldn't go back.
So although now, the colour television may seem to be a simple representational device, we now know that it changed the world, simply and irrevocably. And a good thing, too - after all, what use would a colour television be in a world of black-and-white?


The first pieces of art, as we now know, were simple pictographic representations on cave walls or on pieces of stone. It follows logically that primitive man lived on cave walls and pieces of stone too. This type of existence may seem to us a bit silly, not to mention two-dimensional, but let's remember that this is primitive man we're talking about here.

Now we come to the Classical era, which occurred with the invention of statues. And along with the invention of statues, the third dimension was discovered. Suddenly, man had a whole new dimension to do things in, and he spread all over the world, and did many great things like build buildings, destroy Carthage, make aqueducts, and discover democracy.
But it must have been rather boring as well. Scientific research informs us that statues are unable to move. As we now know, this indicates that a typical day for the Classical Man went something like the following:

MORNING: Strike a dramatic pose while wearing a toga.

DAY: Continue to wear your toga while resolutely holding your pose.

AFTERNOON: Stare off stoically into the distance and hold pose strikingly, perhaps cursing the Gods for your fate.

NIGHT: Strike pose, wear toga, stare stoically, etc etc.

And so on. This caused quite a bit of confusion in classical times since, in effect, it was impossible to tell people from statues. Of course, people have pink or brown skin, and statues are grey, but remember that this was in a time before colour television was invented, and nobody knew the difference. This led to quite a bit of confusion, and people were often mistaken for statues.[1] Sometimes they were even mistaken themselves, and to this day you will see statues wandering about the streets in the mistaken belief that they are humans.[2]
This confusion may have been the origin of Martin Luther's famous phrase, "Here I stand: I can do no other." After all, for Classical people, this really was true.

More interesting things were soon to develop in the world of art, which would have astounding, even revolutionary effects on the world. After all, people tired of the whole 'statue' thing pretty soon. Thankfully, some artists came along one day and invented mosaics, murals, and friezes, in which not one, but a series of images could be represented on the wall of a building. This was a very handy invention, since instead of just standing about all day and getting themselves confused with statues by striking one pose all day long, people could strike several poses in succession. They were also able to communicate with one another by writing messages like 'Sic Gloria Transit Mundi' or ' Gloria in Excelsis Deo' or 'Your Mother Is a Harlot' in speech bubbles above their heads. I mean, it doesn't seem like much to us in the present day, but remember how rich the experience must have seemed to those simple people.

Nowadays, this earlier, halcyon period of existence is almost forgotten. The tradition of living in two-dimensional friezes on the wall lived on for some time – some husbands were especially fond of keeping their wives in this manner, for instance – but eventually that died out, too.

There have been many other important developments in art, especially during the twentieth century. For instance, late one evening in a Belgian cafe, three young painters who had been drinking too much decided to invent surrealism. This changed the world irrevocably. All of a sudden, odd things began to happen to people. Elephants began to spring out of their head and their watches began to melt. Tubas would suddenly, inexplicably catch on fire, and everything started being covered in bugs. Things would suddenly, strangely, dissipate away or change into other things. Pipes were not pipes, windows were not windows, doors were not doors, and you don't want to know what towers were.

It was a good thing for all concerned that surrealism went out of fashion relatively quickly. It's just a pity the same thing could not be said of cubism. This artistic movement, invented by Pablo Picasso, played havoc with everyone's sense of direction and apparently some chap called Einstein even had to invent new laws of physics to explain how everything worked following cubism.[3]

Anyway, that's the end of our little tour of art history. And if you think that art is finished, and that it's thrown everything it can at you - well, I'd be careful if I were you. I know an artist who claims to have developed a form of sculpture in 23 separate dimensions, which travels backwards, not forwards in time.
If I were you, I'd go indoors and draw the curtains - now. You just can't trust art. You never know what it will do to you.

[1] See Plato's dialogue, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Sculpture"

[2] The giveaway is the fact that they're usually more static than most people.

[3] It's probably good that he never survived to see what Abstract Expressionism did to the world.


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Rachy said...

Where on earth do you come up with all this? You are like the PJ O'Rourke of the art history world!

david said...

I don't know... I kept thinking of Dave Barry...

Is that good or bad?

Rachy said...

I just googled Dave Barry and have to say that I agree. He looks hilarious!

TimT said...

I've read Dave Barry's stuff, he's a good writer, but I'm not a huge fan - he seems to be more of a businessman than P.J. O'Rourke - who is so funny sometimes, he is out of this world.

Still, it's great to be compared to either of them!

Email: timhtrain - at -

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