Archive for July, 2010

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The Disappearing Art of Reflection

July 30, 2010

Recently, I wrote an essay on “Rethinking the Value of the Internet” and I came to point #4 and realized it opened up a huge can of worms. I said that the Internet can cause us to lose the ability to become reflective. I received a flood of emails and personal responses asking me to go into more detail about this.

A week later, I read about a book written by Nicholas Carr titled, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” wherein he laments our lost ability to REFLECT in life any more. I realized I had to read it and digest it in my search to help others become more reflective. There are literally hundreds of pithy quotations from that book, but let me quote just two. Early in the book, he makes this analogy:

“Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

The Internet, he says, causes us to no longer see the big picture about anything. He puts it this way,

“We don’t see the forest when we search the Web,” he writes. “We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.”

He adds that Twitter, Facebook, text messages, emails, television and every other type of media causes us to have permanent Attention Deficit Disorder. He wonders if the increasing incidence of ADD in our society is because the multiplication of media  has taken everyone with mild cases and turned us into raging Distractoholics. He is exactly right.

In the next month or so, I will be publishing a series of essays to bring our minds back to the disappearing ability to reflect  on anything. In this series I have four purposes:

  • To point out the value of reflection
  • To note the dangers associated with not reflecting
  • To show the obstacles that prevent us from reflection
  • To propose solutions to those obstacles

Join with me in this hunt for the elusive “Reflective Life”.

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“What is Art?” the offended one asks

July 16, 2010

The question of the nature of art, the validity of certain pieces of art and acceptable reactions to art, all depend upon who is offended by it. I am not an Art Historian, or an Art Philosopher (are there such things?), but I have read many who are and have friends who place themselves in those categories. As far as I can tell, there are four primary sub-sections to artistic expression:

1. Art as Decoration: In the past 200 years, this is the art we have come to buy because it matches the drapes or  our mood. Musically, Muzak or elevator music fits into this category.

2. Art as Ability: The dutch masters (Rembrandt, etc.) in painting, the orchestra members in music, the Method Actors in drama, all elevate art by their precision and focus. They produce art for its own sake…because it can be produced at such a high skill level.

3. Art as Emotional Expression: The emergence of Impressionism and all its children and grandchildren showed us the naked truth about art: It is a language of the soul which bypasses logic and reason. When one reads “Ulysses” by James Joyce, it is the force of the emotion and not the logic of the words that strikes the reader. When Kenny G waxes timeless on the sax, it stirs feelings of far-off places in the same way that Notorious B.I.G. can evoke anger with his rap lyrics.

4. Art as Philosophical Discussion: Whereas these other genres of art can provoke discussion ad nauseum, it is the art of the Philosopher that prompts the question, “is this Art?” For instance, this week at the Sacramento County Law Library, an artist has posted this painting:

Sacramento County Law Library painting

Though it is hard to see from this angle, the painting has a Bible with the caption below “Warning: May Impair Judgment”. This is a philosophical statement musing that the opinions of the Bible may have a detrimental effect on one’s sense of right and wrong. It is a mild anti-Bible, anti-Christian statement. Fortunately, only one group has protested the inclusion of this painting in the latest exhibit. But in the Sacbee page devoted to this controversy, many ask whether this is art.

How are we to respond to art which offends us? If it fits into the category of philosophical art, our response should be the same as how we respond to any philosophy which offends us. We should get to the heart of the message and address its validity. Does the Bible impair someone’s judgment? Does the reader of the Bible come away impaired? Can a society be better off without the Bible? These are the concepts to interact with. Unfortunately, some will respond to the legality of the message. Others will be offended and negate the art. For instance, when Andres Serrano put a plastic crucifix into a jar of urine and called it “Art”, the outcry was deafening. It was attacked from every angle. But few people took issue with the art’s main theme at all. Because of this, Serrano’s work took on mythic status. He entered that arena with banned books and music: Status based upon reaction and not the merits of the work.

Taken at face value, Serrano’s work is pedantic and juvenile. The same can be said of the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ”, which was poorly edited, lacked a cohesive plot and whose research was shoddy. If those offended had approached the art critically, instead of from a place of offense, these pieces of philosophical art might have been jettisoned onto the slag heap of history. When we respond from offense, we see stupid books like “The Tropic of Cancer”, movies like “The Last Temptation” and art works such as those produced by Serrano become elevated in importance.

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