Progressive Politics vs. Timeless Aesthetics
For anyone who’s interested, I have a new article up at Areo:
Politics vs. Aesthetics: Why Great Art Cannot Conform to Our Political Views - Areo
Percy Bysshe Shelley proclaimed poets "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Today, that distinction belongs to…
A bunch of other writers and thinkers have remarked on the fact that art is becoming increasingly politicized in our current culture — in other words, that art is increasingly being judged for its political content or for its creators’ behavior or immutable demographic characteristics rather than on its merits. But what I haven’t seen anywhere else is a deeper analysis of why this is happening that looks beyond the last few decades, whereas I examine the history of aesthetics to show that our conception of the arts and the whole category of the “aesthetic” only formed in the 18th century. Before that, art (which was not even understood as a creative or high-status activity distinct from what is now called “crafts”) was routinely judged based on its non-aesthetic characteristics.
And yet there was a big difference between then and now: the cultures of the ancient world or medieval or renaissance Europe didn’t need vibrant and powerful art as sorely as we do. They had other things going for them — whether a widely shared religion or just clear-established political or cultural polestars around which they were oriented and unified — to serve as spiritual beacons and guiding lights. For better or for worse, we don’t. Art is our principal gateway toward a conception of ourselves and our lives that is better and higher than what we encounter in our mundane political and personal reality. For that reason, the current progressive predilection to dumb art and artists down to the level of having to parrot “woke” political prejudices of the moment is particularly destructive. But, more than that, it is dangerous, even for progressives and their causes, because, as I explain in the article, it is not progressives but powerful market forces that are steering this ship, and when the market has had enough of wokeness, it will unceremoniously dump the cargo and proceed on its way.
The details are what make this argument interesting, and I adduce lots of those in the article, so please follow the link above and read if you’re interested. And share with anyone else you think might be into this. Thanks!
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in The Federalist, Tablet, Times Higher Education, Quillette, Areo Magazine, Public Discourse, The Imaginative Conservative, Chronicles, Front Porch Republic, The Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, Mercatornet, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).