Why Literature is still a Bastion of Great Art

Literature compared to Visual Art

The advantages of literature as a medium of creative expression is best illustrated by comparing it to the problems facing traditionalist in the visual arts.

In 1863, the impressionists who were producing works of great artistic merit had legitimate complaints against the Academie des Beaux-Arts. 

Immanuel Kant‘s idea of the independent creative genius supplanted academic standards at the time of the impressionists and citizens of the age of reason learned to ignore the academics.

Since then, the Kantian model has been set aside to establish the new community of “art experts” who function as a new instrument of creative oppression all under the guise of “progress.”

The Devolution of Visual Art

In the visual arts, The Hegelian dialectic ran it’s course like Like George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The thesis met the antithesis, to become the synthesis which becomes the new thesis over time and traditionalist have been pushed out. The visual arts are in crisis because objective standards that once defined great art have been devalued and supplanted by subjectivism and pseudo-intellectual parochialism.

What is needed for the visual arts is a new anthesis, and it looks like people of faith are in the position to redeem the visual arts if the church can be taught to start caring about art as a ministry.

It is still possible for a person of faith to find a niche in the visual arts, but as a whole people of faith are likely to find the mainstream art world to be a hostile environment. It will be this way until there is a cultural revolution that marginalized the current college of frauds and pretenders that use up all the oxygen with work that is profoundly inferior to the work of ancient masters.

Music Survives

Music has survived much better as a Disciplined Art Form. If you take the aesthetic values of postmodernism and apply it to music, It does not prosper as a legitimate genre.Notwithstanding the efforts of John Cage to devolve music as an art form, true virtuosity is still recognized and rewarded.

If you taught a chimpanzee how to bang out a 2-finger version of chopstix he may get thousands of hits on youtube, but nobody will value this on the level of a Mozart concerto? These are two different things. That which is silly and amusing or freakish, we may enjoy for what it is but unlike visual art, it is by no means to be confused with high art.

Yes, one may find examples of bad music, but even popular genres of music still demand objective measures of excellence. A great classical music performance may be artistically superior while getting less attention than “Free Bird” or “Achy Breaky Heart.” Still, there is an ample body of devotes and conservatories to ensure that classical music survives and prospers as a genre. More importantly, musical pop-artists do not generally have the unmitigated gall to ridicule any true virtuoso regardless of his or her genre. Unlike some visual art demagogues, they know their place.

High Art is Neither Popular nor Parochial

High art is not parochial in nature. It is not something that exists only for myopic self-interest and personal expression, nor is it’s appeal limited to an elite group, but it has the ability to project a universally accessible experience of beauty, and thereby enrich and uplift an entire culture.

On the other hand, high art is by no means “popular” art. If artist succumbed only to popular appeal, their art would inevitably be substandard. A great artist is distinguished by his ability to transport the layman beyond that which would satisfy a layman’s standards, to elevate him to a higher plane of aesthetic experience.

In this regard, the role of the artist is very similar to the role of a spiritual teacher. Paul warns Timothy of those who would “have their ears tickled.” That is to say, people will seek out those who tell them what they want to believe, rather than reaching for God’s truth that is sometimes harder to receive, but which brings those who receive the truth closer to God.

So the artist is not bound to popular appeal but to his commitment to elevating the culture to a higher and more enduring beauty than what the world would seek out for itself. To judge artistic merit in this regard requires more than a layman’s judgment. It requires a college of peers.

Literature Survives

Literature fits these criteria as a viable art form. It is a meritocracy in which popular approval is still important. To be a best seller is the popular affirmation.There is a body of literary mind-garbage available for public consumption, but there remains, also, a body of higher-minded experts that can recognize and extol true literary genius.

Good writers still have viable standards of artistic achievement. While a visual artist can get away with murder when passing himself off as an artistic genius. It is not so with a writer. If a writer has a great story in his mind, he may regard himself as a great genius, but unlike visual art, nobody will award him with official accolades and recognition just for having great thoughts.

No, great literary genius can only be acknowledged by actually producing a work of literature that is widely accessible to others in written form. That is why becoming a best seller means something. In that sense, The art of writing has become less corrupted than those things that pass for visual art. Good writers do not have legions of frauds and pretenders crowding them out.

Literature — A Convenient and Inexpensive Art Form.

To be productive as a writer is less expensive than other art forms. If you are an accomplished musician, a high-quality musical instrument can be quite expensive. Also, you can’t practice just anywhere and any time as your music may be a disturbance to neighbors.

If you are a visual artist, the cost of supplies can really add up. if your work requires a studio space, that’s a big cost too. If you want to make a name for yourself you will have to enter shows, host exhibits, mail invitations, pay big gallery commissions, network, attend other artist showings and like (or, at least pretend to like) their work.

By contrast, most people already have everything they need to become productive as writers — pen, paper, computer, printer, internet access, and word a program. Writing is a quiet medium that you can indulge spontaneously, any time you have a flash of inspiration. All you need is a pen and a scrap of paper. If you are very good as a writer, your creative gift is more likely to be rewarded and recognised—perhaps not by all, but by those who count.

7 thoughts on “Why Literature is still a Bastion of Great Art”

  1. This is so true.
    As a Christian myself, I see one feeds their spirit with lecture. The problem is when one thinks it is a boring thing to do. I just don’t like it when one has trouble finding liteture interesting. As in; it not being to their interest. .

    1. This is what distinguishes a good writer. Good literature holds your attention, but it is also instructive. A good lecture can be informative if you can pay attention, but a good writer can get you emotionally invested in the message so that it is hard for the reader to put the book down.

  2. Thank you for this brilliant and provocative article on literature as an important art form. I think what you said about the visual arts is dead on. Thinking people need to wake up and realize what a con-job the contemporary arts community has pulled on the public. I will say it with you—the emperor has not cloths!! I hope there is a cultural revolution in the visual arts. Meanwhile, it is good to know that there is one medium of creative expression that is poised for a period of prosperity, if enough talented people will contribute. I do believe the new publishing industry is becoming a meritocracy. I believe that talent and beauty will flourish no matter how many political and ideological enemies are arrayed against it.

  3. I just love to sit down and read good literature that just holds my attention from start to the end. These are really great works of literature because you begin to see what the writer sees, feel what the writer feels and all of that other good stuff. It is good to know how good literature has and still is holding and inspiring the lives of so many people.

    1. Thank you Norman. Writing does not come as easy for me as some writers who just have a wonderful gift of doing exactly what you describe. I can’t imagine what our world would look like without them. 

  4. I really like this post, very interesting topic! What you say is so true regarding different art forms and how they have survived through time. With the technology, boom products are becoming cheaper and smarter but still cost a lot more than pen and paper, or a simple laptop to write a story on. I like the sound of writing, so much simpler than making movies and music or you need is your imagination and some determination to be successful.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Kris. I do think there is an elegant simplicity to putting thoughts on paper, and I find it is an excellent way to clarify one’s own thoughts and values—even those never intended for publication.

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