What is Art telling us?
There can surely have been no time in the whole history of the arts in which they have been so bereft of beauty as now. Indeed, you sometimes wonder whether their contemporary mission is to negate and destroy beauty. The kind of works that win the Turner Prize are a dead shark, a cow and her calf chopped in half, a scrunched up sheet of paper, internal spaces turned into concrete, a dirty unmade bed. Modern music is full of dissonance and harsh discord. Not a single poem on the short list for the 2017 National Poetry Competition showed any inclination to record or celebrate the beauty of the world, only to record, often most ingeniously, little segments of private experience that were usually of an unpleasant and troubling nature. But this is not to say that the artists who create these works are not good artists, indeed I suspect they are possibly very perceptive indeed. How often has art foretold in imaginative form realities that in time would take a physical shape? Amidst the frivolous amusements of Versailles Watteau’s pictures are full of apprehension and foreboding. At the height of the glory of the British Empire Edwardian English music is already lamenting a lost world. The distorted forms of Picasso’s Guernica look back to the Spanish Civil War but are also the very images of the human wrecks that would be uncovered at Belsen.
Is the ugliness of today’s art already telling us of the future catastrophic disaster of a world whose beauty we are destroying so wantonly? I fear so. Yet we should pay attention to the artists. They foretell the future because they uncover what is already in the groundwork of the soul. You get what you want but, unless the artists tell you, do not know what it is you want, and what we most deeply want, but do not know that we do, is to destroy both the world and ourselves. Knowledge is all. Once you know what it is you want you can begin to try to free yourself from unconscious compulsions and do something about it. Pay attention to the artists.