Innovation and 80% Jobs
Some notes & quotes from recent reads:
To find something new! That was the imperative of modernism, not only in painting but also in poetry, in theater, in music, in architecture and eventually in the cinema. Your job as an artist was no longer to glorify the king or the church, nor to imitate as faithfully as possible the appearance of the outside world. It was to solder the next link in a cultural chain — fashioning a novel utterance that took novel shape even as it manifested its place in a larger history. “You have to be absolutely modern,” Rimbaud declared; “Make it new,” Ezra Pound instructed. To speak to your time, we once believed, required much more than new “content.” It required a commitment to new modes of narration, new styles of expression, that could bear witness to sea changes in society.
If the present state of culture feels directionless — it does to me, and sussing out its direction is literally my job — that is principally because we are still inculcated, so unconsciously we never even bother to spell it out, in what the modernists believed: that good art is good because it is innovative, and that an ambitious writer, composer, director or choreographer should not make things too much like what others have made before. But our culture has not been able to deliver step changes for quite some time. When you walk through your local museum’s modern wing, starting with Impressionism and following a succession of avant-gardes through the development of Cubism, Dada, Pop, minimalism, in the 1990s you arrive in a forest called “the contemporary,” and after more than 30 years no path forward has been revealed. On your drive home, you can turn on the decade-by-decade stations of Sirius XM: the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s will each sound distinct, but all the millennial nostalgia of the 2000s station cannot disguise that “We Belong Together” and “Irreplaceable” do not yet sound retro. When I was younger, I looked at cultural works as if they were posts on a timeline, moving forward from Manet year by year. Now I find myself adrift in an eddy of cultural signs, where everything just floats, and I can only tell time on my phone.
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