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Conservativism in the arts

Newmania and I have chewed over this one a few times, and reckon that there is plenty of it about, but we have been struggling with creating a grand theory – is conservative art conservative by nature of what it addresses, its form, or because it is created for profit?

I advanced the idea that art, of whatever form, that deals with the here and now or holds up a mirror to our own times rather than focusing on the utopian lends itself to being described as conservative, whereas that which deals more with change, or its desirability, might be better viewed as, in the broad sense, left. I feel that using that as a starting point one can claim Shakespeare as one of us, and having performed that particular land grab, naming and claiming other figures becomes almost a question of detail. Newmania claims Austen as one of ours on the basis of form and content, although as I have conceded previously, I am not au fait with Austen.

In terms of form, Aristotle’s poetics is a helpful tool for examining drama – unity of time, space and plot in the context of drama. In terms of painting, I suppose one could focus on conventional figurative art rather than the conceptual and therefore claim most of western art prior to the impressionists. I recommend a small detour to read about The Stuckists in their own words and over at Wikipedia. For those pressed for time, here is a precis of their aims and methods: “The group are defined by their Stuckists manifesto, written by Childish and Thomson in 1999, that places great importance on the value of painting as a medium, as well as the use of it for communication and the expression of emotion and experience - as opposed to what they see as the superficial novelty, nihilism and irony of conceptual art and postmodernism. The most contentious statement in their manifesto is: "Artists who don't paint aren't artists". In a second manifesto, the Stuckists declared that they aimed to replace postmodernism with Remodernism, a period of renewed spiritual (as opposed to religious) values in art, culture and society”.

If art is conservative by nature of it being commercial, then it is game, set, match and championship to our lot.

I am hoping for substantial input from readers here, as this is very much the germ of an idea, and if I am hopelessly out of my depth, doubtless I will discover that all too soon.
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Anonymous newmania said... 12:27 pm

As I believe I mentioned C I fear you and I may the only ones interested but what a heroic bash you have made at it.

This is the problem. Margaret Thatcher beat Socialism. Its wrecked body hung over the ropes and in flew the towel. The intellectual basis for much of what our governments do does not exists

It has been replaced with this vague sense that Conservatives are nasty and this comes form the drip drip drip of drama and arts anti Conservatism that dominates the media . What do we find ten years later its as if everyone hated Thatch. An utter lie and we have to start breaking out of our inward looking political discussion and take the battle into the land of symbol semiotics and in the broadest sense art. Burning the BBC to the ground would be good start.

I claim for our team
J Austen obviously
Kipling Obviosuly
TS Elliot ..equally obviously
John Updike
Martin Amis
Phillip Larkin
The Play Closer( forget the author)
Orwell , of course

Of the top of my head but to what extent politics is directly the link is difficult . It’s a matter of style attitude . The cavalier poets for example are very much high Tory
As Conservatism is about culture tradition and community in a human sense we can say for certain one thing . It has infinitely more to say on the arts that either Marxists fossils or Liberal barbarians .

This land is ours Lets take it back and defend it !!!!  

Blogger Croydonian said... 12:43 pm

Not sure about Amis fils, but definitely Amis père. Mind you, the pricey dental work and the aggressive contract negotiations....

'Closer' was written by Patrick Marber.

I think the SWP was claiming Velázquez a while back. They are welcome to Brecht though.

Meanwhile, an old joke: 'This land is your land. This land is my land. So stay off'.  

Anonymous Colin said... 2:18 pm

How exciting that you, Croydonian and Newmania, have also thought about the topic of art and the ideology of the left. I can only let you know the results of my attempts of understanding the situation without claiming to be correct on this.

(1) True art is about reality, about the eternal problems of humans. That's why it is timeless, why our emotions are stimulated, why we can understand and most importantly feel it even centuries later.

(2) Undeniably, there are so-called art forms unable to touch our emotions. If we look more closely, this kind of art is not about reality but about religion, i.e. utopia, and the modern versions of religion, i.e. all forms of ideology such as progressivism. If we look more closely, this kind of art doesn't show but preaches. These "artists" are not artists but preachers who are using art for trying to make us believe in their utopia. Since the products of preaching artists are bloodless, they cannot stand on their own, they require interpretation and only few people are willing to pay for this boring stuff. Hence, the preaching artists are living directly or indirectly from governmental subsidies. Often, the preaching artist is a minion of contemporary rulers paied to praise his master.  

Anonymous newmania said... 2:55 pm

I think you are onto something there Colin, regrettably I am in the un utopian state of working but that is exceedingly insightful in my humble ..

I would like to pick it up asap  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 4:20 pm

for a realll laugh you should watch the kirsty wark thing after newsnight on a friday whwen a bunch of ponces get totgether and startt banging on about how a pile of bricks is this that and the other.it's all bollocks really and only there to justify the price tag.

see whilst a lot of those tossers are left wing they rather sell to capitalist.  

Anonymous Nick Drew said... 6:17 pm

If we start from Colin's insight (1): "True art is about reality, about the eternal problems of humans...", and we view the 'problems' part of this as beng essential to the statement, then we are only one step away from wondering if the artist is suggesting that something might / ought to change. (Of course, the artist might be sticking at a portrayal of the problem, in the sense of c'est la vie, no change suggested or perhaps even possible).

If the artist may indeed be inviting the audience to reflect that change of some sort might be an appropriate response to the problem, he might either be suggesting an old, old solution to that eternal human problem (conservative); or alternatively a new / radical solution ('left', in Croydonian's sense). Conservatives don't hold that there is nothing to be done about eternal human problems, they simply consider it no surprise when the problem keeps re-occurring. So, I'm not sure Colin's first insight assists in developing Croydonian's proposed dichotomy.

My suggestion would be to broaden the scope of Colin's point, by deleting the word 'problems', and substitute 'verities'. Of course, these verities include a good many recurring problems, but a lot more besides. Much high art plays back stimuli that engender emotions of uncomplicated pleasure.

I believe this can include art that 'deals with the here and now', not just paintings of sunsets. Perhaps, Croydonian, you hold that art that 'deals with the here and now' is essentially about problems? (in which case we are back to Colin): or that you are only interested in that portion of art that deals with problems?

Question: is Philip Pullman in your camp?  

Blogger Croydonian said... 6:24 pm

Nick - thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

I will admit to not being au fait with Pullman, but have just read up a bit on him. What one can say is that many, many fantasy and sci-fi writers self-identify as being of the right.  

Anonymous verity said... 6:33 pm

"What one can say is that many, many fantasy and sci-fi writers self-identify as being of the right."

Where was HG Wells?

Aldous Huxley?  

Anonymous Colin said... 6:39 pm

Thank you Newmania, Rigger Mortice and Nick Drew, for letting me know your thoughts concerning my comment.

Nick Drew hit the nail on it's head by proposing to delete the word 'problems', and substitute 'verities'. That's more precise!

Yes, art is about the verities of human life. And painting a rosy picture of life is normally accused by left intellectuals of being a kitschy soap opera, except naturally if it is about the rosy picture of their socialist, multicultural utopia, which might therefore be called a leftist soap opera.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 6:40 pm

I was thinking of Tolkein, C.S Lewis and Robert Heinlein in particular. Wells is one of theirs I think. Huxley is a harder one to call.  

Anonymous verity said... 7:01 pm

Are you saying HG Wells was on the left or the right? Heinlein was conservative, wasn't he? And Philip Dick.

Huxley - yes, hard to call, agreed. My instinct tells me left, but I can't account for it.  

Anonymous newmania said... 8:36 pm

I like Nick`s ideas of revealing verities because this will allow me at a pinch to claim writers that I know full well would have considered themselves on the left like Brecht …….ooops I `m heading tediously of into what was once a course.

I do think though we have to define the Conservative imaginatively or risk giving the devil all the best tunes .

For example Gerald Manley Hopkins is a poet that conducted what you might call a private Conservative revolution . He eschewed the Latinate and tried to use words that went back a thousand years into our Germanic heritage . It is all underpinned by strict Catholicism but its more the style I want to claim.

The first stanza of “the Grandeur of god shows the power he creates by delving deep into the language for the heart of things

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.
Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; ………..

There is great attention to minute alliterative sound effects by which he is trying to connect with the oldest of English vesre techniques and make a style that is worthy of his subject as he sees it.

Winston Chuchill seeking to reach for the country’s courage employed a similar Lexicon and at times touched intensely romantic notes

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind, We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory - victory - at all costs, victory, in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

At other times he uses the balance of the classic English sentence such as we might find in Fielding . Consider his reaction to the Munich appeasement

They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history.

Doesn`t that still resonate today. Thes are example of the Conservative Romantic imagination but I would also claim just about anything ever that is funny.I would in fact be loathe to leave th eleft with anyhting of any merit whatsoever  

Anonymous newmania said... 8:50 pm

Colin`s second paragraph is especially good and to me shows he has thought very hard about this difficult but vital area. It does sometimes seem that state subsidies work like some kind of poison on the soul immediately lowering the bar. I have never quite been sure why this was and |Colin makes a good stab at it for me .

I do believe myself that the Liberal instinct to fudge , include and its tolerance of dishonesty renders it helpless in the face of some subjects . Stephen Spielberg I admire for his Conservative qualities of artfulness and techniques and looking back for inspiration but when he approached a film about he Munich bombing he choked. The Israeli revenges were given doubts their mission was made morally problematical to the characters . What an error . The great film in the material was a Searchers where the doubts if there are any are in the Audiences mind not the characters . Golda Mayeer, gives the order with regret “every civilisation must negotiate with its values “ and then the morality should come from the actions not the soliloquising weeds we see.. The power of the Searchers ids in the fact that you do know whether John Wayne will take the girl home or finish her off.  

Anonymous newmania said... 8:52 pm

Sorry spelling etc. all over the place, so much for technique  

Anonymous nick drew said... 9:21 pm

I'm sure newmania would be the first to agree that if we are hell-bent on claiming for conservatism everything we see merit in, the exercise rapidly loses its point!

For the same reason, Croydonian's comment that many fantasy and sci-fi writers self-identify as being of the right moves us into difficult territory, & needs to be followed through rather carefully. You've already laid claim to Orwell, of course, whose nominal self-ident is well known. If this isn't to be a slippery slope we are in need of some criteria.

It lies behind my question about Pullman, because he self-idents as iconoclastic, anti-clerical, and probably anti-religion full-stop. But I would say he has come pretty close to sketching out a new religion of his own devising: so obviously I, too, am reserving the right to reject self-idents.

With some regrets I also believe we can't lay claim to everything of merit! Shelley is absolutely wonderful but also, I suggest, of the left. (Certainly Paul Foot thought so.)

This doesn't constitute a criterion, of course. Perhaps we need to feel our way there with examples, & abstract from them as we go along. Could be a long (& enjoyable) process ...  

Anonymous newmania said... 10:11 pm

Nick , coincedentally I considered the line "We’ll have to give them Shelley which I can bear with ease"
Its years since I’ve looked looked but I recall thinking it weak by comparison with the other romantics.
Pullman , I `ve read one or two of the dark materials books and I`m happy to include children’s books . The Narnia books are overtly religious and you could claim them for Conservatism on the grounds of harking back to the medieval …..but you are right I `m afraid I have a just so story for anyone I like .
Miltonic is the word that leaps to mind with much of mythic Blake thrown in.It is a subversion of the Miltonic of course but do I detect something almost fascist , . I recall reading about (lord no not listening to ) the Ring cycle ,and the idea that the heroic Humans are above the gods
I`m not at all sure that Conservatism sits very comfortably in this company there is a right wing emphasis on the individual but you are right I think to sense the influence of the didactic Milton .

Did he I wonder want to put us off the scent by claiming to be on the side of the rebels .this would be nice inversion,. I think Balke said of Milton he was “Of the devils party ….without knowing it “…sorry for vagueness

Yes there is a preachiness that is fun but not “Conservative” to my mind .

I like your approach have you an example that you consider central to your view of Conservative values in the arts ?  

Anonymous nick drew said... 10:34 pm

newmania - will reply but not for a couple of days, am just off on a short trip.  

Anonymous Anonymous said... 11:24 pm

That Billy Childish used to come in the same Pub as me with his mum! Nice moustache and he could hold his drink. Now thats a pretty good definition of a Conservative .  

Blogger Croydonian said... 12:24 pm

Wells was definitely of the Left. He ran as a Labour party candidate, and PH will be appalled to know that he was all in favour of a world state, and an undemocratic one at that, with the franchise restricted to "scientists, organizers, engineers, and others of merit" Source  

Anonymous Anonymous said... 10:15 pm

mr Drew
peyote , Salvia or LSD?  

Blogger Croydonian said... 4:04 pm

Ok, back to the topic at hand.

Can't say that I have anything like enough knowledge of classical music to be able to offer any worthwhile analysis, and the written word is more my area than the arts.  

Anonymous nick drew said... 4:08 pm

OK, well I've re-located too, so, here's waiting for the arts posse.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 4:32 pm

I have tech problems at the moment in that the notification e-mails are not coming through. Trouble at Google I think.

On the plastic arts, is figurative vs conceptual a good starting point?  

Anonymous nick drew said... 6:52 pm

Now we have 3 dichotomies in play!
Right / left; apollonian / dionysian; and figurative / conceptual.

Worth thinking about, but I'm not immediately of the view that they resolve to the same thing. Overlaps exist all over the place, but each term brings something specific and different to the party.

More over the w/end perhaps ...  

Blogger Darkersideofbridgetjones said... 3:59 pm

Just emailed you, just read this post and I am thinking this is just fantastic. How long did it take you to write it? By the way delete this comment, once you have read it.

I didn't know you knew so much about art.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 6:12 am

Comments are now locked due to posts by scumbag spammers. If you have anything useful to add, e-mail me and I will temporarily unlock the thread.