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My thoughts.

  1. Fiction, the literary genre, is suffering in America because it is an art and we do not support the arts and almost all contemporary American fiction is shit.  It really is.  It is crap.  This is not the case elsewhere.  But fiction writing requires a great deal of discipline and talent.  We encourage niether.  I don't think you'll see many people calling Dickens or Shakespeare shit.  It's contemporary American fiction that sucks.

  2. There is also an aesthetic trend toward blurring the line between fact and fiction.  This got a head start abroad, and some cultures still don't put too much value on the distinction.  While Capote certainly had much to do with the blurring of genres, I'd also credit the gonzo journalism and beat movements.  Though even Mark Twain and Dostoyevsky blurred the line back in the day...  But America has always championed black & white clear cut genres.  It is either fact or a lie.  Well, it is just now dawning on people that reality is full of white lies and art is full of incidental truths and pushing the envelope, a la Frey, is the "it" thing to do.  It is a marketing tool.  This too shall pass.  

  3. You'll find that back in the day when I was asking for someone to recommend a book to help me understand our current crisis, I requested philosphy and literature.  As a film student, with a concentration in Russian at that, I've never been too gung ho on fact v fiction in the lit genres, as it is abundantly clear that all creative self expression (as writing always is) is inherently subjective and promotes an agenda, good or bad.  So the idea that we can only learn from non fiction is bunk as even non fiction is not entirely objective, in the way that say, double blind scientific experimentation might be.

  4. And that's the crux of the matter.  I won't sit here and tell you we have nothing to learn from religion, that some religious teachings do not contain some truths, or perhaps keen insights is a better phrase, into the human condition.  Not at all.  Nor should we ignore religion.  Just because something is harmfull doesn't make it unworthy of investigation or unable to teach us about ourselves.  

I think all genres are equally valid, fiction or non-fiction.  Both have their merits.  Both can be badly written.  The thing is, when something claiming to be fiction is full of lies, its just badly written.  When something claiming to be non-fiction is full of lies, it is deceitful.  Whether it is written by Ann Coulter or God Almighty.  Also, if your little book is so full of truths, they should stand on their own even if I read every other book in the Universe and judge them all by the same standards I judge yours.  People who live according to one book only are doing much worse than favoring fiction over fact.  They are denying the rest of us the possibility of living with well informed citizens.

And like I said, I'm not aware of any genocides done in the name of aesthetic tastes...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Aug 8th, 2006 at 09:51:12 PM EST
Genocides by aesthetes? Hmmm, well, Goebbels was a Lit. major. Of course, the one thing that redeemed him is that he saved Hermann Broch at James Joyce's request.

I checked to see if some of the best books of fiction in the last 2 years had been reviewed in the NYT. 80% of them have. I read a lot of fiction, and I do believe American fiction is alive and well. Currently I'm reading recent books by Percival Everett and Shelley Jackson, two excellent writers who haven't been reviewed by the NYT.

by Upstate NY on Tue Aug 8th, 2006 at 10:14:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm, well, Goebbels was a Lit. major.

I really don't think the Jews' taste in fiction was the reasoning for the Holocaust.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Tue Aug 8th, 2006 at 10:32:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you'll see many people calling Dickens [...] shit.

waves hand.

by MarekNYC on Tue Aug 8th, 2006 at 10:23:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
:)

You said that out loud.

"No I didn't, raise middle finger."
-Bender, Futurama: "That's Lobstertainment"


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Thu Aug 10th, 2006 at 05:39:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
we do not support the arts

Please qualify this bold claim.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 04:41:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you really think this country does an adequate job of supporting the arts?

I don't.  I believe it is very much the result of our version of hyper-capitalism, which places value on endeavors that make money.  I wrote a thesis on this somewhere ... dissapeared in to the college paper black hole.  Anyway.   Of course this is not to say that there is no art here.  There is a lot of it.  

Generations ago you could make a living in this country being an artist. You used to be able to live on the Cape in a shack and write for a year, now only millionaires can afford a shack on th Cape.  And if you do make it, there is insane pressure from publishing companies to pump out material.  It's all about the bottom line.  

I managed a big box book store during the era when they all moved into your towns and ran the little independent ones out of business.  I can tell you, promise you, that the people running those ships, literature was the last thing on their minds.  It was "product."  Could be a latte, a plastic bookmark, a DVD, a book, a mug, a toy, they didn't care what it was.  So long as it sold.  Didn't sell, it was taken off the shelves.  When I began, everyone I worked with held lit or language or music or history or art degrees and we were paid a living wage.  Wages were slashed to where you couldn't pay off a student loan and work there at the same time.  People hired to help university professors and students find the right philosphy and travel books were shoved behind cash registers and told to put pizzas in microwaves.  It was the most depressing thing in the world.  Well, it felt like it at the time.  I quit.

Arts?  I know a lot of artists, but they all have day jobs.  Usually of the retail or numbers crunching variety.  It's killing their souls.  

Here's the budget info for the National Endowment for the Arts:

Between 1965 and 2003, the agency has made more than 119,000 grants. Congress granted the NEA annual funding between $160 and $180 million from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. However, in 1996, Congress slashed NEA funding to $99.5 million (see Chronology of Federal Support to the NEA) as a result of increasing pressure from conservative groups such as the American Family Association, who have criticized the agency for using tax dollars to fund highly controversial artists such as Robert Clark Young, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the so-called "NEA Four." Since 1996, the NEA has rebounded somewhat with a 2004 budget of $121 million. [1]

$121 million for the arts

$401.7 billion : Defense Department's base budget
$27.3 billion : Pork
$56 billion : Department of Education

The public schools should be the places where children are exposed to the arts and learn to appreciate them.  (Not all will or can.  I never got math, but they were still obligated to teach me algebra...)

And overview of the NCLB budget shortfalls:  http://www.nea.org/esea/budget.html

Education is underfunded (and poorly managed).  When there is a budget crunch, arts programs are the first to be cut.

Insightful testimonial from an art teacher:

By Ryan Hurley
WEAC PR/Comm summer intern

"I am an endangered species," said Jeff Johnson, who teaches at Westside Academy in Milwaukee. "I am an art teacher."

Johnson strongly believes that the importance of the arts in a child's education is being downplayed by the school district and "when it comes down to it, the children need to be put first."
Since 1993, when legislators imposed revenue caps on public schools, school districts have been forced to make some hard decisions about ways they can cut back spending. Music and art programs were usually among the first to receive severe blows.

More than 10 years later, the slashing of music and art programs is continuing in dramatic fashion. In addition to revenue controls, the recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act (often referred to as the No Child Left Behind law) imposed by the Bush administration has put music and art programs in rough shape and left with a dim future. In hopes of reducing the budget, school districts throughout the state are taking drastic measures by cutting out pieces of art and music programs and in some cases eliminating teaching positions completely.

"These are trying times for all education, especially arts. The No Child Left Behind Act has put a restriction on music programs' ability to thrive," said Nancy Rasmussen, president of Wisconsin Music Educators Association.

Because music and the arts aren't government-tested like reading, writing and math, school districts are pressured to cut them first.

Some other observations: Public TV and Radio, where most arts broadcasting is done, is becoming increasingly corporate sponsored, complete with commercials.  And the content is becoming worse and worse.  The public radio station in Chicago is planning to cut all music programming and stick only to news.  People are baffled.  And the local museums are stopping their free days and changing their ticket price from "suggested donation of" to actually charging everyone.  Too poor to see Picasso?  Boo hoo...

When I was in Russia, people had art in their homes, did art.  Everyone was literate.  And I mean, had read Mark Twain and Dostoyevsky and Flaubert literate.  It wasn't fringe.  As a Slavic librarian, we get all kinds of headaches from people with the same name (Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov) writing poetry, so we have to qualify the authors with titles like (engineer) (physicist) (mathematician).  Engineers!  Writing poetry!  Cats and dogs.  Living together!

Anyway, this is my take on things.  Why I think we are not doing enough to support the arts.


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 05:48:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I agree with your argument that the country doesn't do enough to support the arts, I think you're going too far when you say there are no artists. I know a lot of them that are writing, still doing it in shacks on the Cape (provided by Provincetown Arts), or on an island off the coast of maine (Frontier Arts), or somewhere else in New England (Bennington Arts, Yaddo, MacDowell). Heck, I once found a berth at the Fundacion Valparaiso for a while in Mojacar, Spain, right on the Mediterranean. They gave me a room, fed me, cleaned my clothes, provided lots of wine, and refused to allow any electronic media on the premises. It was wonderful, and I shared that experience with a Nigerian painter, a Bosnian Muslim printmaker, an American poet, a Mexican dancer, and others from Europe. There are still lots of possibilities out there for painters, writers, poets. It's not entirely bleak. I think the American arts scene is still pretty vibrant. In Rochester, NY, near where I live, the students graduate the great music school they have there and quite a few of them are them hosted by community arts programs. One group, Jazz musicians, joined up to make a fusion band out of Jazz, Math Rock and a few surprising twists of their own. A local university gave them free room & boarding in return for a concert on campus every Friday night.

In my local community of Buffalo, there is so much to do in terms of the local arts that one could literally go to three events every night of the week. There are even 6 nationally recognized reading series here that bring writers in from all over the world.

by Upstate NY on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 07:19:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where did I say there were no artists?

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 09:44:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe I jumped to conclusions when I read these lines...

Generations ago you could make a living in this country being an artist. You used to be able to live on the Cape in a shack and write for a year, now only millionaires can afford a shack on th Cape.  And if you do make it, there is insane pressure from publishing companies to pump out material.  It's all about the bottom line.

and...  

Arts?  I know a lot of artists, but they all have day jobs.  Usually of the retail or numbers crunching variety.  It's killing their souls.

I just assumed you were saying that the artists you know can be generalized into a multitude of artists who have 9 to 5 jobs that are killing them.

by Upstate NY on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 10:29:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is certainly vibrant. In Minneapolis and Boston (the cities I have lived in) my experience was similar to yours - there was no shortage of artists, support networks for said artists, or events / showings. Lack of public funds is a problem, but in this wealthy country private donations and philanthropy are very extensive and do more good than people tend to acknowledge.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Aug 10th, 2006 at 02:39:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One piece of the puzzle is the diversion of (some of the) potential artistic talent from traditional channels. In the visual arts, I have often encountered new works that combine a powerful esthetics with jarring symbolism and beautiful execution. The creators clearly represent a broad and deep pool of talent. Their images make their public appearances in magazine advertising.

The diversion of talent from traditional forms of art into the electronic media (video, computer graphics...) contributes to this picture.

Note that I have expressed no opinion regarding whether the products of this talent qualify as art, or (better) where they should be regarded as fitting in the spectrum of creative products that includes the arts.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 07:35:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I more or less agree with this. If you had said "we don't do enough to support the arts" instead of "we don't support the arts" I wouldn't have asked for the reply. Absolute statements particularly about the US (as I am a US citizen) are a good way to provoke me.

The DoD budget is, I think, the most damaging component of the US government. It can't be reduced even by the executive branch, as Clinton discovered. "Managing" the demands of the DoD during a prolonged energy crisis or a decline in US economic power worries me more than those two events themselves due to the DoD's unstoppable inertia.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Aug 10th, 2006 at 02:31:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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