Thursday, June 25, 2009

Commercialism in Art

A couple of years ago Francoise Cachin, the head of all France's museums including the Louvre and the Musee National d' Art Moderne, and granddaughter of painter Paul Signac, lost her place on the national museum committe because of her views concerning the commercial use of art. Cachin, now 73, is an outspoken critic of such use of art in her country. According to ARTnews (September 2007) she said, "Morally, ethically, I am shocked to see the commercial and promotional use of art - of our national heritage, of masterpieces in the collection of the French museums. We should be protecting our patrimony." She says she has suffered some retaliation from the arts establishment as the result of her outspokenness.

Friends, it is this same sentiment that I bring to my discourse on American literature. Of course a piece of great literature must be promoted - its praises should be sung from the rooftops - but this spending of millions to promote the next banal piece of mediocrity is just plain foolishness. I think it was Mark Twain who said that one who does not read great literature has no advantage over the one who does not read at all. With a straight face and without any intended irony Stephen King said that reading Harry Potter was preparing a future generation of Stephen King readers. It is nearly impossible to find anyone who reads at all, let alone has read the classics of literature.

And yet how quickly we fall into that pit. "Well," we say, "we have to keep the industry afloat, so that the great literature at least has the chance to get noticed." Perhaps we should let the industry collapse, just as abuses have led to the collapse of our economic system, so that we can start again. Still, there is nothing I can do about that. I continue to read and attempt to write something great. That is all I can do for now.

I have just finished reading 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates. It is all the rage lately with the new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (with Kathy Bates thrown in for good measure). And, while the movie is disturbing in its subject matter (is anyone safe from the angst of modern life?), I found it equally disturbing that Richard Yates was largely unknown in his lifetime. Perhaps, instead of writing this great American novel, he should have aimed his sites at something more commercial, like Harold Robbins or one of the other giants of that day. (Who? this generation might rightly ask). Exactly! There is no reason to remember him. There will be no reason for Harry Potter or the latest Stephen King to be remembered, either.

Here's hoping you are reading good and well and true. Pay no attention to that commercial trash behind the curtain. Stick with what you know to be great.

Jim

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