Bankruptcy in the arts
Glenwood Springs, Co Colorado
During the past several decades we have witnessed what I consider to be a decline in inspiration and craftsmanship in both the performing and the visual arts.
First, let’s consider the performing arts. Musicals like “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady” all contained a wealth of melodies that remained in our heads long after we left the theater. More recent musicals, such as “Cats,” “Evita,” “Hello, Dolly!” “Man of La Mancha” “and “The Phantom of the Opera” contain only one or two memorable melodies, and attempt to make up for that deficiency with extravagant stage effects. “Grand Opera” died with the death of Giacomo Puccini in 1924. No one since then has been able to create the soaring melodies that used to make opera grand. The same is true of classical music, in which technique has taken the place of melody, generally resulting in boring cacophony. Popular music no longer has the memorable melodies of the big band era. It has tried to make up for the deficiency with sophomoric stage antics, psychedelic lighting, and 100-decibel amplification. Both motion pictures and television programming no longer exhibit the quality of writing they used to. Instead of well-crafted story lines, we are now “entertained” with spectacles of personal violence, car crashes and massive explosions. Live theater today lacks the genius and craftsmanship of legendary playwrights like Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, Neil Simon and Tennessee Williams.
The visual arts are similarly lacking in the skill and craftsmanship for which they were formerly admired. It used to be the skills acquired from years of training to perfect their craft that made painters famous. Nowadays, painters gain their fame by merely trying to come up with something different, like dripping splotches of paint on a canvas, or creating meaningless swatches of color – something that elephants and dogs have been shown to be equally capable of doing. Today’s animated cartoons are devoid of the artistic skills that this art form used to display under the mastery of Walt Disney, Chuck Jones and Fritz Freling (who created Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester and Tweety Bird and Yosemite Sam), and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera (who created Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and The Flintstones). Even our postage stamps no longer exhibit the skilled engraving that used to make them miniature works of art, but now look like nothing more than cheap posters.
How do we explain this decline in skills infecting the entire spectrum of the arts? It may be because the arts are a reflection of their times. We seem to be living in an era of instant gratification, where few are willing to devote the time and effort required to master a craft, and instead seek a quick and easy way to gain recognition. Our society also has a fixation on finding the quickest and cheapest way of achieving everything in our lives. We may have to put up with this current mediocrity for a very long time. Hopefully this is not a permanent downward trend.
P.S. The headline of my Sept. 24 column, “Sadly, the news media only dwells on the sensational,” contained two grammatical errors, for which I am not responsible; I did not write it. See if you can spot them. And in my Oct. 8 column there was a typographical error in the last paragraph: “riveting the economy” should have read “reviving the economy.”
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent
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