For art’s sake

I never liked art class in school. In elementary school, I skipped art assignments whenever possible, and only finished them reluctantly. Middle school? I became a teacher’s aide for no reason other than to avoid hitting art’s spot in the rotation. And I outright failed the class in high school, though that was as much because of a teacher who hated me as it was my apathy.

But that’s specifically visual art, and there are other kinds. While I can’t draw anything more complex than a stick figure, I’m no good at any musical instrument, and I wouldn’t make it five minutes into a clay sculpture without needing to wash my hands, I like to think I’m a decent writer. I’m a (self-)published author, after all. So, as much as I don’t want to admit it, I’m an artist.

Thus, the arts have become my concern. They should be yours, too, but not for the reason you think.

Art is an expression of culture. That’s really its primary purpose, when you think about it. Great peoples produce great, er, people, and those people produce great works of art. The Renaissance is rightly praised for its works in many fields, works which evoke a certain “feel” that we as human beings can sense. Even if you don’t know a thing about Florence in the 15th century, you still get the sense that Renaissance creations belong to the same general time and place. Likewise the Gothic cathedrals, classical Greek architecture, or elaborate Chinese calligraphy.

Looking at modern art, however, you can only see a culture in decline. A sick culture, maybe even a dying one. And it doesn’t matter which of the arts you investigate; you’ll find the same problem in all of them:

  • Mainstream popular music is now largely based on repetitive patterns of monotonic drumbeats instead of, say, harmonized melody and vocals. Lyrics—the only sort of poetry still produced for public consumption—are typically uncreative, bearing little fit to meter or rhyme, and restricted to a few set topics.

  • Television and film have all but given up on new ideas, instead preferring endless sequels, reboots, and adaptations. Most original content being produced is in the form of sitcoms catering to the lowest common denominator or scripted “reality” shows. Characters are more like caricatures, lacking depth or motivation.

  • Literature suffers the same characterization problems in fiction, added to the low quality of modern prose. No one, it seems, can write in a “high” literary style anymore. Popular books tend to be either biographies or wish-fulfillment fantasies, with everything else considered “niche” in some way.

  • Modern architecture has fully adopted the brutalist style, eschewing attempts at beauty or emulation of classical grandeur in favor of bland, forgettable constructions. Cookie-cutter homes, McMansions, and the ever-popular “box of windows” commercial building dull our eyes and make even a vibrant city feel lifeless.

I could go on, but the other arts are very minor today (sculpture and poetry) or, as with something like photography, simply repeat the same problems as above. Better than listing problems is finding causes, then solutions.

The cause, of course, comes down to politics. The arts are almost wholly controlled by progressives, and the destruction of culture is one part of the overall progressive agenda. It comes from communism, originally, and who would have guessed that the ideology responsible for over 100 million deaths would also want to kill cultures? But that’s the goal, really. Creativity is individuality, and culture is individuals of like minds building something greater.

While I never like to use absolutist terms, this is one case where it’s appropriate. Progressivism and communism are just plain evil. By definition, as anti-human ideologies, they must be. And, as Tolkien reminds us, evil cannot create. It can only destroy and pervert. It’s only natural, then, that corrupting forces would drag a culture’s creative output down to the low levels we see today.

Progressives control Hollywood, and so we see cardboard cutouts instead of characters, protagonists who are chosen based on how many diversity boxes they check, and transparent morality plays instead of stories. The same groups own the hubs of music distribution—radio, streaming, whatever—and that gives us a succession of rappers who eke out a couple of hits before being killed in a Chicago shootout. Their stranglehold on publishers led to a reader revolt some years back, and now they’ve brought the same drama to video and tabletop gaming.

It’s hard not to see this as a controlled demolition of culture. But the intentions are irrelevant. What matters is how we respond to what can only be considered a threat to our people and our history.

As content creators, we should always be looking for alternative platforms and distribution channels. Make our art available where the censors and gatekeepers can’t touch it. Sites like Odysee and Rumble for videos, Substack for short written works, and so on. Federated, censorship-resistant content platforms such as the fediverse. Anywhere indies can go, you should think about being.

Even before that, though, we should create great works from the start. Pen an epic novel where the hero is a straight white male if that’s appropriate. Write a song with an uplifting, complex melody and lyrics that tell a story about something other than drugs or relationships. Learn Blender or whatever so we can get cartoons that aren’t transparent indoctrination drawn in CalArts style. Embrace who we are: Americans, products of the Enlightenment, the Space Age, and everything in between. Let that identity shine through in your works. Be proud of your heritage, not ashamed of it.

And for those who have the means, where is your support? Where are the conservative and libertarian patrons of the arts? Those who wail and gnash their teeth about the Left’s iron grip on art do nothing to stop it. Even when they do step up, it’s entirely in a reactionary manner, and that just isn’t tenable. Where is the wholesome Hollywood? Where are the conservative counterparts to Tor and Penguin?

Ordinary people dislike bad art. Otherwise, “get woke, go broke” wouldn’t be a saying. But they also enjoy good art. There’s a market out there. Look at indie gaming. Look at streaming. Except possibly for blockbuster movies, we have the tools to make art that competes with the progressive drivel for a fraction of the cost. All we need is investment from those who claim their support.

It’s not enough to complain. You also have to do something about the problem. If you don’t, you’re a part of it. Creators, keep creating. That’s how we can win. Everyone else, be willing to put your money where your mouth is, because art requires an audience.

Magic and tech: art

Art is another one of those things that makes us human, and in more than one sense: some of the earliest evidence for human habitation comes in the form of artwork such as cave drawings or inscribed shapes on animal bones. As much as I hate to admit it (I failed art class in high school), we are artistic beings.

And art—specifically the visual arts such as painting, sculpture, etc.—has progressed through the ages. It has taken advantage of technological progress. Thus, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t also be affected by the development of magic. Although it may seem odd to consider art and science so intertwined, it’s not really that far out there.

The real way

Art history is practically a restatement of the history of materials. That’s our human nature coming out; almost the first thing we do with a newly developed article of clothing, for instance, is draw on it, or paint it, or dye it. Today, we’ve got fancy synthetics colored in thousands of different hues, but even our ancestors could do some remarkable things. Look at some of those Renaissance paintings if you don’t believe me.

What they had to work with was…not the same as what we use. Many of their paints and dyes were derived from plant or animal products, with a few popular pigments coming from minerals such as ochre. Their instruments were equally primitive. Pencils weren’t invented until comparatively recently, brushes were made from real animal hair (requiring a real animal to provide it), and those fancy feather quills we only use nowadays for weddings and The Price Is Right were once the primary Western tool for writing in ink.

For “3D” artwork, the situation was little better. Today, we have things like CNC mills and techniques to move mountains of metal or marble, but our ancestors made some of the most impressive monuments and structures in the world with little more than hammers and chisels. (In the Americas, they even built pyramids without metal tools. I couldn’t build a pyramid like that in Minecraft!)

Can magic help?

How would magic advance the world of art? Our usual approach of balls of stored elemental energy won’t do much, to be honest, but there is one way they could help, so we’ll get that out of the way first. Lighting has been a problem forever; getting it right is one of the hardest parts of a modern media production. (Supposedly, this is one of the reasons why the next season of Game of Thrones is delayed.) But we’ve already stated that magic can give us better artificial lights. Give them to artists, and you instantly make portraits that much better.

Other improvements are a little less obvious. Many mages will have an easy path to artistry, as the study of magic is as much art as science. It requires observational skills, creativity, and commitment—all the same qualities a good artist needs. And they can use personal spells to aid them. What artist wouldn’t want photographic memory, for example?

The materials will also benefit from the arcane, as we have seen. The earlier advent of chemistry means, among other things, better pigments. Upgraded tools allow for more exquisite and exotic sculpture. With the advanced crucibles and furnaces magic brings, our magical realm might see a boom in the casting of “harder” metals like iron or steel. Magical technology may also bring an increased emphasis on artistic architecture. All in all, the medieval realm will start to look a lot more like the Renaissance, if not more modern.

That’s not even including the entirely different styles of art magic makes possible. Maybe pyrotechnics displays (achieved through fire spells) become popular. Etching via jets of water is a modern invention, but the right system of magic might allow it centuries earlier. Welded sculptures? Why not? You can even posit a “magical” photograph apparatus, moving the whole genre of picture-taking several hundred years into the past. And it’s a small step from recording still images to recording a bunch of still images in succession, then playing them back at full speed, especially if you get a helping hand from a wizard.

Yes, I’m talking about movies. In a society outwardly based on medieval times. It’s a complex problem, but it’s not entirely infeasible. All you really need are two things. First, a projector, which magic can easily provide. (Hint: a magic light and a force-powered motor.) Second, film. That one’s a bit harder, but it only took a few decades for inventors to go from stills to moving pictures. There’s no reason why wizards couldn’t do the same thing, although they may be held up by the need for chemical advances to make a translucent photographic medium.

It’s magic

Magic is already art, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make the lives of artists easier and more interesting. It’s often been asked what a famous artist of the past (e.g., Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo) could create if they were given today’s tools. In a magical society, we can come one step closer to answering that question. And that’s with a low-magic setting. Imagine what a sword-and-sorcery mage-artist could accomplish.