moral and immoral art

Oscar Wilde famously said that, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” He was of course wrong. Wilde said many clever things but the fact that a statement is clever does not make it true. And of course Wilde was a degenerate so he had an axe to grind.

Books take a moral stance. That may be an explicitly moral or immoral stance, or they may pretend to be neutral. But if you’re neutral on the subject of morality then you’re taking a stance on the issue – you’re coming down on the side of scepticism on the issue of morality.

It’s the same with movies and television, and even the visual arts. Even landscape painting is not immune – pure landscape painting became popular with the rise of the Romantic movement and it was implicitly nature-worship and implicitly pagan.

Everyone has a position on moral issues. If you claim to be indifferent to morality then you’re taking the stance that morality doesn’t matter so effectively you’re casting your vote for amorality at the very least.

Of course there’s a world of difference between an artist or writer (or film-maker or musician) who tolerates or ignores immorality and one who actively promotes. The former can be accused of cynicism or even cowardice, but the latter is actively evil.

It also has to be remembered that today more than ever art and literature are seen as political acts. It’s very hard to be neutral. Art and literature are energetically used to undermine what is left of traditional morality. The question of the morality of art and literature matters very much.

Can a work of art or a book be great and still be immoral? Wilde was certainly partially correct – books are either well written, or badly written. An immoral book can be superbly well written. Perhaps it can even achieve greatness. But it’s still an immoral book. It’s still evil.

Can we afford to tolerate great art and literature that is actively evil? My view is that the history of the past century is pretty strong evidence that we cannot.

keeping one’s sanity as a conservative

Being a conservative in today’s world can be at times a very stressful and draining, not to say depressing, experience. The greatest danger is burn-out. One has to find ways to stay sane without compromising one’s beliefs.

I find that the best way to do this is to have other, essentially non-political, interests.

In my case there are three main interests that help to keep me sane and help  to keep me going. They are my interests in old movies, in the genre literature of the past, and the art of the 19th century.

The one thing that all these interests have in common is that they are focused on the past. Deliberately so. I consciously avoid having anything to do with either the pop culture or the high culture of today. That’s another of my strategies for staying sane. Modern culture is so deeply permeated with political correctness that it’s simply not worth bothering with. And since there are so many wonderful movies from the past, so many terrific books from the past, and so much great art from the past that I need never worry that I’m missing out.

My interest in old movies is more or less self-explanatory. My interest in the fiction of the past focuses mainly on genre fiction, everything from detective stories to spy stories, science fiction and horror. I have an especial enthusiasm for pulp fiction from the 1920s and 1930s and for novels and stories of adventure and of the supernatural from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As far as art is concerned I confine myself to pre-modernist art. I’m particularly find of Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist art, and the much despised academic art of the 19th century. It’s despised by the politically motivated drones of the modern art establishment although it’s slowly but surely gaining more and more of a  following among people who believe that art can concern itself with truth and beauty. In other words it’s popular with people who actually love art rather than those who see art as political propaganda.

I blog about all these things. If I confined myself to political blogging then there’s a danger that blogging would become something of an ordeal, that it would be something that was always emotionally draining. Blogging about other things means that blogging remains fun.

On my non-political blogs I mostly avoid overt political content although I do slip in political points from time to time.

For those who might be interested my old movies blog is Classic Movie Ramblings, my book blog is Vintage Pop Fictions and my art blog is Strange Tears.

modernism and diseased minds

I just can’t project myself into the minds of modernist architects who design universities that look like prisons, churches that look like fast-food outlets and hospitals that look like mortuaries. I can’t get into the minds of modernist artists who produce paintings that look like they should be found on the walls of a public lavatory. I can’t imagine the minds of writers who think they’re producing literature when in fact they’re writing the sorts of books that dirty-minded schoolboys would have hidden under their mattresses.

There is of course horror and ugliness in the real world but I don’t understand artists who want to celebrate such things. Oscar Wilde said that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. I don’t understand artists who would prefer to paint the gutter rather than the stars. I don’t understand a world in which artists who paint the gutter are celebrated while artists who paint the stars are ignored.

It’s difficult not to think that such artists must have minds that are filled with hate and anger. If a child made the sorts of paintings that you’ll find hanging in places like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney that child would be rushed off to a child psychologist.

If you focus too much on the gutter it will do bad things to your head. If you focus on misery and ugliness the danger is that you’ll end up with a brain that cannot recognise the existence of anything else. And that’s what is happening to our society. People focus too much on the negative to the extent that they no longer see the positive. A society that suffers from this kind of cultural sickness cannot survive. It will lose the will to survive.

Romanticism, Shelley and the rise of the teenager

The Romantic movement in art and literature arose in Europe in the late 18th century and would to a considerable degree dominate those fields until the mid-19th century. While the Romantic movement would produce some notable artistic achievements there’s no question that on the whole its influence was as disastrous as it has been far-reaching.

Romanticism has left three catastrophic legacies that have contributed towards the decline of western civilisation – the cult of Nature, the cult of self-pity and the cult of feeling.

The Romantics had a remarkably silly view of Nature – sentimental and hopelessly idealised. Nature was seen as a kind of atheistic Garden of Eden in which cute little furry animals frolicked happily and people lived as noble savages until civilisation arose. The Romantics were the first Europeans to indulge themselves in self-hatred and hatred of their own civilisation. If only Nature had been let alone! The fact that animals in a state of Nature live lives of constant fear and misery never occurred to the Romantics. They simply ignored unpleasant things like reality.

The self-pity, which has now become the outstanding characteristic of our culture, can be seen quite clearly in the sordid lives of Byron and Shelley. Shelley took things even further than Byron. His whole life was a flight from responsibility and an indulgence in selfish pleasure. But of course being a Romantic he still managed to be miserable. He championed free love, and treated the women in his life appallingly, leading at least two to take their own lives. Shelley was in many ways the first teenager, and he remained a teenager until his death. He displayed the combination of self-pity and arrogance and of selfishness and starry-eyed idealism that have become such characteristic features of the modern teenager.

The third dismal legacy of Romanticism is the cult of feeling. The Romantics were suspicious of reason. Thinking can be hard work! They decided that it was unnecessary to think – all one had to do was to feel. We’ve seen what that has done to our society.

Shelley again provides a telling example. He cultivated the image of the sensitive poet who courageously denounced injustice. His political ideas were naïve and adolescent but that didn’t matter. They were based on feelings, and that’s what counts.

Shelley was one of the first examples of the arty champagne socialist, a type that is all too familiar to us today.

The various isms that have blighted our civilisation since the 19th century – socialism, atheism, feminism and environmentalism – were all part of the baggage left behind by the Romantics. Again Shelley provides a fine example – his second wife Mary was the daughter of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Shelley was an atheist, a socialist and a vegetarian. He managed to be equally irritating on all these subjects.

Shelley was the James Dean of the early 19th century. He was the first whining obnoxious teenage rebel. Romanticism did not encourage one to grow up. It instead encouraged a self-indulgent wallowing in phony emotion. In this respect it has been the most influential of all movements in art and literature, and its influence is today stronger than ever.

Is it art or porn? Nanny will decide


The major problem with censorship (apart from its Nanny State connotations) has always been that it leads to silliness. Drawing the line between art and pornography is not always easy (as I discovered when the image hosting service I used to use for my 19th century art blog decided that almost the whole of the western art tradition is nothing more than filth that Nanny needs to protect us from).

The Metropolitan Police in London clearly share these Nanny State views, ordering the removal of this photograph (by Derrick Santini) from a London gallery. Trying to explain that Leda and the Swan had been a favourite subject for artists from the Renaissance onwards cut no ice with the Met. They decided this was bestiality and that Londoners could not possibly be allowed to make up their own minds whether they liked the photo or not.

It’s another example of the push for censorship coming mostly from the Left these days (and anyone who doesn’t think that police forces are becoming the enforcers of Political Correctness hasn’t been paying attention). Apparently no-one had complained about the photograph but that didn’t stop the plod from taking immediate action.

Lucky the gallery hadn’t been rash enough to display a print of Correggio’s 16th century version. Perhaps they might want to alert their opposite numbers in Berlin to remove this disgusting filth from the Gemäldegalerie where it currently resides.

Personally I think the photo is a reasonably effective modern rendering of the myth, and certainly preferable to most of the stuff that gets classified as art these days.

Correggio, Leda with the Swan, 1531-32
Correggio, Leda with the Swan, 1531-32