When I was looking trough a Victorian Trading Co catalog that was sent to my mother, I noticed some art prints of work I admire by Romantic artists. The catalog was obviously marketed toward women, it was filled with cute knickknacks, bunny dolls in dresses, baseball caps covered with patterns of roses and Art Nouveau jewelry. This gave me an insight, our culture has been compartmentalized into feminine and masculine culture. I never considered the romantic art I love to be feminine . Because of the current divisions, important aspects of life can not find expression, because they fall outside the cultural boxes. It is fair to say in the past there was just “culture”, Romantic painters like Bouguereau were not painting for a segregated male or female audience.
A great book I recently found, Addicted to Mediocrity by Franky Schaffer, accounts for the effects of utilitarian attitude of culture. Schaffer focuses on the current Christian communities’ abandonment of the arts due to a view which regards aesthetic enjoyment unspiritual. I find the current situation to be ironic, one would assume the decline of Christian influence would result in a period of Dionysian culture, but that is obviously not the case. This is due to the fact that creativity and emotions which were once respected as God-given are now viewed with suspicion because they are thought to be merely the expressions of brute animal nature. In the past, Christianity colored culture, today culture is characterized by a skeptical mean-spirited temperament, due to the loss of warmth from the Christian view. A fine example of postmodern culture is the comic strip Rehabilitating Mr.Wiggles, the creator of the comic describes it as the adventures of a child-molesting teddy bear. The transgression of the cartoon is due to a conformist acceptance of the cultural boxes. Mr.Wiggles claims in this cartoon “we’re witnessing the birth of a new Renaissance”, when in fact, it is a manifestation of a dark age.
This beautiful Art Nouveau poster for the Automobile Club de France was made at a time before the macho auto culture. One would expect a poster for an auto club to include some cars! The poster, besides being feminine, appears to be influenced by Christian iconography since the figure sits on a throne like Virgin Mary or the allegorical figure of Charity. I never could relate much to contemporary male culture, the macho persona, the crude language and the derogatory view of women and sex, what C.S. Lewis called the “dark ages of boyhood”. In the forming of the personality boys go through a stage when they are embarrassed by feminine things because they are insecure about their masculinity. However, Lewis believed boys experience a personal Renaissance when puberty is complete, as young men they allow for an appreciation of beauty and for a feminine perception of life. But the current division of culture makes such a Renaissance a near impossibility. Our modern aesthetics are built upon this state of immaturity, the transgressions of Duchamp, Bacon and Hirst are little more than the expressions of an immature 13-year-old boy who is insecure before the power of beauty.
A sane society would not compartmentalize the spheres of life, much of the great art of the past which is regarded today as “politically incorrect” is actually only technocratically incorrect, the work falls outside of the utilitarian needs of society. The divisions of culture I believe are the source of much of the violence in the world, only by allowing for expressions in areas of life which fall outside the utilitarian boxes can our society ever find harmony. H.R. Rookmaaker acknowledged that “love and beauty were not just man’s feelings and man’s subjective taste; they were really there: if he did not follow them, hate and ugliness would be the result.”