From the horrifying to the merely appalling: The other day, was talking with a friend who is a lovely person yet has, like St. Therese of Lisieux, terrible taste in art. (1) Specifically, this person (being evasive here, on the 1 in a million chance this person reads my blog) owns a bunch of Kinkade prints and likes much of the praise style music used in Catholic liturgies.
I’m enough of a snob to get my eyebrows up and in a fully locked position when contemplating the popularity of Kinkade. Really? I get that they’re pretty enough, after the manner of their kind, but – really? This particular Kinkade enthusiast is a college grad and professional. In ancient, no doubt darker times, a college kid would be exposed to real art, probably before he ever reached college. Heck, anyone Catholic who went to church regularly, back in the day, would almost certainly be exposed to art better than Kinkade’s in the architecture and furnishings of the building, if not in the paintings proper.
But those times are long gone. Nowadays, churches look like this…
…as opposed to this…
…and have interiors like these…
… as opposed to these…
….furnished like this…
…as opposed to this…
The point: If one were taught from the cradle to identify the sensibilities of set A with all that is good and forward-looking, and the sensibilities of set B with all that is outdated and backward, then liking Kinkade is almost an act of rebellion – liking something because it is pretty, as Kinkades most certainly are on a superficial level, and not because it is approved.
Such rebellion is, like that against which it rebels, rarely conscious. Kids – and all of us were kids – are driven by Darwinian survival instincts to find their place in the tribe. They – we – are looking for what the tribe judges good and bad, what gets the strong reactions. We instinctively avoid whatever gets disapproval, and embrace whatever reinforces our membership in the tribe. (2)
We call certain people authority figures. This is here useful as far as it goes, so long as we accept a very broad category as ‘authority’. God bless the child whose primary authority figures are his parents. Today, the real down and dirty day after day authority figures in a kid’s life are most likely teachers and day care providers – the typical modern kid gets as much or more facetime and attention from those professions as he’s likely to get from his parents. And then, held up for his admiration, are those other kids who best conform to the ideal that makes life easiest – for daycare providers and teachers.
Chesterton says somewhere that it is not what we say to kids that really sticks, it is what we assume without saying that forms the child.
To make a stand, you have to have something to stand on. Our kids, raised by strangers to be conformists, are unlikely to have anything worthy to stand on, if, by some miracle, they even wanted to. Where do animal rights activists and anarchists come from? They are desperate to make a stand against what they dimly yet intensely perceive as wrong – but are attempting to stand in mid-air.
I would like to think that anyone so fortunate as to have sung Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium with a decent choir would learn from that one experience what beautiful music is, and would thereafter not fall prey to social pressures that tell him rap or praise music are where the real music is. Similarly, I would like to think that a kid raised in a beautiful church loved and admired by his parents would not think Kinkade any more that postcard-level pretty, that he’d ‘get’ a Lippi or Angelico or Botticelli at a glance, as the types of what is reflected in his local church, and thus see Kinkade as a much dimmer shadow of profound art.
Above, I’m tacitly assuming a somewhat sane world gone a little astray, relatively speaking. What we have instead are people who consider a crucifix in urine or a rotting cow’s head in a box to be art, who hate all churches and all beauty – and hold sway over our kids 6 hours a day, for a decade or two. (3) As a kid grows up and is separated ever farther from parents, the relative influence of these modern minds increases, until even deconstruction and gender theory are willingly accepted as the small, very small, price of belonging.
Questions are always addressed in the twilight – a Picasso or a Jackson Pollack is discussed, artists with real chops whose works sometimes have real, if second rate, merit. Thus the inexplicable (to a typical college student) appeal of Guernica or Convergence is used to insist that PissChrist is no less art. Years of training in conformance to the beliefs of the authority figures means most will fall for it, or at least pretend to agree.
Bad taste, which is far too mild a name for inculcated blindness to the beautiful and the ugly, is thus also a creature of Progress with a capital P. The goal is not to get Kinkades sold or admired – that’s the furtive stirrings of a thought of rebellion – but to train the mind to accept the ugly and the false as indistinguishable from the beautiful and the true.
Bottomless pit, this.
- as asserted by Thomas Merton, whose opinions, like margaritas, should be taken with a shaker of salt. He was a serious snob, to say the least.
- This is of course a gross generalization. We are not just animals formed by natural selection, but free souls in the image of God. Even on a merely biological level, natural selection is more like guidelines than actual rules.
- It may be that this or that school teacher doesn’t buy it, or doesn’t fully – but it’s unlikely that their personal opinions on the matter will get them very far professionally. ‘Educators’, that exalted modern invention, are sure to buy in or shut up about it.