Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David and Art - All the New Stuff

Just because your favorites aren’t new doesn’t mean something new can’t win you over.

The pitch on one section of the iTunes site where you can buy and download music advertises “new music from your favorite artists,” drawing from what you’ve bought there in the past. If ever my tastes could thwart a computer algorithm, that might be the chance. My favorite artists really aren’t making new music. My favorite artist who’s on iTunes died before my first birthday.

There’s a pretty deep rift in culture between people who are generally captivated by what’s new and attuned to it, and people who harbor various degrees of skepticism regarding pop music or symphonic music, paintings, or drama, or art of whatever sort that’s being produced today.

It’s sometimes difficult to mediate between the claims that new and old art have on an art lover. If you like Modernism and its spirit, it becomes even more difficult to justify an opposition to things that are new. And even if it’s not exactly opposition, just an ambivalence toward the new is usually enough to have your blinders go up. After all, if you’re any sort of self-respecting Modernist, you have built into your understanding of art the notion that the new and the experimental has value in and of itself. Isn’t it the case that that should make you automatically open and interested in what's new?

Well, maybe. But, again presuming you’re coming at this from a modernist perspective, what if the things that are new aren’t really experimental at all? What if they’re more formulaic than ever before? What if you sense that most of what’s new might be the product of a marketing department someplace? What if everything is just a sequel? What if the new isn’t really new at all?

There was an apocryphal story that used to make the rounds that said the Clerk of the US Patent Office under President McKinley handed in his resignation in 1899, because, he said, everything that could be invented already had been. Actually, the line came from an 1899 issue of the London humor magazine Punch, but it points to the very human tendency to think of the best things as already having been created. We, looking back, know that in 1899 some remarkable new things were around the corner in the coming century. And if you’re interested in art, that’s still the case.

Even if much of the mainstream of new art strikes you as less than truly creative, there are still some remarkable things out there. My point is that as art lovers, we should remind ourselves to stay self-consciously open to what’s new.