August 3, 2010

The Arts Should Be Conservative

Justin Katz

Sara Hamdan laments, in the current First Things, the decline of dance as an art form. Given the sustained conditioning required of dancers — and the sustained attention of the audience — the art form doesn't lend itself as easily as other arts to modern adaptations that allow practitioners to maintain the practice as a hobby and fans to work enjoyment into their schedules. Time and money are the irreducible factors, and the dance world is finding it difficult to move enough of each to dancers to sustain a career.

Of course, there are the limited, intriguing developments, such as this variation on the modern trend of do-it-yourself mandates:

With arts organizations trying to focus their energies on redefining market strategies to attract younger audiences and make use of minimal funding, dancers themselves are directly affected. Tired of waiting for good news, Claire Sargenti and Lauren Zaleta took matters into their own hands. With two other Joffrey dancers, they started a ballet collaborative called New Bridges Ballet designed to put on low-budget shows in places where one wouldn’t expect to see ballet: in bars, in Washington Square Park, in a music video for a heavy-metal band. ...

... Sargenti, Zaleta, and two other Joffrey students are doing experimental work with New Bridges Ballet for added training and exposure, and have been very well received. Together, the girls are learning how to fund raise, design costumes, advertise, choreograph new works—and make mistakes—completely on their own. Basically, they are learning how to run a dance company from the ground up.

It's the dance version of self publishing — of blogging, from a certain perspective. Unfortunately, the other predictable reaction to changes in modern life is to excise those factors that require long attention spans:

... popular forms of dance performance have become more about competition and moves and less about narrative or story—like sports set to music. Television programs such as "So You Think You Can Dance" demonstrate that "successful" dancers are those who can display physical talent; these shows do not showcase dance works based on profound observations or that express something beyond the merely physical.

Having watched an episode or several of "So You Think You Can Dance," I'd rejoin that the show's choreographers do give admirable thought to message and story, but they're dealing in bite-sized segments that must, yes, showcase the physically spectacular. Obviously, "physically spectacular" has layers of implication, including the raw bodies of the dancers, and it seems that they move a little closer to total nakedness every season.

That factor, to me, relates more directly to the essential problem than does the reliance on daring leaps and spins. Partly owing to the gimmickry of modernism, partly owing to the pervasive secular, libertine leftism of their practitioners, the arts in general have moved away from their core value proposition: meaning. In some respects, one could suggest that artists — having turned away from their bases for profundity, not only God, but also a respect and sympathy for the long-developing traditions of humankind — have sought to supplant message with technique. But divested of the religious impulse, audiences won't sit through a two-hour ballet for the same reason they don't sit through a forty-five-minute Mass.

If they want jolts of "wow," they can get it in small, convenient doses on television and the computer. If they want opportunity for lurid ogling of taut bodies, they no longer require the cover provided by dancers in leotards.

So, it would be plausible to suggest that the keepers of dance, specifically, and art, generally, should begin to consider a move toward conservative dispositions. For their survival, the time is past due to push the envelope back in the other direction — where the meaning lies in wanting to be tantalized but not sated and in actually believing that sensations of awe and yearning are not merely biological instincts honed by human evolution, but indications of the natural draw of something real and profound.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Leaps and spins are leftist? Aren't we reaching just a bit?
"Strikeouts are fascist. Ground balls are more democratic."

Posted by: rhody at August 3, 2010 10:34 AM

The Arts should be the Arts. Period.

Posted by: michael at August 3, 2010 1:43 PM

...without government interference or subsidy - No NEA, no NEH, no CPB

Posted by: David P at August 3, 2010 2:16 PM

"...without government interference or subsidy - No NEA, no NEH, no CPB"

Roger that.

Even though I don't know what NEH or CPB is.

If somebody wants to do something artistic have at it. If somebody else wishes to pay for whatever the artist presents, even better for the artist.

Posted by: michael at August 3, 2010 2:46 PM

Holy crap what a great comedic blog. Dance should be conservative and dance is having a tough time these days. I think there are more dance studios open today than in my memory and far more(to many)shows about dance. Did we recently have a blog on here about the conservative influence in rock-n roll. Great sense of humor.

Posted by: Triplerichard at August 3, 2010 4:47 PM

It is very rare for me to watch network television anymore, so I can't speak to the validity. But from Justin's comments, it appears that he he is able to assess the meaning of art and God by watching dancers on reality tv.

But, his comments about watching "an episode or several" with the "opportunity for lurid ogling of taut bodies" do seem oddly similar to the dialog of Dana Carvey as the Church Lady on SNL: 6:07

Isn't that special?

Posted by: Robert Balliot at August 3, 2010 7:07 PM


The point is that the arts are ceasing to be the arts as they move away from meaning, narrative, tradition, etc. Interestingly (and a little amusingly) that means they should move back toward the cultural right.



You may find that striking a condescending tone persuades others not to correct you, but it isn't because they see the futility of responding to the perspicuity of your points, but because they see no point in addressing you at all. If you'd been more interested in reading so as to understand what I wrote, you would have noticed that there's a distinction being drawn between art-dance — such as sustains careers for professional dancers — and dance as an athletic event.

Arguably, your evidence is better suited to my argument, inasmuch as reality TV dance shows point to a surplus of dance-biz insiders trying to find a way to be relevant, and a surplus of dance studios indicates a growing number of professional dancers who must teach, rather than dance for money.

Feel free to read the article on which my post was premised before making further comment.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 3, 2010 9:10 PM

The New England missionaries invaded Hawaii and found the telling of story and history of Polynesian culture through the common form of hula (a form of sign language) lurid and sexually suggestive to the white man.

The missionaries embarked on a mission to convert the Hawaiian royalty to Christianity and have them ban hula also at the same time allow the personal ownership of land.

To make a long story short the missionaries purchased most all the land and took away the hula and the Hawaiian language plus allowed the disease spread of the mainland USA and Europe to almost decimate almost the total Hawaiian sovereign nation people all in the name of God.

The plantation owners with the help of the US Marines overthrew the sovereign nation of Hawaii and locked up the Queen until she abdicated to stop any bloodshed.

Thank God the hula is back along with the Hawaiian language.

Posted by: Ken at August 4, 2010 12:36 AM


To be honest, I read the post, caught the gist of it but decided to take the easy road and comment on the comments.

Posted by: michael at August 4, 2010 8:14 AM

Justin you may think that taking a condescending tone and using some big words would impress someone but this post of yours was crap and I think you know it. Lighten up. If you don't want people to comment then don't allow comments. Honestly, I though your post was in jest, surely no one thinks the arts need to return to the right where they would be squashed by the dull and uncreative minds that this blog regularly shows evidence of.

Posted by: triplerichard at August 4, 2010 8:24 AM

Art has historically been put to use as a politicaal tool by both left and right.
Art becomes semiotics very frequently.Just think of postage stamps.
Stamps are graphic art and they are used to illuminate,propagandize,honor and entice by just about every country that issues them.
I tend to like objective art,but art is there in many forms to be enjoyed individually.
I don't think too much in the way of public funds should be used for art these days.We just can't afford it.

Posted by: joe bernstein at August 4, 2010 11:58 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.