Thursday, March 3, 2022

Old Art Versus New Art

I recently came across an interesting article through my Yahoo home page which generally only gives me time-wasting clickbait.  You be the judge of it's value, but I recommend reading it for context.  My post will be somewhat of a commentary on it with some new insights.

So old music is apparently destroying new music in the marketplace.  I first want to address why old art is beating new art in music more than other media.  This will just be a partial explanation.  Music, much like television and less like movies, is a nostalgia medium.  In my experience of looking at other people, youngsters graduate from singing their ABCs and other kid's songs and discovering pop music around junior high.  A lot of the music scene seems geared towards teenagers.  Then they cling to this scene often through college, so roughly ages 11-25.  Then they have nostalgia for their generation's music for the rest of their lives, whether it's the Temptations and the Beatles, Backstreet Boys and Eminem, or something else.  I noticed this when I worked at a nursing home and the residents would get together to sing standards from the "American Songbook" and a co-worker wondered what songs we would be singing at the old folks home.  For this reason alone, old music beats new music because there are way more old people.  The Baby Boomer generation is making this especially true and technological breakthroughs in medicine and birth control will only make the demographic imbalance greater in the future.

Outside of music, let's look at art in general.  What is better, old art or new art?  Well, if we define "new" as some very limited time window leading up to the present and "old" as the entirety of human history except for that time window, clearly old art, merely by being the massively larger time window with significantly more volume of content, is the superior side of the dividing line.  You could put the limited time window anywhere and it still would not defeat everything else.  In light of this, there is still a new music bias, but it less pronounced than in the past.  Many of us who consider ourselves connoisseurs of different art forms jump between eras without even thinking about it.  All great art, in some sense, exists in a state of timelessness.  Of course, two different eras of remotely similar duration could compete with each other.

The fact that I am reading about people liking old stuff, and not just things from their youth, but older still, warms my heart.  As a society, we seem to have lost our cultural memory for art, history, and any number of things.  The past is something to build off of and learn from, not throw away.  Our forefathers, even with their now-glaring flaws, are often wiser than we realize.  I feel like liking only new art is for lazy people who just consume whatever is placed in front of them, although the article seems to say, at least in the music sphere, "old" may be the new lazy default.  I know personally that too much of the same thing becomes tiresome which is why I dislike music radio stations.

Is there a downside to this?  Well, new art is important.  New art becomes old art and at least some of it contributes to the pantheon.  I would hate to think we have reached the sum total of human achievement.  While the best art is timeless, new art can speak to right now perhaps in a way that nothing else can.  A classic movie like Casablanca must have held special meaning when it was released during World War II.  We need new art!

What about current artists?  Competing with old content is creating greater challenges for them.  This problem, if you see it as such, will only get bigger as time marches on, the past cultural deposit gets even bigger, and new technologies make everything that was ever popular for fifteen minutes fully preservable.  While I sympathize with struggling artists who have big dreams, the harsh reality is the same as it ever was: most artists should quit, or at least step away to do something actually lucrative for a few years and come back with resources and financial breathing room after building some wealth.  I don't believe in a bohemian utopia where everyone gets to be a full-time artist and un-sexy jobs don't need to exist.  Many artists lamenting this challenge for themselves probably still like old art.

Do artists compare themselves to the past artistically and see themselves as competing with the greats or contributing to the pantheon?  I would guess that some do, while some see this as a pretentious privilege of the successful and are just trying to survive doing something they enjoy.  The past can inspire, but it can also intimidate.

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