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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The moral and political track record of modernist artists is nothing to be proud of. Some were despicable in the conduct of their personal lives, and many embraced facism or Stalinism. The modernist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen described the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos”, and added, enviously, that “artists, too, sometimes go beyond the limits of what is feasible and conceivable, so that we wake up, and that we open ourselves to another world.” Nor is the theory of postmodernism especially progressive. A denial of objective reality is no friend to moral progress, because it prevents one from saying, for example, that slavery or the Holocaust really took place.”

- Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, page 416.

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • cirby

    Some of the best artists and most talented musicians I’ve known have been some of the worst people I’ve known.

    As far as that goes, that may explain why there’s so much trouble in the Middle East. Less musicians and artists to draw off some of that angry creativity…

  • Jacob

    “The moral and political track record of modernist artists is nothing to be proud of.”

    Neither is their aesthetic record.

  • Neither is their aesthetic record.

    I do not agree… many truly vile folks are quite talented when it comes to aesthetic considerations. I can think of one group of musicians in particular whom I would quite happily watch being shot dead to a man whilst listening to their music on my mp3 player.

  • fiona

    I can think of one group of musicians in particular whom I would quite happily watch being shot dead to a man whilst listening to their music on my mp3 player.

    Would you really, Perry? You’d stand by and “happily” watch people get shot people for their opinions?

  • When their opinions are that, if given the chance, they would impose a totalitarian tyranny on everyone, then yes, I would not lift a finger to save such people. Why should I pretend that otherwise?

  • I am never going to understand this reverence for “opinion”.

    It doesn’t account when the “opinion” is held by a fucking moron, or worse.

  • Jacob

    “… many truly vile folks are quite talented when it comes to aesthetic considerations.”

    It was about “modernist artists”. Maybe some musicians do good music, but most “modernist artists” stink. Meaning mainly painters, sculptors, architects…

  • Decontructionists —> Destruction

  • Nick M

    Perry,
    As long as it can’t legally be construed as incitement to murder who are you talking about.

  • RAB

    I’m afraid being a vile human being and being an artist rather tend to go together, especially the most successful ones.
    It is down to the nature of the Job. To succeed artists need an ego at least twice the size of the rest of us.
    They are selfish in the extreme because Art, by and large, is a solo occupation that brooks no opposition. By and large it is not a cooperative activity.
    Modigliani, Picasso, Dali, all vile human beings in the wider social sense.
    What about musicians, surely a cooperative enterprise?
    Nope. Everyone who hasn’t got a tin ear, knows which Beatles song was written by which Beatle, despite it reading Lennon& McCartney on the credits.
    The difference between those names I have mentioned and the Likes of Daimon Hurst, Tracy Emmin Salaman Rushdie etc is that the above had that little bit extra.
    Talent.

  • Sigivald

    I recall reading Stockhausen’s comment in context, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as Pinker makes it out to be.

    (And by “in context” I don’t mean so much the surrounding words, though they’re important, as the fact that Stockhausen is a capital-A Avant-Garde Artist.

    I make no judgement about the quality of his art, having little patience for avant-garde modern composers in general, but that he said something that sounds mean doesn’t suffice to make his statements “envious”, or even morally despicable.

    Self-described and professional Avant-Garde types think of everything in terms of art. Stockhausen’s comments are not morally despicable – if one reads the whole thing and considers where he’s speaking from – but simply grossly insensitive to what non-Avant-Garde-Artistes care about in such a case.

    Stockhausen’s problem was that he’s insensitive and disconnected from what the rest of us give a damn about, not that he likes to see people killed in terrible ways.

    Pinker should know better than to take a cheap shot like that and quote selectively, though I agree with him in general about modernist artists, as he’s right.)

  • jp

    Are there more vile people in a group of artists than in any other group?

  • Stockhausen was absolutely right, using his definition of art. Or just about anyone’s.

    If I paint a painting or make a moving picture the viewing of which causes observers to react, to think differently about themselves and their world, have I not made art?

    Did not the pictures of the attacks, by the design of their creator, do that?

    And by that definition, aren’t all meaningful public actions “art”?

    Of course they are. All life is, in a way, an ongoing work of art. Or billions of works of art.

    Now my head hurts…

  • Paul Marks

    Of course Conservative party members know what is going on under Mr Cameron. This is why (for example) there has been a decline of 10% in membership over the last six months or so (according to Conservative party H.Q. stats) and only a 1 in 4 party members even bothered to vote on the statement of “principles” that Mr Cameron put in front of them.

    The media say nice things about Mr Cameron (at least the “Westminster village” media people), but the conservative minded voters who have stayed at home in recent elections (the Labour party vote has not gone up – it is Conservative minded people who have stayed home) because they do not believe that the Conservative party will cut taxes or get powers back from the E.U. (and they are right not to believe it) know Mr Cameron to be the P.R. phony that he is. They will not come out to vote Conservative in a General Election. And the idea that Labour or Lib Dem voters can be won over is absurd – they will not vote Conservative at a General Election this side of Hell freezing over.

    If things carry on like this it will not be a question of “will the Conservatives win the next election” – there will not be a Conservative party by the time of the next General Election.

    But what can be done? My local M.P. did not even go to the Conference – he could not think of any good he could do by going.

  • RAB

    Paul Love.
    Wrong thread.
    You’re getting screenblind again!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sigvald, even in the full context, the quotations is terrible. The guy is a prat, and I don’t see how placing the quote in full context quite gets this “artist” off the hook. It was a terrible thing to say.