Thinking Out Loud

A Discourse on Society, Science, Perception, Art and maybe still more…

Art in a Prosperous Society

The great Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky had once said that “If life were perfect, art would be pointless”. Although I had appreciated the profoundness of this quote when I had first come across it, it was not until very recently, after moving to Sydney in Australia, that it started resonating in my mind pretty much on a daily basis. I think the reason that triggered it was mainly the scarcity of any sort of “cultural” places (I use the quotes to differentiate between the pretentiously and the truly cultural spots, being of course concerned about the latter here) in this big Aussie city. Jazz clubs, cinema theatres that play European or independent American films are rare as… hen’s teeth, like they say here, Down Under.

But let’s take things from the beginning. Sydney is a beautiful, vibrant, extrovert city, thriving with amazingly nice beaches and lush vegetation parks. The climate is a blessing from heavens; soft winters (no house in Sydney has central heating!) and warm summers with breaks of rains that prevent prolonged heat waves. The yearly percentage of sunshine is incredibly high as well. On the other hand, although it has grown to be a very expensive city, its residents still seem to manage fine somehow, which in turns results in low unemployment and criminality rates. All in all, Sydney seems like the wonderland!

So in such a place, where everyone is happy and always “busy” either working or enjoying the sun and the sea, who really cares about art? What does art have to offer apart from being an alternative form of entertainment? After all isn’t cinema supposed to be a Friday or Saturday evening’s entertainment event, when spectators find themselves sitting in front of huge screens, being exposed to blasting sound effects, consuming their pop-corn and coca-cola drinks and watching movies of sub-zero value what-so-ever? Or, in line with that, isn’t art a means for higher social class people to show off by, say, hanging that expensive, unique painting on their living room wall?

Well, it seems, I think, that art degenerates into forms such as that when it is not driven by a deeper need to convey a strong idea, a burning feeling to change the society towards the better. If life is perfect, or at least as “perfect” as could be claimed to be the case in Sydney, why would anyone for example seek to watch Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Bergman, Truffaut and Fellini and not some Hollywood junk? What could those masterpieces of the Seventh Art possibly have to offer to people that might have never been bothered by the inherent injustice of our political, social and financial structures?

Although by no means I would prefer to sustain, had it been in my hands, social injustice for the sake of art, the very thought that art could degenerate into a technical endeavour stripped of genuine ideas and emotions which would aim only to the superficial satisfaction of our senses, seems quite disturbing to me. Certainly, life might never be perfect (anyway how good does it take to be “perfect”?), so all this contemplation might simply be futile. If humanity however manages to get past its adolescence and establish societies based on a truly sustainable economy, having nothing to do with the profoundly corrupt and inherently unfair current institutions that are fuelled by the greedy desire to maximise monetary profits, regardless of the long-term impact to the environment and the dignity of peoples, would those societies breed artist of the ingenuity of Mozart, Chopin, Tarkovsky, Da Vinci, Picasso and the likes? Seems like it is only time to tell…

In lieu of an epilogue, I have to say that I consider our current civilisation to be extremely far away from “perfection”. In that sense my contemplations about art might seem absurd… They may even be so… It wouldn’t have been bad though to have more authentic art in Sydney!

8 responses to “Art in a Prosperous Society

  1. jilske September 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Hey Chris! Great to see you blogging/musing 🙂
    Like all relationships, I think you need to give Sydney a little bit of time. Once she lets you in you’ll see there’s much more to her beneath the surface – less of a popular mask, and more authentic people.

    • Chris Orinos September 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Ilse! I agree on giving more time to this “relationship” and I should be able to find more than initially meets the eye… Like I said, Sydney was only a pretext, an excuse to write down those thoughts…

  2. Vasilis Panagiotopoulos September 21, 2011 at 12:46 am


    i am in the office now here in Athens and your post is an escape for me from the endless financial discussions and dissapointment here. It’s a breath of fresh air. Keep up with the good work, i will comment on your thoughts in detail later on. Congrats.

    • Chris Orinos September 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

      Hi Bill, nice to hear from you. I read all about the situation in Greece and I get depressed as well, although I am so far away…

  3. Harris Orinos September 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I think that you are confusing art with art marketing. The lack of theaters, jazz clubs, etc doesn’t necessarily mean lack of art! Nevertheless, i must agree that our modern capitalistic society promotes “easy” entertainment over art. Art is not easy to digest and sometimes not easy to accept.
    Although, while Tarkovsky believed in the life-art bond back in the 20th century, Woody Allen contradicts that “Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television”. I tend to believe that art is by no means affected by life and that is emanated only by the artist’s soul / mind and talent. Besides i think that all of the musical monsters of the Classical Era you mentioned, were not influenced by life. Art is a seed and education & natural talent is the soil it needs to grow in.
    You may need to think of art degeneration compared to education degeneration globally.

    PS: If your thoughts are closer to reality i expect to see a huge increase of Greek artists sometime soon!!! It is only time to tell.. 😉
    PS2: Congrats for this blog. Can you handle living in the limelight now??? 😀

    • Chris Orinos September 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Hmmm… I think that Woody Allen’s quote means more that if life was imitating art, it would “refine” itself. On the contrary what we often see is the degradation of values and all that, which resembles to bad television.

      I tend to believe that art is by no means affected by life and that is emanated only by the artist’s soul / mind and talent.

      –> But the artist’s soul and mind should be triggered somehow, right? Maybe that triggering is the lack of a “Dolce Vita”.

      We might see outstanding artistic activity in Greece soon indeed!!! And if that happens, we could then praise IMF…!

  4. Thanassis September 21, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Chris, nice to see you are writing. Of course I agree with Isle about giving Sydney more time… it would also help if you were closer to the inner west or the east where more things are “happening” but that is a different story 🙂 . But as you said this was an excuse so let’s get to your main point. What Tarkovsky said seems profound by what it implies, not what it states. There is no perfect life, but what it is implied is that the more comfort we have, the less problems we have, the less art we have. This is what you are writing in this post too. Even though I tend to agree with this at first thought, I believe delving into its meaning makes it void. One has to start with what is art (and this is a huge topic I know): expression, communication, search of beauty, escape from tediousness, play. If you think about it you will end up that there is always art. Art that fits the society (there are universal truths about beauty nevertheless). So, if you do not find art, one issue might be that the existing art does not talk to you, or that the art is not extroverted, or that it is too ephemeral, or that you live in the wrong suburb 😛 In anycase I think it is a trap to talk about great artists of the past and wonder if our time can produce them. I ‘d be interested to talk about the whole topic once I am back in Sydney.

    • Chris Orinos September 21, 2011 at 11:55 pm

      Very interesting thought Thanassis. Defining art in a univocal way is not just a huge topic, like you say, but maybe something that simply cannot ever be attained. You are right to say that in such “prosperous” societies, art would be adapted to the current conditions. We could resemble that I guess to the change of point of reference in a given coordinate system…! In that sense, comparing between the classical art school of thought and the new, rising tendency, might seem as irrelevant and biased as comparing merely the knowledge of ancient scientists to that of even high school students of today’s society. However, speaking about periods of transition (where we get all those transient effects…!!), the comparison is unavoidable. Sure enough, it would be really interesting to talk about this topic when you are back here. On the meantime enjoy your time in Europe.

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