The Best Art

Gatekeepers of Change

Some time ago I lamented what seemed to be The Disappearance of Imagination. Since that time I’ve talked to many people about it and read a few things on the subject, like this blog post. I realized in a conversation with my friend, R. A. Baxter, which happens to me a lot, that I have a new and more positive spin on humanity’s creative prospects for the future.

I know people who have gotten “stuck” in the past. Whether they find a decade of music they listen to exclusively or prefer classic movies, they believe the best of something is behind us. However, I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. The best art is in front of us.

The music now isn’t 100% awesome, true. But some of it is. And not all the music back when was wonderful. There have been some great movies in the past, but the best movies are yet to be made. The special effects will evolve. The writing will keep improving. The technology will make more and more immersive and amazing screenplays.

Another example is classical music. The orchestrated soundtracks now being produced are stunning. They are the best orchestra music ever made.

The exception might be painting. It’s possible the best painters are all behind us now… partly because so much of art has moved to the digital realm. The verdict is still out on that one. 😛

Books, my art of choice, have definitely improved. As much as I love Tolkien’s works, they are too slow for today’s readers. Some people may say we have a shorter attention span. No doubt. The real reason, though, is because we as a society have grown. We stand on the shoulders of giants like Tolkien and improve on what they’ve done. So we get high fantasy, deep world building, and fast paced. Win-win!

I admit, I was once tempted to make a thorough study of classical Russian literature. Now, however, I realize the game has moved ahead. The Olympic records will continue to be broken. Likewise, the books and other art evolve. We can easily absorb the long advances of the past. It’s part of being human. What took decades or centuries to grow to maturity is the starting point for today’s artists. Any horror writer who can’t at least match Stephen King, has got to up their game. Because the bar keeps raising.

This can be frustrating. As I wrote many novels before the ones I published, I often felt discouraged, trying to rise to the ridiculously high standards of professional art in this modern age. I sympathized with punk rock’s DIY attitude and rejection of higher skill sets in favor of the raw power of a strong voice. It was probably just me trying to make myself feel better.

I still don’t think I’ve gained the heights I need to. What I have is a perspective. This journey of a lifetime is so much more exciting, because I have such elevated shoulders to stand on. The mountains are higher, but so are the vistas.

The best books are yet to be written!


4 thoughts on “The Best Art

  1. If I remember that discussion correctly, my view is that James is correct. The best books probably are ahead of us. Progress however, is not a one-directional movement upward. Rather, it is like a giant hill that grows both outward and upward–like a giant expanding dome. The best of the best will always be at the peak of that hill. They will be written by those who learned the lessons of the many works residing below them. However, a larger and larger mass of works will remain that merely spread out sideways at every level, including at the same level as the books at the bottom of the heap. For every new book at the top of the hill, there will be increasingly more that do not measure up to it.

    The bigger the hill grows, the more books there will be. It becomes a challenge therefore, fighting our way toward the top of that heap, knowing that until we reach the peak, our works will struggle to be recognized among the throngs of other books making that same climb. For those who reach the top however, the exhilarating view must be greater than it ever has been.

  2. I think there are peaks and troughs in most form and it’s hugely subjective. Some times I walk into a book store or browse Amazon and my bank account knows it’s going to be assaulted while other times I walk in and can’t find one thing that interests me. Great post to ponder on.

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