Thursday, April 20, 2006

What's My Age Again?

What do you think of this comment from Byron Spradlin, president of Artists in Christian Testimony?
We have left the AGE of the ORATOR and have entered the AGE of the
ARTIST.

14 comments:

Craver VII said...

Hmmm…I wonder. Is that a good thing or bad? While I love the idea of creatively bringing truth to your audience, (manipulating media and method, but not the message) it seems that we have allowed our listening skills to atrophy. The reason this troubles me is that I like to think of our Lord’s disciples as “people of the Word.” Yes, let us desire to communicate it well, but let content have priority over all else.

Moreover, only some are artistically gifted in such a way that other people besides Mom and Uncle Lui can appreciate. Just because someone has the gift of being able to be creative and add aesthetics to communication, does not necessarily mean that he has worthy substance.

If we are to be like the Berean church, it is easier to check words than art. Have we left the age of the orator? Bring in the artist; let him add his gift, but keep the orator nearby and don’t let him disappear!

Macon said...

Well, I am of the opinion that an Orator is a kind of Artist, so we could split hairs that way.

but if we're going to play with dichotomies (and, really, who doesn't like to play with dicnotomies?) I'd draw our ages like this:

We're leaving the Age of the Orator and the Artist, and are entering the Age of the Writer and the Creator.

And, yes, imho, a Writer is a kind of Creator.

Macon said...

I meant dichotomies.

I am well aware that noboby likes to play with dicnotomies. So don't feel like you need to remind me.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Hmmm. Isn't a creator a kind of artist? (Really, who doesn't like to split hairs?)

Byron is a dramatist, so I can't imagine he would throw the spoken baby out with the orated bathwater, but when you talk about the passing of ages, you're pretty much talking about the death of something, aren't we? The artist is in ascendancy presumably because our listening skills are slipping. Orators find it more difficult to get their message across; artists find it easier, meanwhile, because the audience for each is staring at them defiantly, saying "Here we are; now entertain us." The age of the dinosaurs ended when the dinosaurs stopped breathing. The Iron Age replaced the Stone Age when the people using iron started killing the people using stone, right? Or something like that . . .

So the statement smacks of darwinian thinking, for one thing. But it's funny that Byron the Artist resorts to rhetoric--a weapon from the Orator's arsenal--to make his point. And incidentally, he probably hoped he wouldn't be deconstructed this much when he said it.

By the way, what makes words easier than art to check for would-be Bereans?

David A. Zimmerman said...

Here's a good case study of the word versus image smackdown:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4313772690011721857&q=microsoft+ipod

Best argument for Mac I've ever seen. My thanks to Karen Ward at http://submerge.typepad.com/submergence/ for turning me on to it.

Macon said...

actually, I'd say it's the other way around: Artists are a kind of Creator. That is, Artists are sub-group of Creators. Or, if you are an aesthete, Artists are the top-level group of Creators. But one need not be an "artist" in order to create.

I'm going to stick to my guns and dance with the one I came with by mixing metaphors.

So part of my thinking is that Orators & Artists create set pieces for their listeners/viewers/consumers. This works as long as the folks who are listening/viewing/consuming are content to sit/stand there and do so. Which is to say, as long as those folks sitting there view themselves as mere listeners/viewers/consumers.

But part of the change, thanks to this here intarweb, is that more and more folks no longer view themselves as mere listeners/viewers/consumers. We view ourselves as creators.

So your speech may be nice, but that form of communication doesn't lend itself easily to what I want to do with it. I want to change it and add something of myself to it. So, I would prefer it as text, so I can copy it, paste it, edit it, and especially hyperlink it. And so if you give me text, it will beget more text in an exponential way.

Oration, on the other hand, until and if it's put into transcript form, will generally not create the kind of exponential growth as text. (This may be just a limitation of our current computing power, as text is super-easy to distribute & modify, audio files are less easy to do this with.)

So text begets more text, new text, and original text. We who are doing the begetting are Creators. We needen't be artists to do this creation. Though the greatest of we creators might be granted the title of "Artist".

This text begetting new text also works in Art, though what is begotten is not necessarily "art" but it is a new creation. Take audio mashups, or code mashups, or photography changed & recombined on flickr. All these things are your average Joe taking one person's creation and adding their own thing to make a new creation.

I'm hesitant to call us all "artists," though because of the high emphasis here in the 21st century on text (thanks to hyperlinking).

Unless "artist" just means "creator," in which case Byron's distinction is without meaning from the beginning.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Omigosh. And I thought that poem by T. S. Eliot was hard to keep up with . . .

Macon Stokes, ladies and gentlemen, the postmodernist with the mostmodernist. Or something like that.

Keep going! This is good for me.

Craver VII said...

Well, words are not given to quite as much interpretation. It is easier to say, "That's not what I said." than to say, "That's not what I meant."

I once heard a brilliant teacher respond to a combustible Bible question by referring back to the verse and saying, "Let's not make it say more or less than what it actually says."

It may not be fair to attempt to discern the intentions of the spoken word, but unless we explore the artist's intentions, we're only good for deciding whether we think it's a pretty picture! That's why a painted portrait says volumes more than the intant photo you might get in a picture-booth.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Hmm. I say "That's not what I meant" a lot, and I'm no visual artist, unless you count sticking my foot in my mouth as performance art. But is it possible that visual artists (or artists of the word, for that matter) invite interpretation whereas orators and rhetoricians try to minimize the act of interpretation? Is the orator going for the final word and the artist merely going for the next word?

I'm reminded of three things:

1. "To define is to limit," a reaction to the question "What are you?" in the book The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Props to Paul Grant, author of the forthcoming Blessed Are the Uncool, for turning me on to that. The act of defining boxes something up--not necessarily a bad thing, but not simply an examination of something.

2. "Deconstruction in a nutshell is that there is no mere nutshell." Postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida said something like that in response to an interviewer's sound-byte-directed question about his philosophical method. (Props to Emergent national coordinator Tony Jones for that one.) I don't know enough about deconstruction to deconstruct that sentence, but I think we can all agree that to trap something in a nutshell is to limit it.

3. I've forgotten my third point. So in a very creative, postmodern move, I will invite you all to provide my third point--to have the next word, so to speak.

Craver VII said...

What exactly do you mean by that? Just kidding. Maybe I like to drop things in neat categories and move along quickly because it helps me cope with ADD. I realize that subtleties and nuances will inevitibly be sacrificed, but except for Scripture, subtleties have a crippling effect on me. I am a simpler man than you, Dave. Much simpler, but I'm okay with that because I was gifted with my own unique superpowers...like my smashingly good looks. When it comes to deconstructing beyond the proverbial nutshell though, that was more appealling to me before I had teenagers in the house. Now, I'm all about "the main thing" all the time.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Such a face!!!

That sounds like as good a cease-fire as any, although I did remember my third memory: a friend of mine of Asian American heritage once told me that in Asian culture, the goal in conversation is to reach a point where everybody says, "Hmmm . . ." whereas in American culture the goal in conversation is to entertain, or to reach a point where everybody says, "Har har har . . ." In a nutshell (har har har), Asian culture prizes wisdom over wit, while American culture prizes wit over wisdom. So perhaps whe shouldn't be talking about what age we're in so much as we should be considering where we want to live. (Hmmm . . . Huh?)

Mr Steve said...

The Age of the Orator ended a long time ago. Take a look at any political speech given in the past 25-30 years. Now ask yourself why elementary and high school students have to memorize sections of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or MLK's "I Have A Dream". Is it that there have been no important events that merited an excellent speech or is it that our society no longer creates great orators?
Perhaps it is the fact that our attention span has shortened. If it can't be a sound byte then it's too much trouble remember.
As for the Artist/Creator conundrum. I can only paraphrase Ezra Pound (I would find the direct quote but unfortunately my Pound is in a box right now): "The fact that you write is to be commended. To believe that what you have written is worth sharing with the world is egotistical." Look at the blogosphere (to which we contribute our $.02 daily) How much here is "Art"? We're creating a mountain of electronic noise but I highly doubt it can be called art. "What is art? Is something art just because you hang it on a wall?" "Don't get me started, man. We'll be here all night."(From a great debate by Kids in the Hall about a meatloaf found in the trash.)

A great orator is an artist. However art comes from a variety of media. The orator depends upon the spoken word. What Byron Spradlin may be suggesting here is that as a society we are broadening the media used to convey our message.

I agree with Macon on several things. The "mashups" and "edits" that permeate the web demonstrate the democratization of "art". The artist must increasingly tolerate the appropriation and modificaiton of his/her original work. Why? Because someone with a computer thinks they have the right to add some lightsabre effects and play "Solsbury Hill" over it. Intellectual Property is the new frontier. The web-gen thinks it's their manifest destiny to be able to do with all electronic content as they please.

During the whole napster debacle 'round about Y2K I set my students down and set 'em straight 'bout who owned what. Their concnept of ownership was slightly skewed. If it was on the web it was public domain. Anyone could take it. They felt entitled to anything that was readily available to them. I tried to set those ornery kids straight. Don't know how well they listened tho. They were plugged into their mp3 players listening to some stolen tunes.

We have left the age of ownership and entered the age of communal property.

We have left the age of creation and entered the age of revision.

We have left the age of ideas and entered the age of infotainment.

In other words boys and girls: Elvis has left the building and we're applauding our reconstructed concept of him.

Patros Spiros said...

Convenient reconstruction for a postmodern quasi consumerist who would rather verbally regurgitate than write or produce an original piece of art. But certainly has the chops to motivate others to do so.

Read the article in context; he alson takes shots at some Church Fathers that have more impact on the world and yet manages to dismiss the corpus of their life and work in one sentence.

Yet, ad hominem or genetic statements do not refute the presupposition, but unsubstanciated comments in the body of his news letter demnads further commentary.

Patros Spiros said...

My epistemology is that of a fallible modest foundationalist and as such would like to add that maybe Mr. Spradlin could have been responding to a fringe group of Radical Orthodoxy. I would refer to James A.K. Smith and John Milbank's book, "Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology."