When Art Turns to Contempt

The fundamental unit of Art is Truth. 

A person can labor to create something but unless it is grounded in something true sharing that creation with another will be difficult if not impossible. The things that are true are the only things we can really share. Art that lacks truth has no shared threads to connect artist and audience and becomes an entirely subjective mess, something to argue about or project oneself onto rather than a vehicle to communicate the deepest concepts of the human experience. 

It’s not impossible to express truth about something that inspires contempt. In fact, contempt is often born from a specific piece of truth that inspires disgust and eventually, yes, contempt in the people who learn it. The problem is that contempt then warps everything we know about a person. Perhaps we learn that someone’s car broke down because they never changed the oil in it. (I am changing the oil in my car every six months, dad, please relax.) Someone who hears this may begin holding this negligent fool in contempt, because obviously they don’t take care of their possessions and who can trust someone like that? 

The problem is, while the negligence is true, there are other truths. A family member was in the hospital and all their time was consumed in caring for them. They were too strapped for cash to afford a visit to the mechanic. Their hospitalized family member was the one who was in charge of scheduling the car maintenance in the first place and they didn’t know where things were in the cycle anyways. All of this truth is overwritten by contempt. The psychological mechanics of contempt are undoubtedly deep and complex, and perhaps it has a greater purpose in our minds, but that’s not really the point I’m here to discuss today. 

Modern art is driven by contempt. 

From cinema to sculpture, painting to prose, all our cultural centers are populated by people who hold their fellow man in contempt. Our cultural betters are contemptuous of the poor, and will pay them to rot in their homes or on the streets, so long as they stay out of the way. They see the impact an expanding civilization has on the planet and assure themselves it would be better if people just stopped having children and families. Most recently, we discover they don’t even want to breath the same air we do. 

The exact source of this contempt is hard to place and is probably as irrelevant as the mechanics and role of contempt because the real problem with all this contempt for art is that it warps a creator’s concept of truth. (There are other problems for society at large, of course.) When your sense of the world is badly distorted, to the point where most people you meet transform into jingoistic caricatures in the very moment you speak to them, you cannot put truth in your art. Yet such is the behavior of our cultural betters. 

The result is art and story that looks like a funhouse mirror. We’re encouraged to refrain from judgement and look at the circumstances of a person and how they influence moral choices. But the only moral subject we discuss in fiction is race. We’re told people need to be in control of their lives and be strong. But in fiction we’re told that strength is mourning how we are victimized by forces beyond our control. We’re told it’s important to build our own identity. But many who attempt to do so are shamed for abandoning an identity they supposedly share with dozens of others strictly on a basis of genetics and place of birth. 

Contempt has convinced our cultural betters they can simply talk down to us, telling us stories full of contradictions and nonsense, and we’ll eat it up. To an extent, they’ve been proven right. But their myopic vision is poisoning their art and it’s quickly falling apart under the strain of its own nonsense. We’re navigating a horribly depressing artistic world these days. But my purpose isn’t to spend a long time commiserating over the decline of our entertainment and culture. My purpose is to chart the dangers so I can effectively navigate around them. And I am a writer, so I write the process down and share it to help me understand what I am seeing. 

So this is my thesis for the fall. Contempt has warped our culture and we must unpack all the damage it is doing so we can avoid it. What is it hiding from our view? What do we have to reinfuse to our storytelling to restore the balance? Hopefully we will come out the other side wiser for the exploration.