“At Video Music Awards- a Lot to Look Away From!” That’s how the New York Times dissed the raunch-fest from MTV on Sunday night. On Monday morning, columnists from coast to coast despaired of the shock and horror experienced by people like Will Smith and his youngsters when Miley Cyrus used a giant foam finger and a jarringly shameless costume to thrust and gyrate her pelvis into infamy. Of course, this is MTV and it was well known than Lady Gaga was the opening act, so the most relevant question is not “What did Will Smith and his children expect?”
A better question would be, “If this is Art, what does it say about Us?” Visit the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art, and you are struck with awe and astonishment as you walk through room after room of classic paintings and sculpture. In virtually every gallery and on nearly every wall, you will find a masterpiece that references a theme from the Bible. And even when artists aren’t celebrating timeless ideas or virtues, they attempt to reveal their subjects with precision, lighting that is intriguing, colors that touch the heart. For almost a thousand years, human art highlighted the beauty and humanity that could still be found in a fallen world.
Across the street at the Hirschhorn Museum of Modern Art, the experience is different. Nothing inspires awe and wonder, although many things are interesting, clever, humorous or absolutely puzzling. Twentieth Century artists like Pollack, Warhol and Picasso are stuck by the meaninglessness and fragmentation of life. They elevate the mundane and avoid anything timeless or eternal. They embrace the emptiness and chaos of modern life.
Think about it: artists like Michelangelo and Caravaggio are remembered for the way they exalted the beauty and majesty of humanity. Classical composers like Bach are still celebrated centuries later for the order and precision they invested in every measure of their music. And what will the artistic music videos of 2013 call to mind in the centuries to come. Probably nothing.
In all likelihood, most of today’s pop musicians are so “now” that they will hardly qualify for even a fleeting thought among the generations of the future. But should one of their videos turn up in an estate sale from some forgotten attic, it will probably evoke one word- desperate. What are these rich, privileged people so desperately trying to escape?
Lift up the Cross!