Balance / by Chris Hall

Anubis, weighing a heart against a feather in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Anubis, weighing a heart against a feather in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

The bourgeois want art voluptuous and life ascetic; the reverse would be better.  Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory.

What is good art, and what should it do?  

Good art doesn't give the world what it wants – it gives the world what it needs.  Sometimes these wants and needs are not the same thing.  So what does the world need right now?  A spiritual respite?  A healing antidote to modern life ills?  Maybe the hard shock of reality (better the hard slap of truth than the soft kiss of a lie)?  Perhaps a taste of its own cruel medicine?  How about a celebratory carnival bacchanalia, to counter society's puritanical excessiveness?  

Though I have yet to come to a definite conclusion as to what the world needs, I do know that whatever it is, it must complement, be in equal measure, and in balance.

Adorno seems to think that the people of the world need to live fuller, “voluptuous,” less repressed lives, and that art is best when it functions in a more spiritual role.   I can see how this might be a good thing.  But if the roles are currently reversed, who will budge first?  We can't all be crazy or all be ascetics.  There must be a balance, or the scale will completely tip over.

Perhaps it is not what the world needs, but what the community needs, or what each individual needs, at one particular place at one particular time, hence the diversity of art practices in the world today and also through out history.