For centuries there has been a conundrum for mankind – whether to revere the standards of the past, or to turn away and embrace the new. These two views are in constant and shifting conflict in society. My view is, despite our unsavoury past we must respect and preserve some values that endure.
The birth of new ideas, at every level of human endeavour is vital to the vigor and growth of our civilization. It is equally true that many laws, standards and ways of doing things have been filtered through generations of practice and observance, and have great validity. Our approach historically, to choosing a pathway between these viewpoints seems to be arrived at randomly – depending on many variables: Government, economics, cultural shifts and world events. The recent history of western democracies, (accelerated by an almost hypnotic technology) points to a unstoppable embrace of ‘the new’, regardless of where it leads.
This seemingly mindless worship of ‘the new,’ now pervades society on every level. A desperate need to look young: pills to stop ageing, lose weight, to stop pain and simply feel good has lead to excessive spending, from new gadgets to new fantasys. The dream marketplace loves this addiction – it feeds the insatiable appetite for the twenty four hour connected world, and the system that built it.
As an active visual artist I ride two horses; on the one hand I believe in the thrust and importance of the new, and yet have great respect for past masters, whose shoulders we stand on. Today’s contemporary art world seems to ignore the past and with youthful giddiness, discards much that has gone on before.
This adulation for the new invades the thinking at every level,even with the elderly. Traditionally, as one grew old you were sometimes consulted for your opinion. Now young and old turn to Google where they get the latest ‘data’ or, the ‘hottest’ (thing )? Parents and grandparents are now using teen slang in a well meaning attempt to reach out to their kids. The unspoken question remains: should we take a closer look at what is happening. Why do we worship the the new? When a four year old can demand which brand of clothes (Gap) to buy, or where the family will vacation, it makes one wonder – who is pulling the strings, and are they really invisible?
Of course we can’t go back to building cathedrals with flying buttresses in the age of space travel but we can strive for a sense of balance that still leaves some connection to our past. At this stage in the evolution of man’s thinking we have evolved a long way from the primitive mind which was lizard like, (existence and reproduction), through the mammalian stage, ( nurturing, planning) to today’s modern man/woman ( a thin veneer that often slips back to Lizard) this veneer of rational thought, allows mankind to sidestep many complex issues but seemingly not confront the ones that really matter. This thousand year old cycle of warfare and greed has failed to deal with crucial issues; hatred of ‘the other’?, the environmental crisis?, the tyranny of materialism?
I am the first to agree that capitalism and the rise of international commerce has brought us ( western democracies) to the height of wealth and scientific advancement. My question is: is this all there is? Is this the measure of mankind? If you take a longer view, you must come to believe that in our present political culture we have moved Humanism to the back of the bus. What if we built a society not measured simply by the GDP but by a new enlightenment that elevates quality of life for the many, over luxury for the few. What if we developed a society with emphasis on higher learning, creativity, co-operation, and critical thinking? Where studying music would be as acceptable as studying mathematics? Of course we still need commerce but must it be worshipped? Must commerce remain the golden chalice on the altar of humanity?