The futility of materialistic ambition in art


To grow disenchanted with sport played for big money seems like a natural progression in time. One does not have to be a social justice warrior to understand that there are issues of far greater import in the world, things that supercede the tunnel-visioned pettiness and self-interest of modern sport. You might say that the same applies to art as well, but great art by definition spills over, stimulates, and influences other aspects of our thinking and living experience. Great art is both cause and effect of the world around us; cause, because it compels us to see the world in different ways, effect, because it is simultaneously born from that same world.

Spectator sport at its core, however, is little more than a purposeful and powerful distraction, designed with great cleverness, and aimed at the intellectual stultification of the people. It appeals to vapid sensibilities and leaves one with a hollow sense of unjustified triumph or defeat, feelings that don’t stand well when subjected to closer scrutiny. There is much truth in the old saying “It’s just a game“, but this metaphor rings false today and has lost all of its poignancy; how could it not when sportsmen are little more than “resources” to be haggled over like whores in a bazaar?

This does not mean that we lose our native appreciation for the game as is: the athletic prowess inherent in it, the time and effort invested in perfecting it, the competitive spirit it engenders, and the aesthetic appeal of clean lines and forms which it carries are all things worthy of admiration and embracing to the best of one’s abilities. But surely it calls into question our society’s way of doing things and our misaligned priorities when “just a game” commands the kind of obscene wealth and attention that it does today?

But here’s the paradox, one which also highlights the difference between sport and art: sport cannot be played at the highest level of human physicality unless there is adequate incentive provided for the genetically gifted to excel. This is simple objective fact. Once started down that slippery slope, our market economics take over and dictate an exponential relationship between sport and money. This is an irreversible process but at least one out of which something good arises, namely, peak athletic performance and a parameter for judging what the human body is capable of.

But art is wholly independent of such material incentivizing. Pour money into it, refocus the strobe lights, and still the final product will be no different than what it was when you were a pauper. Art works by fundamentally non-material rules that are a strange confluence of inspiration, conviction, and the stripped-down existential condition. Overwhelmingly, great art is a struggle and a wrestling of circumstances; favour it with too much notice, pave over the loose road it walks on, and chances are something vital in it will be lost.

But rather than any third party saying this, artists themselves should be sufficiently cogent. As artists, they should ideally have something to express, something that can’t possibly be held inside any longer for fear of spiritual denudation. Once this dam breaks, there should be monumental relief above all else for having birthed something new into the world but also for saying something that was previously unsaid and without shape. To let that moment of catharsis as a creator be soured by material considerations feels like a tragedy; perhaps an inevitable tragedy seeing how ego and art are often unresolvably entangled, but a tragedy all the same.

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1 Response to The futility of materialistic ambition in art

  1. jeffgoulding says:

    An interesting perspective and an enjoyable read. Thank you

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