Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Creative Artist as Immanent Critic

The creative genius is at variance with his fellow citizens. As the pioneer of things new and unheard of he is in conflict with their uncritical acceptance of traditional standards and values. (Mises, Human Action, 267)
Mises then goes on to discuss the anti-bouregois and anti-capitalistic attitudes of these artists and of "The frustrated artists who take delight in aping the genius's mannerism in order to forget and to conceal their own impotence adopt this terminology" of the creative geniuses (268). Mises talks too about this phenomenon in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. While these observations are interesting in their own right, I am more interested in the observation Mises makes in the first two sentences quoted.

Indeed, for the artists of Mises's day, to be anti-capitalist was to be in conflict with the West's traditional standards and values. Whatever the commonly held values, the creative artist is sure to be challenging them. To be a pro-capitalist artist, one has to really, deeply understand the nature of economics and of the free market in order to understand that supporting it is very much to be in conflict with traditional standards and values. It is less work to just assume everyone supports free markets, even when they don't, than it is to learn enough economics to learn the truth.

Whatever the case, the creative artist is in the position of being a Hayekian immanent critic to the culture through his or her work (this is different from being an immanent critic within the artistic order, as I've discussed here). It is a shame that such criticism is often aimed at perceived tradition rather than actual tradition. In a strange twist, the collectivist world views of many artists are actually reflective of our real traditional standards and values. It seems to me that it would behoove artists, then, if they wish to really be in conflict with traditional standards and values, to learn what standards and values the general population actually holds.

Now, this of course assumes that that is what artists are trying to do. I would argue that anyone who is "trying" to be in conflict with said standards and values comes closer to being the "frustrated artists", since they are merely adopting a poise rather than being honest believers.

What this may in fact argue is that free market supporters need to target artists for education. There is much that is "new and unheard of" in free market economics for the average person that, if properly educated, the creative artist could and perhaps would in fact adopt and promulgate.

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