Updated: Mar 25
The great Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov once said “I have no desires, save the desire to express myself in defiance of all the world’s muteness.” This expresses an artistic freedom that came to America in the personages of the great “Beatniks” like Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Hunter S. Thompson, etc. My first reaction to a quote like that is the same as probably any other child of post-modernism would have: Bravo! We all, after all, want freedom to “be ourselves.”
This is all great as far as it goes; the problem, however, is that much of this deep-seated desire to “be who we are” has led, in the post-modern generations, to a large degree of artistic (and, thus, “real”) self-centeredness. Oscar Wilde, perhaps one of the greatest art critics of any time, said that “Every impulse we strangle will only poison us.” This tendency toward unfettered self-indulgence is seen very clearly in the post-modern arts, which have become increasingly self-absorbed and, frankly, boring. We have gone from the magnificent mythological and biblical portrayals of Medieval and Renaissance painting and the tonality and rhythmic brilliance of Gregorian chant and Baroque and Classical Masses to the atonality and almost deliberate meaninglessness of “New Music” and Beat art.
Why? In the process of moving into exaggerated attitudes of “self-expression” and “I gotta be me,” we have abandoned the notion of ultimacy in art. If we’re going to, in one breath, assert the importance of art as a vehicle for the ascent of the human mind and spirit, then we must admit to the necessity of form and meaning in that art; post-modernism rejects that.
Self-expression is wonderful and valuable and important, but it must be an expression of your genuine self, and that is as a creation who was made in the image of the Creator. What differentiates us from all the rest of creation is that God breathed His spirit (His “image”) directly into mankind; no other creature has that distinction. As we engage our creative selves, in art, music, poetry, or whatever, let’s always bear that in mind and heart.