here's a thought i'd like to develop systematically: people take 'art' - literary fiction or gallery installations, for example - far far too seriously. there's a constant drumbeat about how you've been redeemed by someone's novel, or how shakespeare invented the human, or how the symphonies of mahler have launched your ass into the stars or whatever it may be. it has to turn out that there is nothing more important; it has to have cosmic significance. really, you know, some of this stuff is pretty good, pretty deep, pretty absorbing etc. but you do not have to take your pleasures and blow them up like blimps. fiction is fictional; paintings are representational; post-modern art is funny; opera hurts; and so on. that you want to spend chunks of your life experiencing such things does not require that you pretend that the novelist is a god or that cezanne entirely changes the human capacity for vision or something. actually, the constant hyperbole about the arts and the next book called why literature matters should arouse your suspicion: it's way too shrill, way too defensive with regard to other aspects of culture - science or reality television - and when you get down to it massively implausible and sort of sad. i really think we need to get art into perspective. it's like, picasso: creator and destroyer: let's try: picasso: occasionally interesting painter. art audiences are constantly reassuring each other about the importance of what they're experiencing, and how great and sensitive they are for experiencing it. that itself should show you that it isn't actually as great as all that.
in blowing art up like this, we lose our connection to it as something human beings do for the reasons human beings do things and as well as humans do things. we lose the connection to craft. we lose the connection of art to work: to what each of us does to make a living. we invent a fantastic context and fantastic beings that inhabit it, beings who crystallize and yet transcend whole historical eras, people who live in the future, people whose misery or insanity is a symptom of how much better they are than everyone else, and so on. we need to keep art with us, here, in our own human lives and in the lives of the actual regular human beings who make it.