Art & Instant Gratification

Look at StarsIt’s no secret that we live in a society of instant gratification. Artifacts of our insatiability permeate our culture. Drive-through windows, express lanes, fast food, high-speed internet, cable on demand, diet pills, thirty minute oil changes, prepackaged salads, overnight delivery, convenience stores, pizza delivery, car insurance quotes in 15 minutes or less.

And this has implications on everything—from our marriages and other relationships to our lack of connectedness as a society, from our modes of learning and our attention spans to the way we appreciate and interpret art. A recent article by The American Scholar cites a variety of vices—from narcissism to addiction to the recent economic recession—as byproducts of our instant gratification society: “What emerges is a massive and accelerating feedback loop, in which narrow self-interest, corporate or individual, undermines prosperity and fosters economic and social insecurity, which then encourages even more narrowly self-serving behavior.”

And this extends into the arts as well. I think we have lost our ability—and maybe even our appetite—to enter into the deeper, unspoken soul conversations that art and beauty offer to us. For much of great art requires ears that listen and eyes that see with an unhurried attentiveness. Unfortunately, society finds itself generally unable and unwilling to engage in the arts beyond simple pop music and formulaic films and pinterest art.

When was the last time you sat and leisurely pondered a painting? Or listened in languid attentiveness to a symphony? Or read a novel for the simple enjoyment of reading? When was the last time you gave yourself a moment to simply contemplate and appreciate beauty?

I remember, as a young naive twenty-something, sitting down with a friend as he taught me how to taste wine. I remember that he patiently tried to coax my taste buds into a state of discovery, my mind and mouth grasping at the complexity of aromas and flavors that swirled in my long-stemmed glass. And while I will never be anywhere close to an expert in this art form, I remember being awakened somehow. I discovered then the importance of unhurried time and attentiveness in order to grasp what lay deeper.

What author Paul Roberts dubs our “Impulse Society” is simply that; an impulsive society that is losing the ability to discover and appreciate the complex, the sublime, the nuanced, that which makes much of good art. Instead, we are honing our appetites for the equivalent of “fast-food art” and abandoning our appreciation for the virtues of disciplined practice and virtuosity.

As this attitude permeates all around us, it is natural for even us artists to settle for the superficial. So I thought I would offer you a gentle reminder to reach deeper, and provide a short list on how you can do so.

1) Go to your local public library and check out some books. And then read them. Get beyond Amazon and web surfing and enter into the deeper, more nuanced monolog that a book can offer. My daughter recently purchased a book of classic poetry—Tennyson, Poe, TS Elliot—and I am heartened to know she is learning to appreciate the deeper beauty of the written arts.

2) Visit a museum and sit in front of the art. And don’t just breeze through. Sit and drink it in. Is it unreasonable to give a hundred or so seconds to contemplate the hundred or so hours of skillful technique that sits on each canvas? A few years ago, I blogged about my time in the Sistine Chapel, sitting for a couple of hours in that small room, drinking in the beauty and history and truth on the ceiling. It was a life-defining event.

3) If you have Netflix, I suggest Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a thoughtful, elegant documentary of a legendary Japanese master chef. This slow-paced meditation will give you a renewed appreciation for the price and passion of great art, even when the art is sushi.

4) Remember what inspired you. There is a reason why you are an artist. What inspired you to do what you do? Revisit that time, that place, that thing, that person, that ignited the artist inside you.

5) Turn off the computer or tablet you have in front of you. Come on. Right now. Instead, go outside and watch a sunset. Or a sunrise. Or the night sky. It’s painfully cliche, but it’s true. God’s beauty is often ordinary and unspectacular, until you take the time to notice it. God’s beauty often does not shout His Glory, but merely whispers it with a quiet unflinching certainty.

There’s a beautiful scene in the movie, Ratatouille, where Remy, the aspiring rodent chef, is trying to teach his brother Emile that there is more to food than eating garbage. What do you do to push back against our “fast-food art” culture? How do you resist the instant gratification which makes for superficial art? Add a comment and share your story.

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3 thoughts on “Art & Instant Gratification

  1. Remember back in the day, getting a new LP? You would listen to the whole album checking out the art on the album cover. And listen again reading the lyrics. And you really liked a few tracks, but after listening over and over you start discovering the music and in the end… you like the entire album, minus the one or two outliers. When you sit in it, and hear it, over and over, then… you begin to feel the art.

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