Thursday, June 16, 2005

Psychotherapy for Art

by Sherry Eros, MD and Steven Eros

How can we be surprised that American education is mired in failure when the education establishment diverts so much of its energy and resources into playing the roles of substitute parent, drug counselor, "reproductive health" center, and mental health clinic? How make room for genuine learning with all of these extra-curricular responsibilities increasingly appropriating educational space that should be devoted to teaching the essentials of reading and writing, mathematics and history? With so many extraneous matters preoccupying teachers and students, what’s left to rouse education from its therapeutic, empathic, multicultural, values-neutral slumber? Who’s left to represent the "Education Wing" of the Education Party?

Much the same deranged and devolutionary death spiral characterizes the politicized and psychologized realm of the arts. The despair and vacuity in contemporary art no less than in education results from the wholesale abandonment of the centuries-old assumption and pursuit of transcendent and unbargainable moral, aesthetic and intellectual standards in favor of the deceptive depth of what is nothing but the inky shallowness of instrumentalism, subjectivism, and relativism.

His current enthusiasm for tonal music notwithstanding, Miles Hoffman's essay, "Music’s Missing Magic" in the current issue of The Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2005. Vol. 29, Iss. 2; p. 28) is Exhibit A for what's wrong with the arts in America today. Hoffman is just another philistine hyper-aesthete from the radical left posing as art critic -- in his case, for NPR -- and also posing as a defender of tonal music…or is it atonal music…or is it classical music… or … just hoping something "magical" will happen?

Hoffman appears to be a tortured soul who in his search for relief from psychic pain and in his quest for meaning in his own life has purchased a lifetime subscription to the snake oil dispensers of Freudianism (or one of its therapeutic equivalents). In his essay, Hoffman transmutes the misunderstood musings of a third tier poet into a definition of art as "therapy" for loneliness and for the rest of modern man’s purported psychic ills. Art as therapy for pain and loneliness appears to be Hoffman’s prescription formulated to remedy the diseased state of music today.

In a pathologically psychologized culture such as ours, should one be surprised that it is impossible for any true painting, music or other art to flourish? Only when artists and critics thoroughly undo the influence of the Freudian, Jungian and other fraudulent psychological theories that for the better part of a century have driven nearly all of the fine arts into the ground (not to mention their calamitous impact on popular artistic forms such as film), will any rebirth of genuine art be remotely possible.

An old friend of ours recounted the family story of his grandmother’s reaction to his grandfather’s death. Through travail, she had delivered unto grandpa 13 children—that’s the number recalled from the long-ago telling of the events. Prolific grandpa died several years after the last of these 13 children was born, and the family assembled for the burial service. When the casket was lowered and covered with earth, to everyone’s surprise grandma tramped over and unceremoniously sat herself down right on top of grandpa’s grave. As the family tried to coax her away, she resisted, proclaiming that 13 children was enough and she was darned well going to make sure he wasn't coming back for more.
Grandma’s throwing her own body into the breach should serve as an example to us all: When someday the stake is driven into the heart of Freudian theory and its radical left artistic and academic appendages, and they are finally laid to rest, we are obligated to be no less vigilant than grandma.

Quoting the von Schober poem Franz Schubert incorporated into his song, "An die Musik":

O gracious Art, in how many gray hours
When life's fierce orbit encompassed me,
Hast thou kindled my heart to warm love,
Hast charmed me into a better world.
Oft has a sigh, issuing from thy harp,
A sweet, blest chord of thine,
Thrown open the heaven of better times;
O gracious Art, for that I thank thee!

... Hoffman ponders the question:

But just how does our gracious Art exercise these powers? How does it comfort us, charm us, kindle our hearts? We might start our search for answers by positing two fundamentals: a fundamental pain and a fundamental quest. A fundamental pain of our human condition is loneliness. No surprise here: We're born alone, we're alone in our consciousness, we die alone, and, when loved ones die, we're left alone. And pain itself, including physical pain, isolates us and makes us feel still more alone, completing a vicious circle. Our fundamental quest--by no means unrelated to our aloneness and our loneliness -- is the quest for meaning, the quest to make sense of our time on earth, to make sense of time itself.
Hoffman's dismal and enfeebled essay here confuses: (1) the incidental fact that art may have the effect of "making sense" of his miserable and lonely life, realizing his failed human potential, or soothing and distracting his own tormented soul, er, brain (or, allegedly, von Schober’s –and, by the way, who remembers von Schober apart from Schubert's music?); with (2) the true essence and aim of art which is, and ought to be, an acausal and transcendent effluence of the free and creative will, having absolutely nothing to do with Hoffman’s senseless quest to escape from his meaningless life or gain relief from his debilitating psychological pain. Only in the mind of the 60’s radical is there a self-evident identification of the goals of art and therapy.

Fittingly, Hoffman’s essay concludes with what might be the aspiring rock star’s plea to the god of the groupies: "O gracious Art, let's hope we get lucky."

The pathological state of today's art and art criticism is above all due to the fact that both are hopelessly enervated by the pervasive influence of a noxious concoction the most pestilential ingredients of which are fraudulent psychological theorizing and radical leftist politics of the postmodern relativist sort. This is the same witches’ brew that has progressively laid waste to modern education in general and the public school system in particular.

We may only hope that the current stirrings of a much-needed critique of Freudian and related forms of psychological pseudo-theorizing will slowly but relentlessly trickle-down into some succeeding generation of naïve students entering the academy who, repulsed by the perversion of art witnessed for so many decades, will manage to extirpate all remnants of psychology and radical leftist politics from the arts. As one great thinker suggested, when reason and truth fail you in your battle against those who block progress toward knowledge, all you can do is wait until your opponents die-off.

Now, on the day that happens, can’t you just picture the ghosts of old Franz and a host of other great artistic geniuses sitting themselves down--in unison--on the graves of these 60’s radicals and psychologizing defilers of true art?

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