Some time ago, Franky Schaeffer wrote about being addicted to mediocrity. I think it remains an addiction for us today. Music has always been an enormous part of my life. In college, I fancied myself a bit of a musician, and actually played a few instruments. I haven’t touched them in years, but hearing music actually became more of a catharsis for me than playing it. When I look back over my music library from my late high school/early college years, however, it cracks me up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against 80’s music in general. A few months ago, I went on this binge of buying all of this old 80’s music that I listened to back in the day and had lost or never bought. I was putting all of this White Lion and Cure and stuff like that on my iPod. But a lot of the stuff that I listened to then (I won’t share or you’ll laugh) was just bad music. It was popcorn. It was…well, it was crap.
Listening to that kind of stuff when you’re in middle school is one thing. But eventually, we have to grow out of it. I think that’s the point of music and art and drama appreciation courses in college. I think there may need to be more, though, because we still listen to a lot of stuff that has absolutely no substance whatsoever today. Taking into account that tastes are different, we really are addicted to music and art that has no substance, or that is just a collection of wild images or words strung together for the shock value. Colors are thrown together and called art, violence and sex are thrown together and called story, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake whine and grind and call it music. How did we get such low standards??? When Beethoven and Bach were composing, standards were high. When Picasso and Van Gogh (my personal favorite) were painting, standards were high. Certainly, there are a lot of artists that carry very high standards today, and produce high quality work. There are others that don’t even try, because art and entertainment have become confused. The integrity of true creativity has become tangled in our perception with the figures on the red carpet that keep producing the same thing, like a factory. Less than half of what we see, hear, and read is truly fresh and different.
Infuze Magazine carried a great interview last week with Andrew Beaujon, who had done a piece on Christian musicians, and how audiences seldom want to listen to them because their quality is so poor. So often things that are done for God are second best, because we love to claim that He appreciates the effort more than the product. That’s why a lot of musicians that make music of the Christian persuasion do a mediocre job. It’s not horrible, but it’s the same quality as a lot of the other stuff we listen to. A lot of artists are painting beautifully creative portraits of their faith, but they are in an unfortunate minority. The ones who do it well are few, and it gives our faith a bad name (I have friends in an underground band called My Epic, and their debut album is a beautiful idea of how to do it right).
I’m not advocating that those who produce mediocre art not be called artists. They certainly are artists. But being called and gifted to be creative is to have a perspective on life and culture that many others don’t. It is to have the ability to communicate things that others can’t. It is a call to excellence. Artistic personalities frequently drive themselves crazy because they cannot reach the excellence for which they strive. Still others have given up, and decided that the insanity isn’t worth the price paid.
In whatever case, we will be known in historical annals as a culture that loved mediocrity, that accepted anything shocking and called it art, that clung to quantity over quality.
That’s really too bad.