What Does Our Art Say About Us?

An Honest Analysis of the Mirror Held Up by Modern Media

Jared Barlament

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It should come as no surprise for me to say that art is and has always been reflective of the social values and desires of the day.

18th century Enlightenment values saw the mechanistic and mathematical aspects of the natural order expressed in art through the intricate, geometric and aggrandizing Late Baroque and Neoclassical schools. Early 19th century romanticism, reeling from the horrors unleashed on Europe by what were deemed hyper-rationalist ideologues, instead stressed the spontaneity and sublimity of nature over trying to mathematically map out a man-made nature in minute detail. In the 1920s, the avant-garde art movements of the Jazz Age reflected and expressed the collective trauma of WWI and the loss of long-standing states and cultural norms which had been passed down faithfully for hundreds of years beforehand. And in these same ways we can look at the art most popular today, in any number of different mediums, and make some quick observations of their most widely shared sentiments. Because it is art which the most recent few generations have been primarily remembered for, hasn’t it? Movies, music, fashion, architecture, all of it? What do we remember our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents for more than the beauty they put into the world for us to enjoy?

But, if you ask a lot of people, the art with the most recognition out today isn’t really what we should be remembered for. Our generation has lots to do! Fix the climate, fix democracy, rid ourselves of the collective social media-induced haze which has gripped such a huge portion of people; and the art being pushed onto billboards in public spaces and mobile ads doesn’t represent the majority’s values anyway, right?

One should immediately consider that this could just be some kind of recency bias. It’s always been said that what we now consider classic works of art of the previous generations were rejected and mocked in their own day. However, to be perfectly honest, does anybody think those born in 2040 are going to appreciate anything about Fast X, the Super Mario Bros. Movie, the ninth Spider-Man movie, the 32nd and 33rd Marvel movies if my counting isn’t off, the 7th Transformers movie, a Disney live-action remake, the second Avatar, the fourth John Wick movie and the ninth overall Rocky movie? Those are the highest grossing movies of the first half of 2023. None are completely original…

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Jared Barlament

Author and essayist from Wisconsin studying anthropology and philosophy at Columbia University.