2025...A Futuristic Art Fantasy (1984)



 January 1, 2025


 Dear Human Being:


 I have seen your footprints in the mud among the debris in my daily search for food. I only hope you see this letter, should you pass this way again.


 I don't know who you are, or anything about you. I only know that like me, you have survived the most recent catastrophe. I know not how many -- if any -- others have

survived with us.


 George Orwell warned this would happen in his prophetic novel, "1984". Now, years later, we can see where we went wrong. As they used to say on Monday Night Football, "hindsight is 20-20." Monday Night Football...my God, how simple-minded we were.


 Do you remember how society and the world ground inevitably on? Greed and materialism were the dominant forces. And confusion. It must have been the accumulated deterioration of values that fragmented all our lives in the 1980s and '90s.


 God had died -- or rather, we had died to God -- and we greedily and desperately sought to fill this spiritual void, unfillable by any physical means, by stuffing our mouths with food. Nearly everyone was overweight; or on drugs of one kind or another (including television); divorced; drunk or committing some kind of crime or excess.


 But if the people were confused, the leaders were venal. Corporate, financial, political, medical, governmental, military and artistic management were seemingly without values -- other than the desire for profit and power.


 Art was as contaminated as any other human endeavor. It was astonishing -- shocking -- that so few seemed to realize, or care, that contemporary art's message was of its own sickness and the sickness of those who espoused it.


 "The concerns of 20th Century art are triviality, superficiality, rage, cynicism, dehumanization and decay," it trumpeted for any with eyes to see and ears to hear. These negative goals and attributes were as unequivocally stated as the similarly distorted principles carved on the walls of Orwcll's Ministry of Truth: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." Or the words marking the entrance of a Nazi concentration camp: "Work makes one free."


 The dictatorship of abstract art, which Abstract-Expressionist painter Adolph Gottlieb in the 1950s said would last a thousand years, held ominous echoes of the thousand-year Reich proclaimed by Adolph Hitler. Because it denied the existence of reality, abstract art should have told us how narrow, frozen and inhuman our artists had become.


 If artists in the early 20th century legitimately reacted against the horrors of war and decline of values, the increasingly empty artists after World War II seemed more bent on the expression of their own creative and human meaninglessness. They were antagonistic toward any manifestation of health in art or society; and, enveloped by their sickness, we too became ill.


 If only we had been able to realize that what we embraced in the form of decorative drip and slosh of paint, geometric abstraction, Punk Expressionism, Photo-Realism, Pop Art, Earth Art, Minimal and Conceptual Art and all the other hybrid isms...was death itself. All that demeans life and humanity, robs it of its richness, variety and meaning; distorts, dilutes, ignores, enslaves, squanders, humiliates and reduces life and art to the pettiness and nihilistic transience of hype, the gimmick and a self-serving, media-disoriented existence...all this we embraced. It was as if clenching sickness, death and decay closely to our bosoms would somehow appease the lust for death within us that had so overpowered the natural needs of life and health.


 Well, we got our wish.


 Many people tried to warn us. But in our ignorance and egomania, we did not listen. Early in the 20th Century, the fragmentation of Picasso and the Cubists clearly spoke of the disintegration and mechanization of modern man by means of the science and technology we had grown to worship as a substitute for greater divinity. You remember how infatuated people were with their computers and automobiles in the 1980s.


 The rage, anguish and frustration at 20th century dehumanization of Kokoschka, the Germans and other early Expressionist artists, should have alerted us to the deeper levels of meaning in their works. But most of us thought of thick paint, distorted drawing and distraught color as aesthetic ends in themselves unrelated to the frenetic condition of modern man.


 Likewise, Dadaism and Surrealism spoke of an escape into childish brattiness, nihilism and fantasy distorted by the pressures of the outer world both camps sought to flee or deride.


 Carl Jung, in his 1928 "Spiritual Problems of Modern Man" expressed our alienation and pretenses. "A great horde of worthless people do in fact give themselves a deceptive air of modernity by skipping the various stages of development and the tasks of life they represent...I know that the idea of proficiency is especially repugnant to the pseudo-moderns, for it reminds them unpleasantly of their trickery..."


 What clearer description could we be given of the empty gimmickry of so much modern art?


 George Orwell described "Newspeak," the dehumanized language of "1984," as constructed "not to extend, but to diminish the range of thought...not so much to express meanings as to destroy them." This applies with equal force and truth to the insidiously negative images and purposes of modern art.


 The 1951 book, "Nihilism," by Helmut Thielicke, clearly expressed the emptiness of modern man, and by extension, his art; "...nihilism is a symptom of disease. It is resignation caused by psychic and somatic exhaustion...'Meaning' is the most stirring of all spiritual impulses, just as 'meaninglessness' is an absolutely effectual bacillus for

producing paralysis." In 20th century nihilistic art, meaninglessness and sterility were exalted as virtues leading to the downfall of us all.


 In discussing political control of a mass society, Thielicke explored ideas that sound as if he were describing the dictatorial manipulation within the art world. The words in parentheses are mine.


 "The inventors of lies (the empty art works themselves) do not believe in them: they have been invented as productive illusions by means of which to realize a definite purpose (the establishment of false art reputations for the making of vast sums of money, the accrual of power and the destruction of any remaining positive values in art and life). In fact, therefore, there is nothing behind them (the spurious art works) but Nothingness. The esoteric circle of those who are 'in the know' (artists, dealers, collectors, critics) consists of nihilists. The launching of ideals and fixed ideas is performed with the aid of a propaganda machine (hype; slanted, often purchased, reviews in newspapers and art magazines) which is controlled by nihilistic managers (gallery dealers, museum curators, art editors and publishers)."


 Upon whom can this nihilistic emptiness, this nothingness, this meaninglessness in art and life be foisted? Thielicke responds, '...totalitarian ideologies (the hype of art world fashions), the foremost representatives of these synthetic concoctions (the dehumanized art works), always find their most receptive customers among decadent, leached-out, and exhausted cultures in which traditional values -- especially religious values -- have become incredible and unacceptable, and thus the necessary vacuum is furnished." The elite, but weakened, cynically-jaded upper layers of society support nihilistic art. Sick themselves, they embrace illness in others.


 Jedediah Tone's 1998 "Diaries from Nuclear Shelters," exploring the experiences of World War III survivors, Torthold Swanson's monumental volume studying alternatives to "The Coming Demise of Man," written in 2016, and other well-known warnings of the last 20 years had little effect on our destiny. In fact, since the beginning of civilization, the wisdom of man and God from both East and West can he seen to have fallen on predominantly deaf ears.


 After a long battle against the totalitarian dehumanization of the world in "1984," Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, finally succumbs, from weariness and torture, to its lies and false values. The last lines of the book say it all: "But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."


 Unlike Winston Smith, we came to love the Big Brother of our inhuman art almost without question or hesitation, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to relinquish all the needs, feelings and aspirations that make us human.


 Thus, it is in this beseeching spirit that I hope you, like me, who have somehow survived this holocaust, will be able to learn from the mistakes of the past. That we will firmly and gratefully leave behind the Big Lie of Big Brother, the now-fallen, false gods of materialism and contempt, contempt for ourselves and the deeper, higher truths that reduced our civilization -- if true civilization it ever was -- to this sad state. That in our attempt to begin again the adventure of human existence on this still-smouldering ground, we may deal with each other and express ourselves in life and art with some greater measure of honesty, respect and profundity.


 Let us begin now.


 Grateful for your existence in a destroyed world,

I remain,

A Human Being




Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Art Essays & Art Criticisms