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Art, Life and Imitation April 6, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag.

You now the old saw that  “Life imitates art” and its’  Zen opposite of “Art imitates life”.  Whichever one you subscribe to I think is relative to your context and the times you live in. In a given situation at any point in time, you may answer one way. In another setting, your answer will change to the opposite. We all have had situations where each  is valid. It is a symbiotic relationship where each changes the other.

Art certainly borrows from life for inspiration. Artists use life as source material to convey new perspectives, commentary, raise awareness.  Successful art invokes a response. Doesn’t matter good or bad – the fact that it connected with you somehow is the point. And, if it is something you have seen in your experience, it then can be personal.

Life is also then influenced by art. Our response can become powerful impressions that change behavior and attitudes of what we believe in.  We also use art as a medium for escape from our daily existence. A song lyric whose implication concerns me goes  “Reruns all become our history“. I hope that is not true. Rose-colored hindsight can buy into that perspective but I don’t believe it is accurate.

I believe in the correlation that in good times when the economy is growing, people are employed and there is relative  peace and harmony, the TV shows that are popular are grim, highly dramatic and hard hitting about how our lives can be better. We can take bad news and can reflect on how to make things better. When times are tough, like now and in the 60s, the shows we watch are fictional and very unrealistic. I hope in times, they are not our history.  Are you willing to defend how ‘American Idol’ was an accurate reflection of our life in the early part of this century?

What I do find interesting is somewhat of a repeat (intentional  pun) of what I saw in the 60s. The shows in Prime Time then were very much distanced from reality as they offered an escape form the problems of the day. The 60s were a time of great change in civil rights, war,  anti-establishment angst. The current show Mad Men takes place just as all that churn starts. Prime time fare included F-Troop, I dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Petticoat Junction, Star Trek, Mayberry RFD and the beats goes  on. Not very reflective of the times.  Fast forward to todays’  line-up. Current prime time shows also offer an escape from the troubles in our daily lives with shows such as Lost, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and  Survivor.

What is sad and very disturbing is the reaction people have today. People who are stressed out are turning to violence against innocent strangers and then committing suicide.  We need our leaders to act on the root causes – not provide sound bites on gun control. We need programs and services that sustain a sense of community and support as corporations ‘right-size’ themselves. I fervently hope  it long in coming when we  see a sit-com of an average family losing their job, getting evicted in the down-ward spiral toward being homeless.

I watched many of those escapist shows in the 60s and I watch a few of those mentioned today.  I do like the escape at times. But, I also am grounded in the reality of the day and am ready to make a difference. I want my life to impact art. How we react and resolve the problems we face today will be seen in our art of tomorrow. It will be on display in galleries, museums and can be seen on TV and the movies.  I’ll be watching to see how accurate they captured our times.  I may even find some I like.



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