March 17, 2009

A note to artists who are considering the retro manifesto as a way of life

The retro manifesto is NOT a license for artists to simply recycle everything from the past and call it a day without adding anything new or original to the equation. The retro manifesto isn't an excuse to be imitation artists only. There's room in the retro revolution for stuff like music sampling and Quentin Tarantino movies, but that can't be all there is. In fact, retro revolutionaries can be revolutionaries without having any retro elements in their art at all. The idea is that artists should study the past, come to love it, and then grow from it -- not just copy it. Understanding where we came from is the key to going forward -- if we want to resurrect the culture. Of course, a good homage is never going to be frowned upon here. Just saying.

In crafting the retro manifesto I've taken my cue from the high brow folks who defend the Western Canon of literature. They argue that writers who wish to write something of quality, something that will last, must measure their work against the great written works of the past -- the Canon. Also, new writers can eventually find their way into the Canon when they write works that respond to, challenge, and draw inspiration from the classics already included in the Canon. In other words, literature should be a continuing conversation between the writers of today and the writers of the past, and today's writers can't join the conversation unless they know who they're talking to -- they've got to read the great works of the past if they want to get in on the conversation. Sounds good to me. I'm one of those conservative right-winger types who believes in the objective standards of art. Some shit is good and worth experiencing; some shit is weak tea and shouldn't take up too much of your time. It's so judgemental of me, I know, but whatevs. Suck it, relativists.

The retro manifesto calls on pop artists to start thinking like those Western Canon fuddy duddies, but you know, with Bugs Bunny and Orson Welles instead of with James Joyce and Beethoven. Our canon is American pop culture from the 1920s to the mid-1960s. That is the pinnacle. Never forget: the whole sum of pop art from that era was superior to the whole sum of the pop art we produce today. It's a fact; dig it and don't give me that "it's a matter of taste" bullshit. That is the heart of the retro manifesto. Today's artists need to love that era the way the young apprentice loves his old master, trailing after him in awe, honored just to hear his whispers. Today's artists need to start conversing with these genius ghosts. Today's artists need to get in on the action, they need to sit at the feet of the masters and join in with the only conversation that matters, the one that starts and ends with the golden age of American popular culture. That's how you join the canon -- you join in on the great, on-going "conversation." Don't worry about what's "cool" right now because "right now" fades; hitch your wagon to the good stuff, the great stuff. If you're unaware of what's great, how can you possibly make anything that will measure up? That's our goal: returning American pop culture to it's glory. Stand on the shoulder of giants and you'll meet Cary Grant in the sky.

Same goes for the audience: If you don't know the best stuff America's ever produced -- if you don't make a conscious decision to seek out the good stuff -- you'll forever be a slave to the hollow, soulless garbage the corporate media feeds to you year after year, day after day, second after second.

It's time to fight back. Take charge of your mind and your imagination and experience greatness. 1947 is just a Netflix click and a youtube link away...

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