A Resistance Born of Complexity


A new essay by Alex Ross examines the quandaries associated with pursuing the artistic enterprise at a time when civic freedoms seem under threat. He describes two poles to the controversy. The first, which entails stubborn adherence to aesthetics as a means of resistance, is exemplified by Leonard Bernstein's exhortation to employ art as a "visionary concept of hope and triumph over worldly pain." The second position demands a cessation of artistic output, and was likely most acutely expressed by Theodor Adorno, who decried the act of writing poetry after the horrors of WWII as "barbarism." At present, however, reconciling these two positions may be simpler than during the last century. The very slightness of our present discourse, marked by ridiculous oversimplifications and fueled by inchoate rage, implicates the notion of artistic expression as a subversion. To the extent that art thrives upon considered thought, an acknowledgment of the range of human identities and experience and the acceptance of contradiction and complexity, creativity itself now feels like resistance.