Is There Conservative Art?
In a post at American Times, E.D. writes:
It’s the same in politics: conservatives aren’t so much interested with their own ideas about governance as they are about responding to and obstructing the ideas of their opponents.
And perhaps that’s the crux of the issue. Conservative art mimics conservative politics rather than the other way around. And so it can never really be art.
Now, mind you, the painting he leads with is pretty atrocious. But I do, nevertheless, think that there are conservative works of art being produced today. The problem with conservative art isn’t that it’s too overtly conservative—it’s that it’s not overtly political enough to be acknowledged as conservative by today’s left or claimed as such by today’s right.
Consider two of the best novels of the past decade, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home. At their core, these are conservative works: they detail family, faith, and community as they crash against the realities of post-war American culture–and against the natural frailties of human being. Regardless of her political preferences, her worldview, in its starkly Calvinist way, and insofar as it’s expressed in those novels and Absence of Mind, is conservative in a way that goes far beyond the political. One might even say that it, in fact, is not even concerned with the political. But she still misses civilization, and wants it back.
One could also look toward the New Formalists in poetry for a group that tends to be skeptical of and pessimistic about (post)modernity and contemporary culture. In this, and in their tendency to look toward the distant past for a literary/cultural model, they are reminiscent of the literary conservatives of the early twentieth century. I don’t know how A.E. Stallings and Adam Kirsch would describe their politics — I’m certainly not trying to claim them for monarchism or fascism! — but their poetry, like Robinson’s prose, strikes me as conservative in a basic, pre- and post-political sense.
And there’s always the poetry, essays, and fiction of Wendell Berry—the New Deal Democrat who is the patron saint of Front Porch Republicans. Or the turn toward neoconservatism in the novels of Saul Bellow, beginning with Mr. Sammler’s Planet and continuing through Ravelstein.
But because these texts aren’t overtly political in their conservatism, that aspect is easily overlooked—after all, a truly “conservative” mindset has to focus on Obama and contemporary issues. A concern with the more fundamental, mundane concerns and decisions of daily life couldn’t possibly be of interest. So while the problem E.D. points to does, to some extent, exist, I’d say it’s bound up with Conor Friedersdorf’s “Electric Kool-Aid Conservatism” thesis more than anything else.
Until then, I’ll leave you, dear readers, with Leonard Cohen’s overt skepticism of abortion:
Destroy another fetus nowWe don’t like children anyhowI’ve seen the future, baby:it is murder.