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How the West was Lost

We have to remark on what “identifies” the evidence of a “great empire” – or a “remarkable civilisation” – and when we do cite such evidence, we invariably point to the ruins of great works, great architecture, great civic constructions. In short, all those incontrovertible examples of material achievement. And sure, such civic constructs are wonderful, are useful for the transport and export of commerce and citizens. But one must ask; are these in-situ monoliths the be-all and end-all of civilisation? Is there a better measure of the achievements of humanity than mere physical ingenuity? After all, even the humble crow can adapt a kind of tool to use to its advantage.

No. As the saying goes: “Humanity does not live by bread alone” … and when the time comes when those “great empires” start to fall apart, history shows us that it is mostly unstoppable. And the end result can be as in Shelly’s “Ozymandias”:

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

A lonely visage indeed. And one that could be relocated to many a modern metropolis in these days of continual warfare promoted and sustained by a now apparent economic necessity. A necessity of destroy and rebuild that fosters both the mighty industrial military machine and the global finance for reconstruction industry, monsters consuming and regurgitating continuedly, almost a vital component now of superannuation investment and stock favourites on Wall Street and elsewhere.

But is there another component of measurable achievement of humanity’s civilisation? I believe there is, and it is also a “canary in the mine” measurement of decline and fall of a civilisation … and that is its art.

That’s it. Pure and simple. Whether it be of several mediums; paint/music/written/woven/dance … a combination. Whatever. If it be expression, TRUE expression of the soul of a peoples, not just a moment of revelry or decadence. If it be that moment captured of an essence of beauty of the heart of the ethnicity, what is deemed its culture … then it will strengthen and embolden those who participate in its renewal of life for the group. And this is the difficult part, and can demonstrate the decay of the tribal element of society. It cannot just be a dull repetition of a rite or custom – such are peripherals to the renewal of the soul of the tribe – there must be “new art” or new interpretations of the continual dance of life. Every tribe does it by innovation of the age-old oral/personal hand-me-down activity. By making it a “word of mouth” practice, every new generation, via its individuals, adds or subtracts just that little bit extra. It could be a personal twist to an old tale, it could be a sudden bit of improvisation to a movement of dance … whatever, because of the need for each new generation to reinterpret the old, it can’t help but introduce their own “new” to the art.

But what does this mean to us in the West? The trick of the matter is in the “ innocence of acceptance” of new art. Not meaning to just accepting anything extreme and the more extreme the better, nor that oh so obvious “bad art”, but by dropping our guard against letting our emotions rather than our intellect judge a piece … letting the music or language do the “talking”. Let the interpretive artist, who wrestles with the form, place in front of you their work and just like we judge a meal placed in front of us by the senses we trust, let the artistic works we “consume” play with our imagination and mind like gourmet food plays on our palate. Not to analyse it to oblivion, but rather just settle back and savour the moment. For that is all it need be. But a moment, a line of poetry or a riff of music, or the colour on the canvas.

And this is where the west will be lost, not through war nor depression, but rather by the slow starvation through economic deprivation of essential artistic support of our souls.  Our artistic desires have become a commodity to exchange as collateral of moneys or fame, and in doing so, we lose the innocence of creativity and we fail to stop long enough to let the renewal of our soul be recreated. It has gotten to the point where we look more to recognise the familiarity in new work, rather than originality. We seek the familiar for comfort, we do not allow the amateur into the “art market” without some sort of recognised “cred” a prize in a known competition, or some other glittering event.

A big mistake was made when the creativity juices of the west were allowed to become exclusive possessions of the commercial middle-class. This has brought much art into the world of corporate copyright, many sounds into exclusive ownership of white-collar investment. Much of the written word into the stultifying atmosphere of dead grammar, and as such, “chosen ones” are sometimes promoted as the “next big thing” when all they are is another disappointing experience. Very little that is new, that is wonderful and creative gets left in the flowering fields of free enjoyment of the masses for long. All becomes “owned” … all becomes known for “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Such is the sacred creed of the economic class. And they are killing us and our art.

Eric Knight, the author of “Lassie Come Home” wrote a beautiful “Author’s Note” to his book of Yorkshire short stories: “Sam Small Flies Again” where he states that many of the best stories, being oral in the retelling, will die with their authors:

“When a man has little else to rely on, I think he falls back on his blood and background. And so, curiously enough, nearly all of these stories were written five and six thousand miles away from my native Yorkshire. It was mostly being homesick, I think … But you’ve got to get them down some day and have done with them. That’s the sad part. Probably the finest stories ever made up by writers weren’t put down, and died with them.” (Author’s Note to “Sam Small Flies Again” by Eric Knight).

And it is sad that so many beautiful characters too will cease to exist after their storyteller “witness” passes on. We have to recognise that the beauty in the art lies not in the commercial recognition and promotion, but in the viewers mind. Real art … that is those genuine attempts to wrest beautiful moments that encapsulate that fragile point in time and place and translate it to dance, paint, song or verse must be left not to those who would profit from such a moment, but left to the emotional innocence still living in the community and it’s imagination, or we are lost as a civilisation.

Perhaps it is already too late, for I cannot see how we can regain that innocence of what we see in those tribal cultures we like to document and gawk at as some sort of picturesque novelty. I am not talking about innocence as naive, nor gullible, but an innocence “accepting without blocking” the new, the subtle, the amazing without submitting such to analytical cynicism or commercial viability. And why not give art the chance we give sport, when we hungrily look to the next “star player” who with dexterous play rescues his team from defeat to the heights of glory?

And, of course, all new enterprises now have to be submitted to that capitalist axiom of judgement:

“ … but is there any money in it?”

A Place of One’s Own

Within everybody’s heart ,

There is that little pump.

And in the still of the night,

You can hear its tremulous thump.


Within everybody’s heart,

There is a little room.

Upon the wall there, a picture

Of a place we silently yearn.


To some it is just a fantasy,

A desire they can’t fulfill.

Some will strive to seek it…

Some have not the will.


And some will substitute

A lesser philosophy

To dull and blind the senses

To a love they will not see.


  1. Nearly Normal Frederick

    Art is always coincident with culture, and culture is invariably bound to tradition – to all the limitations and (otherwise) all the virtues of humankind altogether. V
    Our civilization (such as it is) is secular, superficial, materialistic, outward directed, and object-oriented. It is founded on a mode of propaganda about the nature of existence that has driven humankind to the point of self-destruction.

    By contrast, the great process and the well-springs of human sanity is an in-depth process. That process takes place in the depth-domain of awareness, not in the superficial domain of outer awareness, or our normal dreadful sanity.

    Meanwhile this site provides an interesting discussion of the relationship between art and the all-the-way-down-the-line cultural implications of quantum physics and quantum reality.

  2. wam

    wow Joseph and NNF scary connection
    the painting:
    “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.”
    Revolutionary art and visionary physics are both investigations into the nature of reality.

    The current fear in the air is not reality for
    “To a love they will not see”
    the NOs within my mob cannot see love behind the thought of sex.

  3. Joseph Carli

    If anyone was watching Lateline last night , you would have seen the interview with Jane Campion and Marta Dusseldorp talking about the loss of cultural ties with the de-funding of performance art. A very interesting interview.

    Wam… seems the perceived connection between love and sex is the only “love” promoted in some quarters..quite sad really.

    NNFred..I read this in that link..” The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments…” Now, I am not quoting that out of context, as it was a stand-alone statement..But it simply is not true. The oringinal Jewish texts and bible were written in Greek..and even those various texts were a subject of argument and dispute right up to the time of Josephus in the second century (AD) and the new testament was only started in that century as much as history can ascertain..and we also know that Caesar Augustus decreed that all government edits were to be written in Latin as an attempt to get that alphabet more entrenched in the common tongue..and there are numerous other examples…The Aeneid for example.

  4. helvityni

    Pity, I missed the Lateline; after a lack lustre Q&A, I turned the TV off…Four Corners had already soured my mood….

    Talk about beautiful buildings kept for future generations to love and value…that ain’t happening on the Gold Coast; the repulsive Lord Mayor is sucking up the parklands, waterways, bowling greens and greedy developers put up their high rise monstrosities in their place…

    ‘This is what makes this place interesting.’ No it doesn’t , it makes a very UGLY place, devoid of beauty. It does not inspire anyone to create Art, poetry, music…maybe it encourages gangster movie makers, if that…perhaps shopping malls and American style junk food eateries, a place for burqa haters and Bikini lovers…

    Driving to Brisbane years ago, stuck in the traffic jam, one old Aussie farmer got out of his battered jute and shouted:’ If this Gold Coast you can have it!’ It wasn’t so bad THEN…

    The old farmer drove off, mostly likely to his beautiful, equally old, farm- house with nice wide verandahs….and relaxed…

  5. Jon Chesterson

    What a great article, visceral and inspiring article! Of course, when art becomes overwhelmed with critique and disdain for the society or masters that once were patron, then abandon and lose their way, that too must be a sign of imminent change or collapse, danger or opportunity, renewal or stagnation and decay, originality or regurgitation, to live or let die – The history of civilisation, oft found on the humble lips of great poets, and sadly those whose works never saw the light of day and died with them.

    ‘Then Shall We Be Heroes’, Barddylbach 2017 –
    ‘Fields of Barley’, Barddylbach 2017 –

  6. Joseph Carli

    Jon …thanks for the links..nice poetry…bookmarked.

  7. jimhaz

    [We seek the familiar for comfort, we do not allow the amateur into the “art market” without some sort of recognised “cred” a prize in a known competition, or some other glittering event]

    I’ve long been desirious of much, much more street art. What I was after was for schools and unemployed artists to create murals, sculptures or interesting landscaping. I wanted some of the graffiti crap like taggers to become involved in more constructive detailed forms of art. It doesn’t matter if 50% of the works are relative failures.

    What I do not class as street art is anything that costs a lot of money. For example – “Clover Moore’s signature art project — a massive metal “Cloud Arch” somehow cost 11.3 million. I would have much preferred that $11.3 million to be 500 projects, not one, and for it to be grass roots with minimal loss of value due to ticket clipping middlemen (which in this case would have included council paying for “consultants”).

    Where does all the Sculptures by the Sea art go after the exhibition? Surely councils could purchase many of the non-perishable art pieces for price of $150,000 or less, while ignoring anything too expensive.

    I have a view that displaying art in our bland suburbs will temper us Aussies a little bit and bit by bit make us a tad more bohemian – more European than American.

  8. Joseph Carli has long been a covert tradition amongst tradespeople to leave their mark ..or “tag” in the structure of the work they have completed..for instance the story of the gargoyles on the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Europe, even yours T has left limericks mocking the boss on the back of plaster-board walls and in the ceilings of buildings…and I remember my stone-mason father confessing to have “hidden” in the curved sea wall that once stood along the Glenelg foreshore (since demolished to make way for a ghastly marina) a map of Italy cunningly built in the stone..we all are the silent sculptors of our society.

  9. Joseph Carli

    NNFred’..I may have done you a slight injustice in my original reply to you..of course there was the Greek alphabet…and a number of texts were recorded in that script, both in ancient times and in the later Roman Empire of the east…My complaint was in the naming of the bible as a book complete back in those apologies for riding roughshod over your linked pieces..

  10. paul walter

    Glad I read this lot…The response from Helvi that I so keenly identify with is exactly what the fascists hope for…despair.

  11. diannaart

    it has long been a covert tradition amongst tradespeople to leave their mark ..or “tag” in the structure of the work they have completed..for instance the story of the gargoyles on the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Europe


    Loving that.

    Also, I thoroughly enjoy a lot of street art – the real kind that may not be legal or paid for… however, maybe very edgy or not particularly beautiful – but creates feeling; which may prompt a sense of identity or an acknowledgement that the more things change the more they remain the same… old slogans, such as “Eat the Rich” still relevant…

    This is my city: Melbourne

    … anyway, I will be checking for the tradies’ moniker in future… Thank you.

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