Humans have used art for centuries as a response to their environments. The use of icons, perspective, and cubism have all reflected the cultures and societies of those times. However, art has often been mistaken as a substitution or creation of reality, rather than a reflection. John Gardner has taken up this attitude in his novel Grendel. While Grendel is a provocative and innovative work, John Gardner's views on art, as reflected in Grendel, are based upon a misunderstanding of art and are therefore unfounded.
Throughout Grendel Gardner interprets art as a type of cultural propaganda. For example: "the old man sang of a glorious meadhall whose light would shine to the ends of the ragged world . . . There he would sit and give treasures out . . . to the final generation" (47). Or again: "If the songs were true, as I suppose at least one or two of them were, there had always been wars, and what I'd seen was merely a period of mutual exhaustion." (34). The phrase "Oceania was at war with Eurasia; Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia" comes to mind (1984, 236-237). Gardner uses the Grendel quotations to show humans attempting to change the past to reduce the image of barbarism and violence. In assigning this role to the Shaper, the novel's representative of art, Gardner declares that this is the role of art: the falsifying of the past to enrich the present. The falsifying of the past is something better left to propagandists and revisionists rather than artists. While it is true that artists draw upon the past for ideas, artists apply those ideas to the present and future, as will be shown. Gardner is sadly mistaken that the artist's role is to refine the pas...
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...s possible that with an informed, ecological approach to media (technology) we could create our own order of existence. The tentative guidelines for such an undertaking can be found in Laws of Media by Marshall and Eric McLuhan.
John Gardner has used Grendel as an argument proclaiming that art is really cultural propaganda, a lie to improve human existence, and the creator of rational order in our world. Art, however, is not any of the ideas mentioned above. Art is the human effort to escape the deadening effects of our contrived environments and the principle way for us to maintain our humanity.
Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Random House, Inc., 1971.
McLuhan, Marshall and Eric. Laws of Media. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, Inc., 1949.
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