Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice

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Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice

A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action

Author: J.F. Martel

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Part treatise, part critique, part call to action, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice is a journey into the uncanny realities revealed to us in the great works of art of the past and present.

Received opinion holds that art is culturally-determined and relative. We are told that whether a picture, a movement, a text, or sound qualifies as a “work of art” largely depends on social attitudes and convention. Drawing on examples ranging from Paleolithic cave paintings to modern pop music and building on the ideas of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Gilles Deleuze, Carl Jung, and others, J.F. Martel argues that art is an inborn human phenomenon that precedes the formation of culture and even society. Art is free of politics and ideology. Paradoxically, that is what makes it a force of liberation wherever it breaks through the trance of humdrum existence. Like the act of dreaming, artistic creation is fundamentally mysterious. It is a gift from beyond the field of the human, and it connects us with realities that, though normally unseen, are crucial components of a living world.

While holding this to be true of authentic art, the author acknowledges the presence—overwhelming in our media-saturated age—of a false art that seeks not to liberate but to manipulate and control. Against this anti-artistic aesthetic force, which finds some of its most virulent manifestations in modern advertising, propaganda, and pornography, true art represents an effective line of defense. Martel argues that preserving artistic expression in the face of our contemporary hyper-aestheticism is essential to our own survival.

Art is more than mere ornament or entertainment; it is a way, one leading to what is most profound in us. Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice places art alongside languages and the biosphere as a thing endangered by the onslaught of predatory capitalism, spectacle culture, and myopic technological progress. The book is essential reading for visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, and poets. It will also interest anyone who has ever been deeply moved by a work of art, and for all who seek a way out of the web of deception and vampiric diversion that the current world order has woven around us.

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About the Author

J.F. MARTEL is a writer and award-winning filmmaker working in the Canadian film and television industry. In addition to making several short films, he has researched, written and/or directed a number of documentary programs on topics related to culture and the arts for major Francophone broadcasters, including La Portée des mots (season two), a twelve-part documentary series exploring the transformative power of song with some of French Canada’s great songwriters.

Martel is a contributor to the web magazine Reality Sandwich. His essay on Stanley Kubrick was included in the first Reality Sandwich anthology, Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age (Tarcher-Penguin), edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan. His work will also appear in North Atlantic Books’s forthcoming title Pluto: Astronomy, Astrology, Mythology, edited by Richard Grossinger.

Reviews/Press Quotes

“Leaping gracefully from Coleridge to Kubrick, from the Bible to Baudrillard, J.F. Martel offers us a lovely and powerful reminder that the greatest art presents the world through mystery rather than manipulation. Arguing that art's prophetic promise comes from its capacity to rupture the workaday world of means and ends, Martel calls for a visionary return to the imaginal rifts of a novelty beyond artifice.”
—Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis
“A key work for the soul of our time, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice is for the seasoned artist and the novice alike, for all those who dare to walk in, as J.F. Martel writes, an ‘excess of meaning.’ We need those today who would dare to live this way, and this book is a resounding call to return to the Imaginal life. ‘Sing in me muse,’ spoke Homer, and Martel has writ this large across the pages.”
—Jeremy D. Johnson, editor at Reality Sandwich

“J.F. Martel is an incisive cultural critic with a penetrating vision of art. His book is a quiet manifesto for the creative act, reminding us of the numinous quality of the aesthetic object, as well as the intrinsic strangeness of our lives in the world.”
—Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl
“The complete colonization of the mind is the final frontier of capitalist domination. As Martel is aware, this domination proceeds, at ever-increasing speed, through the reduction of the imagination to that which can be predicted and controlled. Far from being merely the commodification of the aesthetic, this project is engineered to eliminate the ineffability and uniqueness of human existence, as such. This book is a beautifully written lament and a passionate, prophetic plea for what remains not only of art but also of humanity.”
—Joshua Ramey, associate professor, Grinnell College, and author of The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal
“‘Art,’ J.F. Martel writes, ‘astonishes and is born of astonishment.’ And that is the theme of this extraordinary book: that beauty is indispensable because it mounts a continual challenge against false views of reality. Drawing his examples from across cultures, history and genres, Martel celebrates mystery, the imagination—and, above all, art’s power to testify to the individual consciousness. An ambitious, exciting debut. Highly recommended.”
—James Arthur, assistant professor, Johns Hopkins University
Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice argues for the beauty of the transcendent experience of art in contrast to the jarring world of modern artifice. Moving confidently and effortlessly among films, literature, and paintings, J.F. Martel shows us—in a carefully reasoned progression—that all great art is ultimately rooted in the powerful mystery of life.”
—David Staines, professor, University of Ottawa
“This is a fascinating and invigorating book. In explaining art as a concrete expression of a mythic reality that is simultaneously beautiful, awesome, terrifying, numinous, and sublime, J.F. Martel fuses a high metaphysical and ontological vision with a rich sensibility that is equal parts mysticism and weird horror. What’s more, he offers a dead-on diagnosis of our present cultural moment as an ‘age of artifice’ in which political and commercial concerns have hijacked the power of art and forced it to serve the demons of hype and propaganda. I hope Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice reaches a large number of sympathetic readers, and that they will find its argument as resonant and inspiring as I do.”
—Matt Cardin, author of Dark Awakenings and A Course in Demonic Creativity
“Here is a lucid and timely reminder of those things that so often seem to be forgotten in considerations of art, notably the absolute importance of beauty, of mystery, of depth. After decades of the cant and pretentiousness—to say nothing of the triviality—that has surrounded art, reading J.F. Martel’s book was a serious wake-up call, as refreshing as a sudden access of deeply breathed, ozone-laden air.”
—Patrick Harpur, author of The Secret Tradition of the Soul

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