Feb 18, 2008

Elitism and Dana Gioia

Quick Note:

Dana Gioia was the subject of an article in the Wall Street Journal a weekend ago. Gioia is a New Formalist poet who has been the director of the National Endowment for the Arts for several years. Gioia has had interests in the work of Yvor Winters. He was even one of the presenters at the Winters Centennial held at Stanford University in 2000. Nonetheless, Gioia has not written extensively on Winters -- if at all -- nor would I classify him as a Wintersian. The recent article was one in the WSJ's "Cultural Conversation" series and was entitled "Great Art for the Greatest Numbers." I believe it is available online, but I do not have the web address at hand. It is worth reading. The central point of the article comes out in a quotation from Gioia:

See, I don't believe that artistic quality and democracy are irreconcilable. I don't believe you either have to have mediocre art or elitist art.... And so I'm trying to reach the broadest number of people possible with the best art possible.

This comment brings us back to the issue of the elitism of Yvor Winters's theories and the purposes of this blog. I am in the business here of popularizing Winters's ideas, under the obvious assumption that such ideas can be beneficial (in a broad spiritual sense) to a wide, generally educated audience. Winters wrote little about this assumption and, to the contrary, wrote several times in his letters that he believed his literary ideas and theories would be mostly incomprehensible to those "masses" whom I am trying to reach with his ideas (and among which I classify myself). What hope could there be for masses, Winters seems to have believed, if even the finest scholars of modern times and almost all lovers of high art in the modern age have actually favored art that Winters judged clearly to be mediocre. I am fairly certain that Winters would find Gioia's judgment of the "best art" to be mediocre as well. But I don't have any idea of what Gioia thinks of what Winters probably would have thought of him.

Is it possible for Winters's notions of "artistic quality," so lofty and unusual as they are, to find favor in a country devoted to pop culture (Low-Cult)? Even among those devoted to Mid-Cult or High-Cult art (to use Dwight McDonald's highly useful terms). To be honest, almost certainly not W I D E favor. But SOME marginal favor is possible, if unlikely. I labor on in hope that others who need Winters will find him, as I need him and as I believed he is needed by many others, whether those others have yet recognized their need of him or not.

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