Starting a new year at school seems as good a time as any for a good, old life reevaluation. It’s probably because it’s my last year here at Mac, but I’m finding myself wondering why things matter. It’s like some kind of mid-student-life crisis. Right now I’m writing about art, and why should that matter?
I asked Dr. Sévigny, a Mac professor in communication studies and multimedia, and he explained that art, and the humanities in general, have probably never mattered more than right now.
“I think the world is changing, in a pretty serious way,” he said. “This is something Marshall McLuhan predicted, that we’re moving away from a literate, alphabetized world and moving towards an oral culture.”
Moving away from a literate culture doesn’t mean that people have forgotten how to read. It means that information used to be stored in books, where it was unchangeable and has now moved to the Internet, where nothing is sacred. And the Internet has now moved into our pockets, which, along with social media, is moving us to an oral culture.
“Oral culture is much more fluid and it’s driven much more by principles, it’s driven much more by persuasion, by rhetoric, for which there was a lot less room before,” said Dr. Sévigny.
“There’s a benefit to that, and the benefit is that the world is a lot more human, people are a lot more persuadable,” he said.
People are more persuadable because information is presented as a conversation in an oral culture. If someone shares their views through Facebook, another person can quickly comment and disagree, linking to articles written by experts to back up their opinion.
“The downside to it is that it is harder to get to the truth of things - it is harder to understand what really happened. It’s always this game of broken telephone,” said Dr. Sévigny.
The truth isn’t necessarily important though, because it’s not the information that matters, it’s how it’s presented. And artists win when it comes to presentation.
In an oral culture, artists are able to control what information people believe is important.
“I think that the ‘humanities is useless’ nonsense that is going around would evaporate if we ditched all the layers of jargon and theory that we’ve opposed upon ourselves, because none of it is real,” said Dr. Sévigny. “What’s real is gaining a deeper understanding of human motivation and not from a neuroscience perspective, but from an aesthetic perspective. Or what people find beautiful or true, or not true. And that’s visceral stuff.”
If facts on their own are less able to make us feel something, there’s more room for the artists to have their way wwith our thoughts and feelings.
“In an oral culture, this is our century. I mean, McLuhan said it - it’s the century of the pattern-finder, the artist, the critic who can have this massive impact, because we are back to this world of human experience.”
Senior ANDY Editor