On becoming a philistine

October 07, 2018

Somehow I don’t put as much value on art these days as I used to. As a young man, I used to be moved by paintings or sculpture, have deep, almost physical reactions to artworks. I’d spend hours in galleries, and I have vivid memories of being lost in a dream in the Rothko room at the Tate or forgetting my hunger at the Rijksmuseum. Art meant something to me.

These days, on the rare occasions I go to galleries, I tend to come out fairly quickly, unimpressed by the affectation and pretension of try-hard hipsters showing off.

What’s changed? Is it me or the world? I’m pretty sure it’s me. I’ve become one of those grumpy old men who hardly ever reads fiction, preferring to stay grounded in the real world when I read books these days. I want things to be useful and serve a practical purpose. I’ve come to value efficiency over beauty.

Similarly, my relationship with music has changed - it’s no longer the vital, visceral part of my life that it once was. I could choose to believe, as so many older generations before me have believed, that music nowadays is all rubbish, compared to the golden age that I was fortunate enough to grow up in. But that would be an act of delusion, an attempt to deny the fact that I’m no longer the target audience for pop music.

My listening habits have evolved - as with so many people, I almost never sit down and properly listen to an album any more. At times, I’m just using music as background noise to shut out the world. I no longer want music to shake me up and change my life - I want it to be familiar, to comfort and soothe me.

It’s not just me, and it’s nothing new. Is this an inevitable part of getting older? Am I just following a well-trodden path, keeping my mind on practical matters like mortgage payments?

Maybe it’s just parenthood, or middle age, a narrowing of our horizons as we worry more about what we’ve got to lose. I think there’s a correlation between this and the transition from being the person who makes the noise late at night to being the one who complains about the noise.

When we’re young, we believe that music and art have the power to change the world, or at the very least change our lives. It’s easy to lose that belief as we slide into middle age. Maybe we no longer want to change the world.

When we’re young, we dream of change - it’s exciting. At a certain point in our lives, change becomes something to fear - it represents crisis and chaos, rather than opportunity. Perhaps it’s related to a loss of optimism, or an increased awareness of our own mortality. We’re no longer shielded by that sense of invincibility and self-importance that allows our younger selves to go off on adventures, take absurd risks, and dare to dream. Grand artistic statements no longer seem bold, they’ve become pretentious. Just as we tend to become more conservative politically as we get older, we tend to be less culturally adventurous.

I’m middle aged and middle class, with a family to support, and a mortgage to pay. I’m a member of the National Trust. I’ve got a job, a career, a family, fixed-interest mortgage repayments and all the rest of it. In short, I’ve chosen life. Is that such a bad thing?