You will be tempted to skip over this post because it has the word “moderation” in the title, and instead search for a blog with “wild extremism” in the title. Moderation just ain’t as much fun.

You should resist that temptation, at least for a few paragraphs.

We tend to bristle at anything smelling like censorship or restraint. Moderation is contrary to the freedom that all artists crave, even when they have no important use for it.

I chatted in a recent post about the
Futurist Manifesto which ushered in the art of the 20th century:

We must break down the gates of life to test the bolts and the padlocks….Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry…To admire an old picture is to pour our sensibility into a funeral urn instead of casting it forward with violent spurts of creation and action…. We want to demolish museums and libraries [and] fight morality… .
True to this theme, much of 20th century culture grew up worshipping novelty and extremism above lasting value that required patient consideration.

People who focus on what is new and hot often develop short attention spans. They lose patience for moderation, nuance and context. But the old masters recognized that moderation is all there is. As Shakespeare exclaimed, everything is a matter of degree:

Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark, what dischord follows! Each thing meets in mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores And make a sop of all this solid globe
In this painting by Vermeer, the girl’s earring is not extremely white nor is her eye extremely dark. Viewed in isolation, both colors are quite moderate.

Yet, both colors seize your attention because Vermeer has placed the light earring against a dark shadow and the dark eye against light skin. That’s the way to achieve real highs and lows. In art and in life, context is everything.

The metaphors of extremism in art and sex are are lovely and alluring; imagine a painting made up of nothing but highlights, or a state of perpetual ecstasy without all those boring parts in between! But as George Eliot warned, “all of us get our thoughts entangled in metaphors and act fatally on the strength of them.” Pornographers and artists who need to chase novel forms of licentiousness inevitably become colossal bores.

Those who say “I’ll try anything once”
Seldom try anything twice
Or three times
Arriving late at the Gate of Dreams Worth Dying For.

—Carl Sandburg