Before we entirely despair over the sorry state of the Art scene today, despite so many terrible examples, it would behoove us to recall that the very idea of the Artist who exists for Art is a rather recent product of the Romantic age. It is indeed the very idea that all subsequent art movements sought to deride, negate, abolish.
Since the bulk of the establishment of art criticism — save for a very few exceptions — has abdicated its responsibility to call out quality from imposture, it would seem that it is left to a few bloggers in the wilderness to point out the blatant nakedness of the new art emperors.
The New Republic unearths the source of the disease in the curse of Warholism, and quite rightly so. While Duchamp attacked the idea of “Artiste” and his unquestioning adulation by the philistine collector with his readymades — and did so with humor and panache that earned him a place among those very same Artistes with good prices paid by the collectors for
their own satirizing — the Pop Artist adherents preferred to simply wallow in the swamps of the lowest common denominator. Their output (one hesitates to call it “work”), far from being art, despite their prominence in the museums curated by today’s establishment, is the negation of the very concept of art, which by its fundamental nature the opposite of the mass-produced, banal, quotidian. Their worthy heirs, the Postmodernists, doubled down on purveying of the schlock, seasoned as they made it with cheap irony. The present crop does not even pretend to not be charlatans, selling as they do overpriced kitsch to over-moneyed philistines.
It is a truism that each generation of academic art engenders a rebellion among the not-yet-accepted artists, who would seek to negate the academic art’s aesthetic. Let us then hope that there is real movement, subterranean as it may be, that will return us to the realm of art that is not ashamed of its own existence.
Widespread cultural sophistication in class or nation is more a sign of decadence than vigor. It appears to inevitably follow great surges of new development in art and music, which, in turn, appear to depend of strife and disaster on one hand and the need of tyrants to show off their wealth and culture on the other.
It can hardly be a surprise that the past century has been a showcase in the devolution of taste, for it is clear that the cultural demand of the largest economic bloc will dictate supply. When aristocracy controlled the bulk of resources, and the nascent bourgeoise was still feelings its prudent way toward preeminence, it was the taste of aristocracy that everywhere prevailed. When the bourgeoisie finally supplanted their former betters in total buying power then it itself became the good-Victorian arbiter of taste, so full of homily and Alma-Tadema. With the great democratization of the purse, the rise of, in turn, Hollywood, rock and hip-hop could become very understandable. To project the taste that is likely to be coming next we ought to look to the arising main consumers waiting in the wings. Perhaps we had better brush up on our Beijing opera.
The general American infantilization of culture that ranges from sanctimoniously fetishizing juvenile beliefs such as the absurd cults of Santa Claus and kindergarten-playground fairness to pandering to the pabulum palate of the mashed-potato-and-hamburger-eating public can have no other effect but to foster election of infantile leaders who value belief systems over national interest and appearance of progress over its realization.
All the eternal disputations about taste boil down to the question of the essential difference between connoisseurship and consumption, which, in essence is a difference existing only in the eye of the beholder. It may require a fine musician to appreciate the subtleties of a performance, a good painter to see the quality of brushstroke and of color, a rare winemaker to discern the fragrance of the terroir. It requires little more than money, however, and perhaps a certain snobbishness, to endow operas, buy old Burgundy, or, for that matter, a signed urinal — itself a wry commentary on the very subject. Does it betray good taste or an entire lack of it to hang a Warhol next to a Modigliani, or is it merely a matter of opinion? For that matter, is quality in art intrinsic to the work or the observer? Collectors of the Renaissance had scoffed at Chartres as barbaric, “gothic”, while they themselves became old-hat to Mannerists, déclassé, in turn, in the age of the Baroque. Is fashion — art then, and art — fashion? In the end, it seems, it is the pleasure that a work brings to a widely-ranging cognoscente that is the arbiter of quality, and it the consensus of the epicures that sets the fluid measure.