Even the most casual of glances at the map of Eurasia reveals the smallness of that area that we call Europe, and in particular the Western Europe that has had such an outsize influence on recent history.
Indeed the Western Europe its grudgingly acknowledged cousin in the area of world affairs, which is Central Europe, are little more than a smallish protuberance; a mere peninsula on the landmass that is really more Asia if it can be called anything. It is a wonder of world-historical development that this West became so influential, but it does raise the question of what precisely do we mean by Western heritage.
In our Anglophone it is easy to ascribe all Western influence to Great Britain and her offshoot that we are pleased to style as the United States, but that would give too short a shrift to nations on whose innovations was Britain’s greatness based: the Netherlands, for instance, with her commercial and naval breakthroughs; France with her centralizing drive; the German states who later taught us all the truly massive scales that industry can reach.
It is a truism that, once free of Anglocentrism, we fall back on definition of the West as Christendom, particularly the non-Greek Christendom that prevailed in Europe’s outermost regions, forgetting how ironic such a definition really would be from a broad-enough perspective for Christianity to be the West’s defining feature for the past two hundred centuries or so, given how very profoundly Eastern that religion is at its root — not less so than its sister Abrahamids. In fact, on reflection, the only heritage that is distinctly Western is that which we inherit from Hellenes and their Mycenean and Doric predecessors. Today, of course, we are almost prepared to altogether eject Greece from the European family, to have her join her enemy and bedfellow Turkey — which herself bestrides ancestral Greek lands and still is largely populated by the Greeks’ descendants. If there be a guiding hand to history, it must surely be attached to the most ironic of postmodernists.
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.