Why You Hate Art (You know you do)
Americans, the vast majority, are not merely indifferent to art; they have an antipathy to it for various reasons. This essay will attempt to chronicle ten of those reasons:
In the interest of fairness, I will immediately concede that a good deal of the problem has been caused by artists, critics, and curators intentionally alienating the public. The Romantics fostered the idea of the artist as misunderstood genius, and ever since then, art has been self-defined as avant-garde, subversive of the status-quo. This led to a great deal of originality and creativity in early modernism from Impressionism to Expressionism to Cubism and Abstraction, but in the 1960's a combination of causes changed the status-quo. A vast number of people began identifying with the avant-garde, seeing themselves as liberated from their bourgeois upbringing. This brought about a substantial increase in the number of artists and a competition to capture the attention of the public.
The "fifteen minutes of fame" phenomenon, coined by one of the early masters of the mixed media of art and public relations (Andy Warhol's art was about the culture of fame, publicity and commercialism), has proliferated so that recent exhibitions of eviscerated animals or the performance piece of a recorded sex act between artist and collector are intended to shock the public. One doesn’t need to see it in person; the publicity has subsumed the art.
I must mention the role of the art establishment (for, as always the anti-establishment has become the establishment) in alienating the public from art. In reaction, the role of the public in defining and validating art is something that has been noted, predicted, and cause for concern. Later, we will treat the former role of religion, royalty, and aristocracy in establishing culture and how this form of patronage has been disappearing, particularly in America.
The long term trend has been moving away from the unique and original in art, the integrity of which generated its own aura, according to Walter Benjamin in his seminal essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), to the dependence on the audience, the public, for validation, giving rise to the growing importance of the reproduction or copy. The question of whether technology drives history, or history drives technology, is unsettled, like the chicken and the egg. Does the means of production and reproduction precede the need for it?
We will also touch on the role of Consumerism in generating the hatred of art which I claim is endemic in our society. In effect, the knife cuts both ways. As the public is pandered to through the mass media, the desire for and understanding of the unique and original declines, and all this is embraced by artists, particularly Post-Modern artists, who practice parody. The inherent risk in parody is that it so often doesn’t transcend, but is instead mistaken for its target.
Marcel Duchamp is considered by some as the precursor, even the father of Post-Modernism. He is perhaps best remembered for placing a urinal in an art exhibit – even signing it R. Mutt. This was what he called a “readymade,” a mass produced, utilitarian item placed within the context of art. He himself, and those who follow in his footsteps, define this as “anti-art.” This was the genesis of the trend which dominates the art world today. Post-Modernism is often, though not entirely, the triumph of anti-art. (see The Triumph of Anti-Art,Thomas McEvilley, McPherson & Co.2005). As McEvilley points out in his book, the prefix “anti” can mean either “counter” or opposed to” or both.
Yet, when throwing out a term like “anti-art,” it is conceivable that even the artists, those at the top of the art pyramid as represented by museum and galleries and auction prices for contemporary work, also hate art. It has been noted by certain philosophers, such as Hegel in his dialectical theory (synthesis, antithesis, synthesis) that opposites exist in relation to each other and therefore are close. Revolutions take on the characteristics of the societies that gave rise to them. The Russian Revolution re-created a feudal society under the party system. The French Revolution created as much spectacle in the public square as the Royal Court had at the palace. The American Revolution was a product of the English Enlightenment; it was an experiment in rationalism. It is no coincidence that the movement of art away from its emotional, sensuous, pleasure giving, non-verbal character and towards the polemical, intellectual, and political has been led by American artists.
In his book, The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe makes a correlation between this rationalist, verbal trend in art and its becoming a subject of study at the university, where only words are ultimately trusted. This, in his opinion is the subversion of the artistic in favor of the critical or curatorial function. This too can be traced back to Duchamp whose readymades shifted the art process from production to designation or assignment, a curatorial role. No wonder curators are flattered.
There is a difference, however, between the considered, informed skepticism, even cynicism, of the artist or “anti-artist” who, by challenging certain conventions, is putting “art” in quotation marks, and the uninformed, visceral, and highly unconscious repulsion that the general public experiences around it. The artist is engaged in expanding the limits of knowledge or experience, just like the scientist. Sometimes this experimentation can appear stupid, or rash, or sloppy. In fact most experiments fail. It was not the art establishment that first alienated the American public. The American antipathy towards art precedes the modern era. Let us look at some, if not all, of the philosophies, which have prevailed on this continent in the past 350 years.
The Puritan fathers distrusted not only art, but also all adornment. “Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain,” as Proverbs 31:30 has it. Even the singing of hymns was banned. They did not allow instruments in their musical tradition, rather, music was restricted the singing of Psalms in unison. The organ and the singing of hymns did not enter the Protestant churches in America until the 19th century. This fear of idolatry can be found in other pietistic religious sects, even to this day.
Paradoxically, even as some worldly attractions were shunned, and pleasure itself mistrusted, the idea of material prosperity as a sign of God's favor is part of our same Puritan heritage. The Puritans were Calvinists, who, in the dichotomy of predestination vs. choice, strongly favored a theology of predestination. To them, early riches was a sign of God's blessing. As Jonathan Edwards, the evangelist whose preaching helped inaugurate the ongoing revival known as the Great Awakening, wrote in his book Charity and Its Fruits (1738), “But if you place your happiness in God, in glorifying Him and in serving Him by doing good, in this way above all others you will promote your wealth and honor and pleasure here below, and obtain hereafter a crown of … glory and pleasure forevermore at God’s right hand.” Prosperity could be both a sign of Divine favor and a channel of blessing, but not a conduit for the ostentatious display of wealth and power through art such as characterized the estates, the castles and the churches of Europe. The purchase or commissioning of art would have seemed immodest if not idolatrous to the Puritan mind.
The succession of governing philosophies in America is like layers in geology or archaeology. The old may be super-ceded by the new but there is a residual effect. From the middle of the nineteenth century, a new philosophy conquered America, again from England. This was called “Utilitarianism.” It was first promulgated by Jeremy Bentham. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Utilitarian as “one who considers utility the standard of whatever is good for man.” Utility then, according to Bentham, is that property in a thing “whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness (all this in the present case comes to the same thing).” He later added the words “profit, convenience, and emolument” (remuneration). The problem is that words, such as “pleasure, “ may mean something completely different to different people or different times. Bentham was a Materialist who regarded anything which could not be measured as illusory. Thus he repudiated any kind of spiritual pleasure such as that afforded by art or music. Nothing was inherently a source of pleasure, and therefore good; it was only so in that it provided some profit or convenience or opportunity for such. As his successor, William Stanley Jevons, so succinctly put it, “Value depends entirely on utility.” It was the perfect philosophy for the Industrial Revolution.
“Yankee practicality" is still admired, which is why so many who have been materially prospered would think nothing of purchasing a boat or a snowmobile, or a second snowmobile, or spending lavishly on their home. It is perceived as practical, ingenious, utilitarian, whereas a work of art is not. Of course, if art is tied in to the idea of virtue, as happens with increasing frequency through art auctions for the benefit of worthy causes, it is then redeemed, its associated guilt neutralized.
There is hope on the horizon. The 2002 Nobel Prize for economics was shared by an Israeli psychologist, Daniel Kahneman. His startling breakthrough: Money can’t buy happiness. Finally, a scientific negation of Utilitarianism. In other words, with all the quantification of goods and services, the question remains, What is the amount of happiness that it brings? The conclusion: being poor is depressing, but if the basic necessities are covered, no amount of money will make you happier. Some of their experiments also reveal some anomalies in human nature. For example, the vast majority of people do not make decisions based on a clear assessment of risk versus reward (pleasure vs. pain). They are far more risk averse, much more afraid of losing what they have than desirous of gaining more. And why shouldn’t they be, when we now know that once a certain threshold is passed, that no amount more will increase happiness.
Yet many of the most successful have taken more risk and have courted and encountered failure. The Constitution does not vouchsafe happiness for us, only the right to pursue it. I might add that it is the minority, the risk takers who purchase and invest in art.
It is my theory that a nation’s capacity for art appreciation is closely tied to its capacity for meditation. It is not even necessary that the majority practice a form of meditation, just that there is an element of society which does, and that this meditative group is seen as part of the fabric of society. This is certainly the case in Asian cultures, such as Japan with its practitioners of Zen Buddhism. The tea ceremony is the cultivated practice of appreciating the tea, the teacup, the tea-house, and the ceremony itself in all of their aspects.
China had its tradition of court officials retiring or going into exile in seclusion to practice painting, poetry, and calligraphy. In France, what I might call the Gross Domestic Product of Meditation is spread more evenly among the public. Each region, for example, produces its own distinctive wine or cheese based on its own particular climate and soil. The subtle character of such a wine or such a cheese requires sufficient time not only to produce it, but also to enjoy it. As time is allocated for a long, leisurely meal, taste becomes refined, and this refinement is transmitted through the culture. Taste itself becomes a meditation.
Throughout Europe, play-writes such as Vaslav Havel and writers such as Andre Malraux have shuttled from the arts and letters to government and back – and not merely to write their memoirs. Plato’s idea of the philosopher king is still alive. I believe that this connection between the gross national output of meditation and the net appreciation of art has to do with the perception and definition of time, which is culturally based. The culture which values time more than possessions will take the time to fall in love with a work of art, and not a mere infatuation.
In reality, European and Asian appreciation of their own cultural artifacts is widespread in their societies. For example, on a popular game show for many years in Iran, they played a game where two opponents face off and recite couplets from classical Persian poetry. Each couplet must begin with the last letter of the previously recited couplet. Even first graders competed.
We have made a virtue out of busyness. A whole new genre of television drama, taking place in the hospital, or law office, or the White House, ennobles characters who only have time to carry on a dialogue on the run, in the corridor, and who have no time for any meaningful personal relationship outside of their work. Cut to the commercial which shows a soccer mom in the driver’s seat, hastily accepting a microwaved, pre-packaged cup of soup handed to her like a baton in a relay race through the window of her car. No wonder so much of the art which is seen strives to make it on the first impression, either through shock value or glossy production values, where the technology of reproduction excels. I will return to the issue of “production values” later.
It is not these philosophies and movements themselves that I wish to examine or to criticize, it is their historical and residual effects on the American attitude toward art. Mercantilism, for example, was the belief that wealth consisted ultimately in gold and silver, and that since these metals were finite in supply, one nation was bound to prosper only at the expense of another. This idea may have caused a lot of wars, but, after all, something had to be done with all that gold. Spanish palaces competed with cathedrals to gild the lily. Spain, in turn, competed with France and England, and a lot of a art was produced. It happens that the particular philosophical movements which “trickled down” to become the common, accepted modes of thought, were almost all iconoclastic (in the original sense of destroying or defacing religious art), or materialistic, or in some other way antithetical to the enjoyment of art. There was one exception and, as with the others, its effect is still felt today. Transcendentalism arose as a reaction against Utilitarianism. Emerson, one of the leading lights of the Transcendental Movement, wrote that Utilitarianism was a “stinking philosophy.” He, along with Thoreau and Emily Dickinson constituted a small group of meditative people who, though“marching to a different drummer,” as Thoreau put it, and not always united themselves, either created or represented a backlash in the country which gave rise to most of our great poetry, the Hudson River School of painting which started the whole idea of American landscape including our National Park system.
The valuing of possessions or things instead of time both destroys the environment and devalues art. Materialist ideas such as Utilitarianism do it one way, and any form of religious asceticism which relegates this world to a position of inferiority does it another way. The twentieth century gave rise to new forms of both. On the materialist side, the mass-media, first in print, then though radio and television, gave rise to commercialism, advertising and its twin, consumerism. Mass-production began with Henry Ford’s pithy statement that “they can have any color they want, as long as it’s black,” and has taken off toward more and more customization. In a “public service” announcement, the Advertising Council equates greater freedom with greater choice, that is more choices or more products made possible through more information presented to us by, guess what? advertising. Sometimes, however, an over-abundance of choices results in paralysis and dissatisfaction with our ultimate choices.
Here’s where those production values come in. Flashy, glossy, or slick techniques in speech or imagery that is used to persuade the masses to political or commercial ends is a form of demagoguery. Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s propagandist film-maker, used columns of light projected into the night sky to dramatize the Nuremburg rally when she filmed it. This awe inspiring effect was used seventy years later at Ground Zero to accentuate our national loss of the Twin Towers and the many lives that were destroyed with it.
Propaganda is not inherently evil. When the Roman Catholic Church coined the word during their Counter-Reformation, it did not carry a pejorative meaning. But public art and its relation to propaganda is a matter fit for another essay or an entire book at least. I am more concerned here with phenomena of specifically American origin and their effect on the American attitude toward art, which is, as I am attempting to show, negative.
American democracy was originally conceived as a system to bring order and contentment to a society of independent farmers and yeomen (craftsmen-proprietors). Production was decentralized and distribution was localized at the market or the trade fair. Little by little the situation reversed as production became centralized and consolidated and distribution beat a path to every door first through the Sears Roebuck Catalog, and more recenly through the internet and the proliferation of big box stores in every available commercial zone. Today, the artist-craftsperson is one of the last vestiges of the independent yeoman, flying in the face of the modern market-driven economy.
Consumerism has penetrated every aspect of our lives. Politics, religion, entertainment, and even mating are largely driven by market analysis. Consumerism panders and flatters the public into a suspension of disbelief. Marshall Fields, which opened in Chicago in 1887, is often credited with being the first modern department store. It was designed by the architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, whose ornate style is known as Richardsonian Romanesque. The idea was that any woman entering from the crowded and dirty street would feel that she had entered the Palace of Versailles. And she would be treated as royalty.
The mass-produced and mass-marketed product, whether it be an article of clothing with a “designer” label, a cruise, a food or beverage, a piece of furniture, or an image is perceived as “just as good” as an original, fresh creation. “Just as good as home baked,” as they say.
In the extreme, many Americans even prefer the facsimile to the authentic. The Alamo Theme Park erected for the John Wayne movie attracts as many visitors as the somewhat smaller, certainly drabber Alamo a hundred miles away. Mass-production smooths out the rough spots and introduces a comforting predictability. Furthermore, a mass-produced item has a value which is easy to quantify either by the purchaser or by anyone seeing it in a neighbor's home or driveway. Art, on the other hand, was once defined by its uniqueness in the world, that is until it merged with “popular art” in the consumer age. I will approach the topic of the collecting habits of the various classes shortly.
In The Decline of Pleasure by Walter Kerr, a renowned theater critic of the mid-twentieth century. (first published in 1962 by Simon and Schuster) her wrote: “In a way, I find it as easy to forgive kitsch as I do a baby for drooling. Given our convictions, how better might the popular arts behave? Our deepest beliefs in the twentieth century command us to dismiss the arts, popular or otherwise: they have not had value, they do not have value, they will not have value.”
In the fifty plus years since this was written, Consumerism has succeeded, as the Advertising Council promised, in making more and better educated consumers out of us. Not only have production values continued to improve, but originality, honesty, and depth in the popular arts, first in music, then film, and finally television, have waxed, though sometimes also waned. On the whole I would say, the quality of the popular arts has improved from the early 1960’s. Looking at a broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” a lot of it seems like a high school play. The acting is more theatrical than cinematic.
Some critics claim there is no difference between the popular and the fine arts, between low brow and high brow. Igor Stravinsky delivered a series of lectures at Harvard between 1939 and 1940. In one of them he made a brief parenthetical statement which I have not forgotten: “All art is based on aristocratic culture.” I don’t think he meant that all art was inspired by aristocratic sources, or that all artists are aristocrats. I think he was talking about the type of cultural transaction that takes place between artist and society. Despite the shrinking of the Middle Class, which has been taking place over the last half a century, Americans do not like the idea of an aristocracy. We are inculcated from a young age to associate connoisseurship with an indolent leisure class.
On the subject of class and art, I recently heard of the work of Ruby K. Payne, author of Bridges out of Poverty. She observes that there is a code for each social class: upper, middle, and lower. In order to enter another class one must learn the code. For example, in eating, the lower class values quantity, the middle class, quality, and the upper class, presentation. In collecting, an area which directly impacts art, the lower class collects people. That is one of the reasons why it is sometimes seen as an act of disloyalty to break out. The middle class collects things, especially things that have a discreet and ascertainable value. I refer back to the philosophy of Utilitarianism, according to which happiness must be defined through the attainment of material things to which value can be ascribed. Finally, the upper class collects unique objects and experiences. The middle class does not have the code, that is, the training, the experience, or the inclination to deal with one-of-a-kind. There would be no way to compare its value or worth as there would be for any mass-produced and mass-marketed item. That is why the obstacle is not merely price, but the fact that there is no way that the purchase of an art object can be justified to others – one’s spouse, one’s friends and neighbors. The middle class, that is, the bourgeoisie, require not only quality, but its commercial validation.
The French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, in his essay, “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” (published originally in French in 1979 based on research he conducted in the sixties), he discusses how art is an important component of the code which separates the classes. “A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded. The conscious or unconscious implementation of explicit or implicit schemes of perception and appreciation which constitutes pictorial or musical culture is the hidden condition for recognizing the styles characteristic of a period, a school or an author, and, more generally, for the familiarity with the internal logic of works that aesthetic enjoyment presupposes. A beholder who lacks the specific code feels lost in a chaos of sounds and rhythms, colours and lines, without rhyme or reason.”
This recognition of the subtext of a work of art is like face recognition, not entirely conscious. Even the experts who identify skillful forgeries must rely partly on intuition. The appreciation of art is not a purely academic exercise which can be taught. It is also a function of familiarity, sometimes the result of the exposure of multiple generations. This flies in the face of the American ethos of the “self-made man.” Among its other functions, art is a conversation, not only with the contemporaneous public, but also with history, including art history. In literature this is called “allusion.” The writer is conversing not only with the reader, but with other writers past or present. The more we lose our sense and knowledge of art history, the shallower our art becomes.
When the Russians launched Sputnik, we asked ourselves, how far behind are we in the space race? The result was an improvement in the science curriculum. Now, how far behind are we in our knowledge and appreciation of art? In my opinion, with the steady disappearance of the liberal arts education in favor of technical education, we are falling further and further behind.
In his book, Fame Junkies, by Jake Halperin (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), a study is cited in which middle school and high school students were asked whether they would rather be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a president of a college, a U.S. Senator, a Navy Seal, or an assistant to a celebrity. Forty-two percent said they'd want to be a celebrity's personal assistant - twice as many as those who wanted to be president of Harvard or Yale, three times as many as the U.S. senator, four times as many as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. What this indicates to me is that teenagers, the canaries in the mine, feel so anonymous, and so devalued that they need to ally themselves with a famous person, which is, essentially, a brand. This trend coincides with the trend over the past few decades of wearing designer labels on the outside.
And yet, it has only been a century and a half since art has become the voice of nonconformity, the “avant garde.” For hundred, thousands of years, from ancient Egypt to Napoleonic France, art was concerned with the display of power and wealth. It is not a new thing for art and spectacle to serve the powerful. Indeed, the “outsider” role is the exception, having arisen during a relatively enlightened, liberal, and self-critical period of history. It has often been stated that in postmodern times, the boundary between high culture and low culture has blurred, but actually Romanticism incorporated many aspects of “low” or popular culture. Symphonic music began to reference folk songs, previously maligned medieval romances started to influence literature. In another essay, “On and Beyond Symbolism,” I theorized that the opposing poles of Romanticism and Classicism have always existed in some form. Classicism militates toward the display of order, has an historical perspective, and appeals to the caretakers of society's institutions who are educated and have had long exposure to the classical antecedents. Romanticism militates toward the “natural,” the “unschooled,” even the inchoate forces. Postmodernism, which we have earlier defined as “anti-art” is thus the natural outcome of the Romantic arc of the last two centuries, which not only accepts but embraces disruption, heralding a “new order.” (The mid-nineteenth century, the height of the Romantic era, saw revolutionary uprisings in Germany and France, and Italy.) Postmodernism is the educated elite trumpeting the cause of the people. As usual, the vast majority of the people are not entertained in any sense of the word.
An adjunct of consumerism deserves its own category in this litany of why most Americans hate art. In 1899, Thorstein Veblen, an American economist and sociologist, coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. In the past thirty years, since the failure of “trickle down economics” to indeed trickle down, America has very much come to resemble the age of the Robber Barons which Veblen studied. With the growing disparity of income, the newest class of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, otherwise known as billionaires, have been competing at auctions for works by famous artists both living and dead. This has pushed prices up to the stratosphere. But as Adam Davidson points out in an article in the New York Times (May 30, 2012) titled “How the Art Market Thrives on Inequality,” no painting purchased for more than $30 million has ever been sold at a profit.” In other words, art is not a commodity “Because,” as Jacobson points out, “each piece of fine art is unique and can’t be owned by anybody else, it does a more powerful and subtle job of signaling wealth than virtually any other luxury good. High prices are, quite literally, central to the signal — you don’t spend $120 million to show that you’re a savvy investor who’s hoping to flip a Munch for $130 million. You’re spending $120 million, in part, to show that you can blow $120 million on something that can’t possibly be worth that much in any marketplace.” This type of thinking is not only foreign, but antithetical to the logic of the average American. It acts as a barrier to the community of art appreciators and collectors. But if we take the economics to the next iteration, following these “priceless” works of art beyond the lifespan of the collector, we find that many of these works are donated to museums to be enjoyed by the public. Inheritance tax law makes it almost impossible to pass down a complete collection intact.
Thus, we find that art straddles two completely different economies, the commodity economy and the gift economy. These two economies have always coexisted, as Lewis Hyde points out in his book, The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (originally subtitled in the hardcover edition Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. Random House 1983). A commodity exchange is an arms length transaction which depends on an objective valuation and does not depend upon or engender relationship. The exchange of gifts, whether taking place among Pacific Northwest Coast Indians in a Potltach (from which we get our word “potluck”) or South Sea Islanders, or through grants, fellowships, scholarships and other gifts in modern society, does create and sustain relationship. Both forms of exchange are well accepted in our society. The problem arises when they become confused. We have already touched upon the effects of advertising in our day and age, but perhaps the most pernicious is how it presents a commodity transaction as if it were a gift exchange. This has become even more insidious with the increased personalization of marketing made possible by new technologies. Commercial interests ask us to become their “friend” on social networks. We have already discussed the “just as good” substitution of mass produced food for Mama's cooking. (How many mamas are featured on brand labels?)
The survival of the artist is a balancing act between the gift and the commodity economies. While the work itself is acknowledged as a gift, and the artist as “gifted,” money has become the basic medium of exchange in our modern society. Nevertheless, original art, in the fullest sense, is not strictly a commodity. America is an experiment not only in government, but in the creation of a society in which a growing number and diverse group of individuals take on the mantle of self-rule and civilization. In other words, we are a rabble slowly transforming ourselves into an aristocracy, a process which will not be complete until all are lifted to the higher state. This is, of course, a Utopian
vision. One hopes that if it is ever achieved that the artist will have a place in it that is less ambivalent.
The next reason that I will treat as to why art is secretly despised is that it has become the secular religion in modern society. Once again the root cause is in philosophy, and once again, in a philosophy not indigenous to America, but one that has been adopted. In April of 2000, I read a piece, a manifesto that ran as a paid advertisement in ArtNews. Odd Nerdrum, a Norwegian realist, or surrealist painter, declared himself, not a painter but a kitsch painter. Modern art, he wrote was indebted to the philosopher Immanuel Kant who suggested that art existed in the realm of intellectual judgements and not in the realm of sensuous appeal. Since then art has been more concerned with the purity of thought than with the sensuousness of the body. This purity of thought has become the correctness of thinking. In other words, art has become politics. Nerdrum, who uses techniques of the Old Masters to portray human flesh and expression, had been ignored, even chastised by the art establishment for many years. Now, he wrote, he understood where he really belonged. Along with several other artists he published “On Kitsch, a Manifesto.”
Of course Kant was not the first philosopher to distrust art that is created or enjoyed purely for pleasure. Plato, one of the earliest and most influential philosophers, relegated art to mere mimesis, at three removes from his “ideal” and thus inferior to both philosophy and poetry. In his book, The Painted Word, author Tom Wolfe describes the migration of art education from the art school and studio apprenticeship to the university, where, in order to justify itself as an academic subject, art became, “as literary, as academic, as mannered, as clubby, as the salon painting against which it first rebelled.” (quoted from Tom Wolfe's own website) By literary, he means that it needs to be explained or justified with words, preferably big words. Like religion as described by a theologian, it can seem pretty dry.
The last reason I will touch upon is the present day trend toward a form of populism that mistakes equality for equivalence. In the pursuit of equal opportunity, excellence and mediocrity are given the same due, like the children's soccer league which handed out a trophy to every participant. By the same token, artists' self help books and workshops are proliferating which declare everybody to be an artist. If everybody is an artist, who are the patrons? It is Gresham's Law that bad money chases out the good. If the production of everyone who calls him or herself an artist is art, then how does one value art. It is no wonder that the valuation of art has become more erratic. When the Russians launched Sputnik, we asked ourselves, how far behind are we in the space race? The result was an improvement in the science curriculum. Now, how far behind are we in our knowledge and appreciation of art? Well, how old are the cave paintings of Lascaux? Perhaps it is time to get into the race.