End of American Culture

I’m hardly the only person in the arts writing about the America’s cultural suicide, ongoing since the 1950s. I’m just the only person in the art world writing about it. The art world hasn’t the courage to look at itself critically. People might say “Oh! How corrupt it’s become!” Almost invariably followed by “Not like the old days, when it was filled with ‘authentic’ art!””

And those old days will go back back no more than to the 1950s when t was just as corrupt if not more so back then. It just wasn’t on the kind of grand scale it is now. Rothko wrote early on: “57th Street is a stinking mess.” That’s supposed to be the “good old days”? This is when Greenberg was making unchallenged and arbitrary choices that could make and break artists overnight? And when the CIA was funneling money into the art world in collaboration with MoMA? This is only conspiracy theory to the dodoes in the art world who never bother to look at or think about real art history. Perhaps one of you will believe a story in the New York Times, the paper you count on to tell you what is and what isn’t good art? Try this.

There was no more than the most minimal justification why a big canvas with paint poured arbitrarily on it was to be considered a world class masterpiece that would destroy the value system that had prevailed since Giotto in the Western Painting tradition. But in the 1950s painters like Manet or Courbet became entirely irrelevant, as they had narrative content. They were depicting their times and their view subjective view of it. Now the only thing considered relevant were absurdly oversize abstract paintings. And those became irrelevant soon enough with Pop. But the job had been accomplished of entirely divorcing art  from social reality, which was the job that Greenberg and his CIA helpers had been tasked to accomplish.

This is all perfectly clear. The most significant artists in America prior to 1948 as reported in Look Magazine were artists like Ben Shahn, George Grosz, Max Beckmann. But these artists were pointing in their work to the maladies of Capitalism. And we were in a culture war to promote the great benefits of Capitalism against the worker’s paradise promise of Communism. One can say this was idealistic and well-intended (although I wouldn’t). But one cannot say that this isn’t exactly what happened.

The promotion and hyping and mythologizing of Abstract Expressionism was done for purely political reasons. That work isn’t remotely the accomplishment it’s been made out to be by culture hustlers and art historians who are totally clueless about art and what might constitute substantive artistic achievement.

As reported in the Guardian yesterday:

[Frank Stella] was born in Malden, a suburb of Boston, to parents who were both painters–his mother studied painting and his father worked as a house painter before becoming a gynecologist. Shortly after Stella started making art, he spotted a Vogue fashion shoot where models posed in front of an abstract painting by Franz Kline. “I saw and thought, ‘I could do that,'” he said of the painting.

Note the sly sarcasm of the reporter writing his parents were both painters. His mother a hobbyist taking lessons. His father painting houses. Nobody in their right minds outside the art world sees a Frank Stella painting as anything much, I can tell you that from talking to them. But within the art world he’s a towering genius. And solely because of the success of Greenberg at touting thoroughly mediocre paintings as manifestly superior to the School of Paris painters that preceded them when they were, in fact, a pale imitation of them. Many of them were simply third rate derivations of Monet’s late paintings without the foggiest notion of how Monet arrived at those paintings.

Jackson Pollock is Austin Osman Spare automatic drawing, only lacking the drafting ability of  Spare. Max Ernst did the first drip painting and rightly saw it was little more than a gimmicky spatial effect and never pursued it further. Janet Sobel, the outsider artist, did many drip paintings no different than Pollock outside of the fact Pollock did his on a massive scale and regularized the field. He actually stole the technique from Sobel as he hadn’t been using it when he saw her work along with Greenberg. It’s easy to imagine, and I believe it happened, that Greenberg suggested Pollock try it out on his larger canvases. After that, Greenberg touted it as the breakthrough of the ages casting Pollock into a locked into position that drove him into drink and madness. Pollock tried to reintroduce drawing (as Spare and other automatists did who had academic training) and his deficiencies as a draftsman become apparent. His Portrait and a Dream has a face that’s little better than the low level drawing of Julian Schnabel).

Of course, Greenbergianism dispenses with drawing as being a meaningful part of painting. Entirely irrelevant as of the moment NYC took over the definition of high art. Imagine how far a music critic would have gone promoting the theory that learning to play an instrument was no longer a necessary part of making great music. Imagine a literary critic writing that basic writing skills were no longer necessary for writing great literature. Some of this happened in music and writing certainly, all part of the great Modernist experiment. Now we have Jennifer Weiner and Stephen King and HBO’s Girls in our high culture magazine, The New Yorker. Great literature isn’t much on the agenda these days.

I’m hardly the only one saying this… except, of course, in the art world. The art world simply can’t imagine going back to the 1950s and locating where it went off the rails and drove itself first into the ditch before digging itself down as far into the mud as it could possibly go.

Why not hear from Philip Roth? He used to write literature before deciding it was totally pointless to do so as there was no longer a culture capable of receiving it. A Roth will speak out clearly about where we are. But in the Art World? Vague mumblings? Hardly even that.  A population of sycophants too busy kissing the ass of the person above them on the ladder to have an independent opinion, much less to voice it.

Who in the art world would write or say what Roth says in the line below (quoted from Exit Ghost)?

“This is a very backward country, and the people are easily bamboozled.”

“I could not believe what I saw when a creature so rooted in his ruthless pathology, so transparently fraudulent and malicious as Nixon, defeated Humprey in ’68, and when, in the eighties, a self-assured knucklehead whose unsurpassable hollowness and hackneyed sentiments and absolute blindness to every historical complexity became the object of national worship and, esteemed as a ‘great communicator’ no less, won each of his own terms in a landslide.”

“There was a time when intelligent people used literature to think. That time is coming to an end… In the Soviet Union… it was the serious writers who were expelled from literature; now, in America, it is literature that has been expelled as serious influence on how life is perceived.”

“Reading/writing people, we are finished, we are ghosts witnessing the end of the literary era.” (ed: I  would add visual artists as well, and we were finished even before that by who else?  Reading/writing people. As I keep emphasizing, it was the critics and art writers who destroyed the visual arts turning it into childish scribbles and infantile provocations like Piss Christ and the moronic soft core paintings of John Currin and Eric Fischl. So it serves them all right, Roth included, for not saying anything whatsoever about what was happening in the NYC art world. What goes around comes around.)

And Roth writes: “Destroying reputations is how these little nobodies make their little mark. People’s values and obligations and virtues and rules are [in their view] nothing but a cover.”

But where are Roth and the rest as the little nobody Clement Greenberg smeared and soiled all the great American and European painters that Abstract Expression would declare irrelevant through eternity to make way for Op and Pop and Glop?

Again, Roth and the literary community said not a thing as Pop and Op and Miminimalism reduced the Western Tradition of Painting to nothingness. Roth was, in fact, a good friend of Guston’s and his R. Crumb imitation work. Guston preposterously talked about himself as the inheritor of the legacy of painters like Piero della Francesca and Masaccio. How much more absurd can it get? Pomposity and grandiosity were the hallmarks of those self-absorbed New York School painters in the 1950s. The Me generation hardly started with Ronald Reagan. So I’m afraid I  have little sympathy for Philip Roth, Will Self and the others lamenting the loss of culture. Had they fought for its loss in the visual arts instead of supporting the destruction of painting, then the fate of literature could have perhaps been different. No way to know if the collapse could have been forestalled. But it’s clear to me that writers themselves advocating painting which says nothing about the social world we live in set the stage for readers to not give a damn whether writers like Self and Roth tried to describe it either.

Cue Marina Abramovic and David Hockney’s “art  lite” and so on.

Baudelaire was surrounded by like-minded visual artists who he supported in his writing. So with the poets around Picasso and the Surrealists. Our writers have gone along with the charade of the Greenberg and Leo Castellis art with visual artists totally abandoning any involvement with social reality or any reality for that matter.

They should try looking into the mirror for having either promoted the situation we live in now by letting the deterioration of visual culture go unremarked or actively promoting as the art critics in art magazines have done ceaselessly. I find the cries of art critics now totally hollow as they lament the current stagnant pool in contemporary museums. The art that exists there now is entirely by their own prescription. The critics themselves established these non-values, this neo-dadaist babbling as the language artists were required to speak in if they were to be “relevant” to the “dialogue”. Ironic detachment is the requirement set by art critics for artists to align themselves with. Go back through art history and try to find the great works of artists of the past based in ironic detachment.

It’s over. They killed it. Artists let them. And nobody says a word.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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10 Responses to End of American Culture

  1. sydsart says:

    Kind of like the fable “the king’s new clothes”.

  2. shep says:

    “…Ben Shahn, George Grosz, Max Beckmann. But these artists were pointing in their work to the maladies of Capitalism.”

    True Outer,

    I have never heard of these individuals, sorry to say, but, that was the 50’s and all I cared about was me. me. me!

    Thank you for the writing skills to expose one of many greeds of our existence on this planet. It is a lot like watching my children and grand children living in a glass bubble one-millionth of a second from bursting. In my case, it is so personal that I cannot take a chance on being the one to burst the thing. My heart screams out to them but I can never ever say anything to them.

    This world is millimeters from total collapse and extinction.

    Good work on your part, even tho few are listening. I think it is therapeutic and necessary to escape insanity.

    Thanks again, young man for standing in there!

    • goetzkluge says:

      Couldn’t it be, that it is not just about *American* culture? If I compare my parents’ life to mine, life today is much more complex. Complexity increased in sudden steps (marked by various inventions), but since , say, 1850 the time between the steps get increasingly shorter. In Germany, for the previous generation there were a dozen years of a brutal attempt to simplify things: Fascism. In earlier centuries, the arts were the place for complexity. The majority of people were kept busy with managing a comparatively simple life from day to day. In the 20th century they got much more to do. Mondrian and Haring at least didn’t make life more complicated.

      To quite a few people, a Donald J. Trump could be a promise for a simpler future. We may be puzzled about how well Trump seems to do as a candidate. But he offers simplicity which simple minds (who nevertheless deserve respect as humans) are longing for. Trump himself perhaps is convinced that ruling an extremely diverse and complex country like the US is simple, because due to his resources he got used to “solve” problems quickly. Then again, politicians probably acknowledge complexity, but already e.g. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FCMdrug520.png is too complicated, so they keep fighting drugs in simple ways which unfortunately helps to stabilize the drug business on a high level.

      I think, we do not experience just the end of American culture. Rather, the consequences of our many achievements in media technoligies, information exchange and global communication (with the arts being a major part of that) now really start to get to us. And as the biosphere which is relevant for us only is a bounded open systems, quite some of the problems which we created may not be reversible, at least not in a painless way.

      I am happy that I don’t have to face all the issues which young people (like shep’s grandchildren) will have to cope with. Empathy may help them more than anger.

    • goetzkluge says:

      Shep, This is about an artist who fights against the demise of *Chinese* culture: http://jiaindexcom.domain.com/jiaindex/notes-jias-painting-series-chinese-version/

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Well, Syd, the only amendment to your observation I’d make is that it’s not kind of like The Emperor’s New Clothes, it’s exactly like the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s fitting as well that a story for children summarizes our thoroughly infantile culture. We’re also bringing about our own self-destruction by putting on the robe of the Emperor thinking we can rule an Empire that spans the globe. Pure folly. I’m not just writing about art or the art world. The bankruptcy of our art is a direct consequence of the bankruptcy of our political leaders and intellectual class the emptiness of our intellectual and moral

    Shep,You should look up Ben Shahn and George Grosz. Grosz is depicting the world around him during the German depression and Shahn depicts America during our depression. They make for an interesting comparison.

    And thanks so much for sending us the quote from the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who expresses much more clearly than I’ve been able to the role of the artist in a time like ours, where the very survival of the species hangs in the balance:

    “It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. Art only has the capacity, through shock and catharsis, to make the human soul receptive to good. It’s ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good. Art can only give food – a jolt – the occasion – for psychical experience.”

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Merci, my friend. I’m on to this one! Just need some time to write about it. I know that the natives are now restless and from all directions are telling me to shut up about all of this, as I think their anxiety that their entire belief system rests on a manifest financial fraud initially funded by the CIA and Rockefeller Corp. is getting them all riled up.

    But I shall persist. As far as the CIA/Rockefeller connection I just picked up a fantastic new recent book: Interlock by Patricia Goldstone. She lays out all of this, on top of asserting that the greatest artist of the 21st-Century is a Duchampian acolyte who made flowcharts of the funding of Iran/Contra. Gee whiz! If only Ted Draper, Noam Chomsky, Peter Dale Scott had made some flow charts any one of them could now be considered the greatest artist of the 21st century.

    As to CIA/Rockefeller funding and an ex-CIA guy running an incubator of collosal conceptualist talents, including being a teacher of David Ross, who ran the Whitney for years, and collected the work of the Flow Chart Genius (Mark Lombardi)? Patricia Goldstone most heartily approves. She also refers to the American Social Realists as “Soviet-Inspired”. Yes, George Bellows and John Sloan were most certainly on the payroll of the Kremlin or simply unwitting dupes.

    It’s fortunate the CIA and Rockefeller (along with his other corporate cronies) bounced those Commie types off the stage of history so we could all sit ennobled looking at colored grids and monochrome paintings. And not tire our tiny little minds with the big events going on around us.

  5. goetzkluge says:

    Hi Bart, I commented to the wrong post. I think, the panama papers are an appropriate update to https://trueoutsider.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/art-and-money-laundering/

    I think, the “art and money laudering” issue goes beyond American culture. It is a global issue. It’s sad, but on the other hand I like to see this globally well organized investigative journalism at work.

    Back to American culture: «Trump had previously exclaimed during a TV debate, unprovoked, that he had a large penis (“I guarantee.”) He claimed a TV journalist’s critical questions were a consequence of menstruation problems. He also mockingly acted out another journalist’s physical disability live on television. // The political culture that is emerging here is a mixture of primary school, mafia, and porn industry. It alternates between cries of “He started it!,” brawls, misogyny, and penis size comparison.» (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/opinion-trump-and-the-decline-of-american-political-culture-a-1085798.html). This European view at the US is neither arrogant nor “Schadenfreude”, because the development of (political) culture in the US is quite scary and not funny anymore.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    Hi Goetz. It’s certainly a global issue. But it also has to be kept in mind that the originating source is America. The entire art fraud goes all the way back to the 1950s with the creation of Abstract Expressionist painting as an investment vehicle for the corporate class. AE was unded both by the CIA and Rockefeller’s MoMA . Rockefeller collected en masse to display in corporate lobbies as well as exhibited it at MoMA and then onto the rest of the art museum structure, every major museum getting their very own Rothko or Still or Pollock. The fish rots from the head down, as they say. And I agree that it’s sad. For me, there is nothing sadder than that America entirely corrupted and ruined the Western Tradition of Art, which for me as a young person was everything.

    CIA and state department funding sent the work all over Europe where it was used as “soft power” propaganda to displace Communist works (social realism, Picasso, Surrealist). Picasso was even denied a visa by the FBI when he was invited to visit in NYC. It was necessary not just to win the economic battle but also the battle for the heart and mind of Europe. America needed a great art to rival the great European artists. And the rather pathetic (by comparison to European artists) New York Action Painters were drafted for the purpose. Of course, being the egomaniacs they were the Action Painters initially thought they deserved their assumption of the throne. But it’s apparent they soon got over that as their enthronement led to drinking themselves to death or slitting their wrists in the bathtub or going off into complete seclusion from the world. These “sensitive” ones were replaced by a cold and ruthless lot selected by Greenberg (Washington Color School and whatnot) to easily fill the vacancies. Then Andy and Pop artist gave the world what they really wanted. Marilyn, Elvis and Coca Cola and the rest is this art history. Sterile, cold and dehumanized. Opposite in every single way the work of the European Artists who were replaced.

    This is all well documented. Not just by a number of historians. But throughout articles in the “paper or record”. American artists simply won’t look at it or believe it. Why? Because it makes their entire lives into a kind of collective power fantasy. I can see it because for one I dropped out of the art world. One needs a certain detachment to really see it clearly. Secondly, I never bought into it to begin with. I detested both Clement Greenberg and Marcel Duchamp from the day I first encountered their so-called theories of art. I thought it pompous and bogus horse manure. And what I initially intuited has been borne out over the years to the point where by now these Panama Papers releases are bucket after bucket of sugary icing on a stale cake. And what is this American art except a sugary confection meant to attract the flies of the marketplace (if you’ll excuse the Nietzsche reference).

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/11/11/arts/art-when-picasso-spooked-the-fbi.html?pagewanted=all

    Note that Leger, Aragon, and Charlie Chaplin also had FBI files.

    Artists not just here, but globally, refuse to understand or believe the fact that they’ve been duped by their rulers going all the way back to the early stages of the Cold War. The Orwellian/Huxley reality of the present where people are entirely brainwashed by media and corporate nonsense that wouldn’t fool a child but certainly delights people with the brains of 6 year olds is broadcast daily through the New York Times, Washington Post and everywhere else has its origins in the 1950s.

    I’m reminded of Jim Jones at Jonestown who found it necessary to broadcast daily and interminably to his followers lest they actually try to form an independent thought leading to the realization that Jones was mad as a hatter. What will happen if Americans ever pull back the door of the mighty OZ to see a addle-pated old fool jabbering away about all you gotta do is stay positive and your dreams will come true?

    Better to be lied to by Trump or Hillary that our greatest days our to come. Unbelievably, Hillary is using Reagan’s old line that it’s morning in America.

    http://theweek.com/speedreads/577495/new-prohillary-ad-uses-reagans-famous-morning-america-pitch-against-2016-gop-candidates

    Obama said that Reagan was his favorite President. How much more surreal can it get than to have Democrats falling over themselves to claim themselves the descendants and upholders of Ronald Reagan and his legacy. Obama has governed to the right of Richard Nixon and Hillary has outdone Dick Cheney in her foreign policy blunders and arrogance.

    There’s a great blues song You Don’t Know My Mind. I saw Kenny Brown play this at a small festival in a thunder storm. Brilliant and galvanizing. Listening to music is what I turn to in order to stay sane. “If you see me laughing, Lord. I’m laughing just to keep from crying.” As the “fine art” here (and other countries that copy us) is a load of total fantasy bullshit and all it does is depress me beyond words.

    Also note that Americans could care less about the Panama Papers. They love the rich and most of them believe the rich should be able to shelter their money from taxation. As with Brits Michael Caine, Mick and the Stones, leftwingers Arctic Monkeys, and so on… all beloved and certainly entitled to avoid paying taxes. Why should great artists, sports and movie celebrities, titans of industry pay taxes? Imagine how horrible life would be if we didn’t have these great celebrities and automobiles and shopping malls and tv/computers/colonization of outer space and advanced military weapons being targeted from space?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/panama-papers-poll_us_5707e7afe4b063f854df7da2

    I don’t write my blog for the people who could care less. I’m writing the blog for people like you who are actually interested in the truth and in reality. Americans run around in hysterics if the truth appears anywhere near them. Or they stick their head in the sand and pretend it’s never going to get to them. Or they sit vacuously in front of their screen laughing or crying or being thrilled of chilled or amused.

    That’s the truth. That’s how it is. Anybody tells you different they’re bullshitting you. All our newsmedia (i.e. entertainment media) are bullshitting you. That’s how Europeans have been involved in this fantasized projection of ourselves made in Hollywood. Andy Warhol’s America. Try looking behind the curtain of Andy Warhol’s factory and you’ll see the real America. That’s what he covers up and why he’s the Number One American artist for helping all of us dreamers. And consumers of plastic. Andy is the ideal American. Without the Andys and the Norman Rockwells with their fantasized projection of America would there even be a real America? What would it be exactly? Behind Hillary’s insane laughter and Donald Trumps Fascist act is there some real America? I’m certainly unaware of it. But then again, I’m a sicko failed artist. I think my work shows the real America, crazy person that I am. Of course it shows what’s inside my head, but what’s in my head is what I’ve witnessed personally through long years in our urban shitholes like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.. that Americans don’t see as shitholes at all. They find them all the wonders of advanced Civilization.

    Go figure.

    One can’t talk to Americans about anything serious. One can talk about the weather or if the Broncos have a shot at a Superbowl title. Or who will win the exciting Election. Or what operating system they’re running. Or their great new business idea. Or what music they like. Or where they used to live and what that was like and how great things are or are going to be. Where you can find the best free trade coffee or Vietnamese food or super discounts on electronic equipment (Amazon).

    Just go on pretending and pretending. It really is a Wonderful Life, just as Frank Capra told us. Just as long as you don’t bother to live it.

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