It’s not just about American culture, it’s about Americanized culture. What we see in Europe, India, MidEast, Chinese, Japanese, Asian art is their version of American art/culture. Sex, violence, Pop dehumanization. America provided the model of “freedom.”
Ai Wei Wei is smashing priceless antique Chinese vases in his version of Duchamp’s moustache…. He’s dancing Gangnam style on youtube videos? He’s protesting the totalitarian Communists? Why else is he the greatest Chinese artist of the century by Western choice. Not to mention the fact that the biggest audience for Arnold Schwarzenegger movies is China.
Why else are we seeing American art like John Currin, Lisa Yuksavage, Elephant Dung Virgin Marys and Piss Christs, Santiago Sierra Sodomy spectacles, Juxtapoz Sexy Surrealism brigades? Art about sexual abuse, child sexuality, adolescent sexuality. This is what the people want… everywhere. Just like they want American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and the latest mindless Tarantino bloodbath.
There is no “high art” world. For the most part it’s just a stupider version of the middlebrow TV culture. The biggest and most laughable conceit is that these moronic artists are making ironic comments on middlebrow culture. They ARE middlebrow culture. Andy Warhol wasn’t reflecting American society. He was American society. And yes, as Gore Vidal calmly noted, he was a moron. “Warhol is the only genius I’ve met with an IQ of 60.” That’s Vidal’s dismissal of the entire art world in a single sentence.
So why don’t artists themselves question or criticize any of this, most particularly the ones who claim the spiritual quality or moral nature of their work? What else is supposed to underpin Agnes Martin et al if not that? And why does Martin champion the obvious nihilism of Bruce Naumann’s work? If her work isn’t supposed to allude to some kind of metaphysical/spiritual reality then how is it anything other than pleasing decoration for McMansions or corporate lobbies? Just as are Frank Stella, Brice Marden and more artists than can be numbered?
The entire history of art prior to the American Art Debacle is constituted by work that derives from religious/moral value system. And that Modernism post war has been an advocacy for the thorough destruction of that notion, primarily stemming from the theories of Duchamp/Greenberg. Martin is just as much a nihilist as Naumann, otherwise why would she be so enthusiastically embracing his work?
The Enlightenment artists, while eventually dispensing with God, still represented a moral value system. They weren’t about putting cow dung on the Virgin Mary or calling urinals art. Duchamp specifically derides and smashes that moral value system. His work has no other meaning outside that. And Duchampian is the guiding light for all American art at this point. The Greenbergian path is just as nihilistic, only you have nicely colored objects instead of a guy with a bullwhip stuck in his ass. All specifically repudiate the art of Rembrandt or Dürer.
There is no argument whatsoever for the significance of all of this pretty abstraction as art other than the one proposed by Greenberg. And Greenberg’s theories are complete hogwash, as Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word? thoroughly dissects. Greenberg’s entire theory boils down to Matisse and his statement that art should be “a comfortable arm-chair for a tired businessman.”
So the purpose of art today is to be a comfortable arm-chair for a tired businessman. And the meaning? There is none. Art is whatever the tired businessman wants to buy. As Andy has it, “Art is what sells.” That’s our belief system. I’m unaware of anybody whose thinking doesn’t come down to this, although most of them are completely unaware of it.
Everybody believes that art is about soothing people and improving their self-image on the one hand or providing them with porno paintings by the likes of John Currin on the other. All of it either trivializes art into a banal decoration or turns it into a “God is Dead” carnal free-for-all.
And this all began in America in the 1940s after the war, picking up steam slowly until becoming an unstoppable express train headed over a cliff.
Below is a de Kooning before he got wise to what was going to be a big success. The work is intoverted, dark and depressing and examines the reality of America when he painted it. The America of the Great Depression. America has been in another Great Depression for some years now. Of course it’s only apparent in the inner cities and rural areas, which are places the media never visits except to record the riots and police shootings. The last thing the media will do is provide analysis of why these areas are no longer part of America and how they got that way. They do provide great entertainment, of course, when played back on Breaking Bad or Coen Brothers film. But these aren’t Italian Neo-Realist films. These are exciting laugh riots.
While other artists seem to think that the role of the artist is to provide the Potemkin Village facade and decadent Roman-style spectacles, I think the role of the artist is to stay focussed on human realities, as Ke Kooning did when he was a much better artist than what he turned into in the 1950s, as evidenced in the painting below.:
He was one among thousands of social realist painters who were wiped off the map by the New York art elite. Artists now look at the paintings pre WWII as a lot of junk, just as Greenberg and company described. American artists believe whatever they’re told by their superiors in the culture world. Pollock once said that the only interesting American artist was Albert Ryder. Homer, Eakins, the Hudson River school? A bunch of crap according to Pollock, as was his teacher Thomas Hart Benton. Pollock repudiated all of it.
I imagine he chose Ryder because that’s about all he was capable of painting himself. A Bierstadt or Martin Johnson Heade possessed talent and the hard discipline to make those paintings that Pollock entirely lacked.
So America threw out it’s quite remarkable past achievements and went forward into the abyss we now find ourselves in… And refuse to recognize or examine or amend. One can’t even criticize it without being banished entirely. It amounts to a nationalistic fever, the kind that Europeans were used to in the past, but apparently don’t recognize in the present here in America.
I doubt there are more than a handful of New York artists now who know the work of Raphael Soyer, as he’s an irrelevant has been. To me, he’s easily as good if not a greater artist then de Kooning by any measure. He was one of the best-known artists in America and I imagine the Whitney Museum which collected his work, as well as showed it, has quite a few of them gathering dust. I’ve never seen a Soyer painting as if they’ve never shown his work on their walls I haven’t been aware of it. For one thing, while I lived in New York from 82 until 2001 I went to the Guggenheim all of one time to see a Max Beckmann show. There was never anything else in their museum worth paying to see in that entire time.
I’d be overjoyed to see a retrospective of Soyers with paintings like the one below, but I don’t foresee that ever happening until the rotten regime that runs the art world topples. And after that? Who knows if there will be anything left of an art world for true painting to ever return to the point that a Soyer retrospective would be in the cards.
Soyer’s work from the depression era captures the real America of today far better than anything whatsoever that passes for art today.
But so does the work of Max Ernst fleeing from the destruction of Germany in the late 30s in the painting below, Europe After the Rain:
I think it quite likely that if we don’t wake up to what we’re speeding toward in our SUVs that the Ernst painting will be more predictive of the future than Soyer’s.