Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject matter and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art. Not only has upper-class art, in consequence of it s separation from universal art, become poor in subject matter and bad in form, i.e. ever more and more unintelligible, it has in course of time, ceased even to be art at all and has been replaced by counterfeits. –Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, Ch.9
Rather than to go on beating a dead horse* in the hopes that the living dead wandering aimlessly around it hoping it will miraculously revive and return to its former Triumph of Abstraction from Reality I’m going to begin down the path of the new paradigm that has been evident to me for the last few months, if to nobody else flogging PoMo to death and too busy too notice that it isn’t just the horse that is dead. They can cling to each other trying to reassure each other that what they do has meaning just because it has a price tag but everyone with any honesty knows that making money bears no relationship at all to artmaking.
What used to be real art has long since been converted into commercial art and there are only one of two choices available to anyone endeavoring to take on the burdensome task of being an artist in the coming transformation. One can either continue to be part of the commercial art system that is in process of total disintegration by holding on to all its values and commandments. Or one can reject it in its entirety, particularly it’s tawdry and long past their sell by date “ideas” and “theories”, none of which bear any relationship to real life on Earth. (see previous post The First PostModernist)
The choice is yours. I’m not advocating for anything. This began as a personal investigation along the lines of Franz Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog. For what else is the current artist but a whining and begging dog, tongue hanging out of his mouth hoping one of his old tricks will please the master and the servants of the master, the clueless masses. I have no Messianic mission. I’m simply bored to death talking about current fashion styles and and decadent work. What else could one expect to be produced in a corporate run and corporate controlled art world? As Capitalism either twinkles out or explodes into apocalypse it quite obviously has no future whatsoever, and when it fails the last half century and more of Business Art will collapse along with it.
Keeping my eye open for the panic that inevitably follows a long boom of this sort, the longest in history supported by little more than trite fashion art, I interpret the drop of 2/3 of value suffered over the last 27 years of Gerome’s Bathsheba (a work that puts any PoMo Pop artist to shame) as the sign that the game is up. When masterpieces of the late 19th century drop that precipitously it’s clear that knowledge buyers realize that the overall “exuberance” allowing Old Master paintings to ride the vapor trails given off by mediocre kitsch like Basquiat is all but ended.
About the only thing going on in art at the moment is to convert anything possible that had never been considered serious art as late as the 1970s into brand New Innovations in Art. Ceramics, Jewelry, Costumes, RockStar Memorabilia, “Underground” Comic Books , Rap Stars, tattoo artists, etc. into High Art. This is a sign of total desperation. I’ve been enjoying it myself. Only those with vested interests in it or who have been playing the game since art schools are in a lather and looking for anyone else to blame but themselves. I can only imagine what not only Tolstoy but any other serious writer or artist of the past would make of this clowning and clowns who take themselves seriously going red as beets if one ever questions why digital printouts of their work on T-Shirts is “art.”
I’m here as your scapegoat, gang. I’m hardly unfriendly or chastising anyone. Detached amusement, at myself included. So: Fire away, Gridley. Or bleat away like sheep to sheering or stare vacantly like lambs to slaughter. Curse the fates in the person of yours truly. I bring bad tidings. That’s all they gave me. Somebody has to transmit the messages from above. That’s what artists are for. This happens historically. Things rise and fall. This collapse looks to be spectacular. I wish there were more outsider artists to watch it with, but the others seem bound and determined to jump into it with their tshirts, tattoos, pop and multiple neo-styles and concepts rather than depart the vessel. Or exit through the gift shop leaving their Banksy memorabilia behind.
It can be nostalgia for the French Academy, the Italian Renaissance, the glory days of the American 1940s or the Pop Heyday. But all of it is kitsch sentimentality. And all of it is banal and without life.
To understand what real art is, I’ll keep trying to pepper some more serious thinkers on the subject than anybody we have writing today. I’ll repeat Tolstoy’s point. You’ll notice that Tolstoy’s clarity of thought on the subject bears as much relation to current art writing (i.e.,, sales talk with little resemblance to intelligible writing) as David Foster Wallace bears to Dickens.
Tolstoy’s extraordinarily accurate summation of the art scene of 1898 is perfectly compatible with my own conclusions based on the volume of research I’ve done on this blog over the last few years.
Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject matter and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art. Not only has upper-class art, in consequence of its separation from universal art, become poor in subject matter and bad in form, i.e. ever more and more unintelligible, it has in course of time, ceased even to be art at all and has been replaced by counterfeits.
We live now in an age of Ersatz, Computerized virtual reality fantasies, the so-called art being a mere form of disposable entertainment. If it isn’t pushed into big ticket monetized commodities, it ends up as kitsch trinkets on Ebay, Etsy, Artfinder, Artnet and other venues for investors who prefer nice things to trading gold, silver, porkbellies, and Collateralized Debt Obligations. I wish this weren’t the case but the only way for me to work as an artist is to work in relationship to the reality I live in. And in this case I work diametrically opposed to the commodification of life.
Note the Gerome painting above, which was his highest selling painting for $2.2 Million. In June it went for $631,000 with only one bidder. Contrast to what just sold for, according to the Times, a mindblowing (translation: absurd) $110.5 million at auction in Mid-May.
Yet artists keep cranking this kind of lamebrain stuff out. And recall that lamebrain critics like John Berger claimed the painting above to be greater than those by Picasso, whose later worker Berger wrote about as a failure. How much more absurd can it get really? It can only get more interesting as we watch the rivets popping and the gaskets blowing off and the water flooding into the lower decks wiping out the small fry with their Hirst Spot Paintings and Jeff and Andy and Bob and Jasper multiples. That Bacon is the other big name along with Basquiat, naturally drawing the attention of those who want to be “big stars” themselves is a kind of screaming and repetitive narcissism that somehow deceives itself into thinking it stands for anything thing more than “Look At ME!”
The Me Generation’s last Hurrah. And what could be a more pathetic of a life than what we see above selling for more than a hundred times the work of a mid-grade French Academician. The Avant-Garde as a fraudulent myth replacing real art with nothing but counterfeits.