In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Camille Paglia posed some interesting theories about what has happened to visual art in the last half century. I have a great admiration for Paglia and think she has done some excellent work. She is a woman author who is also an exceptional thinker. In this article, however, I think she is missing a fundamental. The real question, I think, lies in how has capitalism separated artistic relevance from individual and community experience? If art isn’t relevant, how can it be revelatory?
Here are some excerpts from the article:
“What has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts? Two major causes can be identified, one relating to an expansion of form and the other to a contraction of ideology.
Painting was the prestige genre in the fine arts from the Renaissance on. But painting was dethroned by the brash multimedia revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Permanence faded as a goal of art-making……
……But there is a larger question: What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it? Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber. The art world, like humanities faculties, suffers from a monolithic political orthodoxy—an upper-middle-class liberalism far from the fiery anti-establishment leftism of the 1960s……. It’s high time for the art world to admit that the avant-garde is dead….”
Some of what Paglia says is astute and on the mark. I like the way she looks at industrial design, and the influence of technology on the young. However, I feel that she is only scratching the surface of the real ills.
Currently, I am working on a follow-up to Shaping Destiny. This book will look at how art shapes communities, rather than the personal impact of art on individual lives. I am wondering about the impact of the industrial revolution and the rise of art establishments on the relevance of creative expression in local communities.
I think it is probable that as artists were isolated by arts establishments, and mass-produced goods replaced local aesthetics, we shifted from art that had distinct relevance to individuals and communities (note Paglia’s reference to spiritually devoid art and to the hands on industries where design is still flourishing) to art as luxury commodity for the elite. We have replaced innate creativity with trained consumerism and ceased to value excellence and authentic expression. Today, most people don’t like art because the art they know that which is touted by many arts establishments is condescending, confusing, and irrelevant.
I’ll be talking about this more over the coming weeks, but I would love to hear your thoughts on Paglia’s article and where you think art has lost its oomph.