image by Scott Adams
BEING SMOTHERED IN THEIR OWN TANGLED WEBS: BBC News Roger Scruton’s “How Modern Art Became Trapped by its Urge to Shock”
Key quote from the article, a summary of how the contemporary art world conspires to inflate inferior productions and specious reputations:
“Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium and – most of all – the refined sensibility and openness to experience that have suffering and solitude as their normal cost.
“To gain the status of an original artist is therefore not easy. But in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. Hence there is a motive to fake it. Artists and critics get together in order to take themselves in, the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.
“In this way Duchamp’s famous urinal became a kind of paradigm for modern artists. This is how it is done, the critics said. Take an idea, put it on display, call it art and brazen it out. The trick was repeated with Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, and then later with the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case the critics have gathered like clucking hens around the new and inscrutable egg, and the fake is projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing.”
Roger Scruton, the author of the article, is described as a philosopher, so perhaps he is a little more charitably nuanced than I’m inclined to be. He makes a distinction between fakes and lies, the difference being that fakes involve self-deceit, the perpetrators at least somewhat believing in their own falsity.
The destructive outcomes of such practices make me less interested in the subtle psychological machinations underlying the con artists of the contemporary creative class. It’s their results that matter, and they are creating by their consensus a world of garbage that undermines not only the culture industries, but society as a whole.
William Blake, one of the greatest artists of all time, understood the connection. “The foundation of empire is art and science remove them or degrade them and the empire is no more — empire follows art and not vice versa as Englishmen suppose.” Empire in this sense doesn’t refer to a specific form of government but more so a culture, the authority of a way of thought, a sense of shared values. Our post modern friends would refer to this as a hegemony.
But to post moderns nothing is true, everything is relative. They are victims of a kind of magical thinking, believing their attitudes, opinions and theories can alter reality. Presto, this awkwardly stuffed shark is now expensive art!
Most people see the lie in this, and scoff, or just turn away. The self-proclaimed cultural elites reassure each other that anyone who doesn’t buy into their shtick is an inferior who can be safely disregarded.
Only a prosperous and secure society could afford to coddle such a misguided and decadent educated class. But we’re arriving at the point such parasites are killing the host, and destroying the prosperity and security that made their silly mindset possible. The relativistic and deconstructive practices of post modern thought now infects our media, education, and government, and are eroding the functionality and foundations of civilization itself.
Just like the artists did, the wannabe ruling class is putting up ridiculous notions, calling them real, and trying to brazen it out. In each case they can rely on the clucking hens of the arts, academia, and the media to project the fraud at the public with all their might.
Scruton might soften these affronts with some credit for the self-delusion of the participants, but I’m not inclined to. The motivation for these assaults on enduring principles is the effort to gather unaccountable power into the hands of a few, and no good can come from such efforts.
The art world is just displaying symptoms of a vast corruption festering in our culture that must be confronted.