An Artist Against the NEA, Part 2: Subsidizing the Rich and the Art of Breaking Windows

Rene Magritte, an artist who understood the correct use of fallacies

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The hive mind of Washington, DC is all abuzz these days. A big part of their collective angst hovers around the idea that this time the Federal government is expected to produce an actual budget. It will the first one in years. Needless to say, everyone in positions of authority  wants to make sure an allotment of sweet taxpayer honey keeps flowing their way.

Whenever the topic turns to reining in out of control spending, the National Endowment for the Arts comes up. It seems like a reasonable cut to consider, since there are much more urgent situations which need funding. But to culture industry careerists, that’s just crazy talk.

Of course all the organizations who are currently latched onto that particular public teat feel entitled to remain there. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.Or just read some of the hundreds of op-eds that have popped up around the country as a lobbying effort. Most advance the notion that without the bureaucratic benevolence of Uncle Sugar, redistributor of wealth, there would not be a single spark of creativity left in America.

Most of the articles follow the same template. They plead that its a given that arts organizations are poverty stricken, that arts spending boosts the economy, that support is needed while artists produce quality culture enriching works. The NEA is desperately needed for these reasons.

What is the reality? Postmodern art worker types like to pretend there is no such thing as reality, that the world operates based on just what those in power decree. Cultural elitists behave as if their virtue signalling and theorizing acts as a shield against universal truths such as cause and effect. Accountability is something to be deconstructed and explained away. However, there are many questions to ask about the default assumptions of their assertions.

For a different perspective about need, this headline pretty much sums it up: Feds Use Arts Funding to Subsidize Billion-Dollar Nonprofits. The article shares the findings of watchdog group Openthebooks.com, and summarizes their findings about the NEA’s umbrella group: “The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities issued $20.5 million in grants to ‘asset-rich’ nonprofit groups with assets of $1 billion or more in 2016 alone.”

For instance, Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute has received millions of dollars in grants for their swanky ski town film festival. And what is their estimated annual revenue from the event? $37 million.

Robert Redford: Like a Rhinestone Rent-Seeker

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New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is probably the top example. Since 2009 they have been awarded $1.22 million in grants and contracts from the NFA-H. And what are the Metropolitian’s assets estimated to be? Four billion dollars. That is billion with a B. There are other examples of the payola changing hands in the full article.

The Met: 4 Billion is not enough, they need handouts

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Why is taxpayer money being funneled to organizations that could easily be self-sustaining? Observation suggests it’s all part of the perks of the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected. It’s one of the ways the privileged class flatter each other, generously  passing out other people’s money. Would these powerhouse entities cease functioning without receiving kickbacks from the public treasury?

Of course not all arts organizations are stuffed with money like those insider superstars. What about the more local community efforts? How will artists be able to exist without qualifying for subsidies?

The pitfalls of those gambits are covered well in an insightful article from PJ Media’s John Ellis: The National Endowment for the Arts is Bad for Artists and Should be Defunded. He states:

“…It’s way past time to defund and shutter the National Endowment for the Arts.

“From the organization’s website, ‘The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.’

“That mission statement prompts a few questions. (Well, the first one isn’t so much a question as an eye-rolling musing.): 1. Yeah, it’s easy to fund things with other people’s money, NEA. 2. How does creating a false market for art promote and strengthen creative capacity? 3. All Americans? Really, NEA? Are you sure that ‘all Americans’ have the requisite skills to participate in the arts?”

Ellis addresses the fallacies at the heart of the economic stimulation and quality results outcome arguments by referring to observations about human nature, and a well known flaw in logic.

“The first question/eye-rolling musing is countered by artists and those who hold the arts community’s purse strings that arts organizations provide an economic engine to communities (by the way, I could write a whole other article about the absurd, silly, politics that I saw first hand while I worked directly for a specific arts funding organization—and by ‘funding,’ of course, I mean that they took taxpayers dollars and with a kindergartener level of pettiness disbursed that stolen taxed money amongst their friends). The NEA and their supporters will trot out research about how many dollars are added to local economies due to things like theatres, symphonies, and museums. Of course, as almost every person with at least half a semester of Economics under their belt is screaming, the NEA’s argument embraces the broken window fallacy.

“The economic stimulus felt and supposedly generated by the arts community comes at the expense of other markets. Chances are, the tax dollars given to arts organizations would have been more effectively used elsewhere to benefit local economies. All that money pumped into the local economy by arts organizations would have been pumped into the economy anyway. The taxpayers would have decided which markets to support. And those markets would’ve naturally grown, strengthened, and added jobs and wealth to the economy. The National Endowment for the Arts model artificially props up mostly unwanted markets by using tax dollars that get funneled through inefficient and wasteful bureaucracies.

“Segueing into the second question, artificially propping up an unwanted market does not benefit the arts. It does benefit the people who work in the NEA office and the many local organizations that help funnel taxpayers’ money to arts organizations, though. What it does to the arts is create a marketplace that supports bad art. If you don’t believe me, buy tickets to your local community theatre’s production of Seussical the Musical. Besides the money you spent on the ticket, your tax dollars helped pay for that crap. In other words, even if you don’t buy a ticket, your hard-earned money is still being used to stoke the egos and fill the free time of wanna-be actors and directors.”

You oughta be thankful, a whole heaping lot. For the people and places you’re lucky you’re not.

Ellis raises very valid concerns about what exactly is coming out as the result of these appropriated funds.

Now personally, I’m an old punk rocker. Punk’s creeds of individuality, distrust of authority, and sincere belief in the transformative power of participating in your own culture are ideas as American as baseball.  I learned early to value passionate intensity in art, which can lead to less than polished accomplishments. I’m inspired by all sorts of creative expression by unconventionally talented individuals. My paintings tend to be dark and strange.

Richard Bledsoe “The Collective” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 30″

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My music collection is filled with albums that could strike terror into lots of people.

Face up to the Butthole Surfers

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In my time I’ve attended DIY art and music happenings in places ranging from bowling alleys to Chinese restaurants, from student living rooms to trailers in isolated desert communities. I’ve organized many events myself, looking to give artists a chance to share their creativity. A key trait linking all of these shows is the Y in DIY: do it yourself. Make it happen, with none of the strings that come attached from being reduced to a supplicant for crumbs from the tables of the powerful. If the effort is genuine, it will find its audience.

The hey-kids-lets-put-on-a-show exuberance that drives “amateur” dedication to the arts is at the core of the art movement Remodernism, This grassroots renewal of our culture is rising to destroy the elitist mind games of Postmodernism.The NEA is doing nothing but sustaining the current corrupted model, where to be deemed worthy you must conform to the establishment’s agenda.

Artists with integrity recognize that far from promoting the arts, a compromised, insular organization like the NEA is actually shackling free expression to their ideological biases. The true future of the arts is going to be determined by those who do not submit their productions for official approval. Art is about so much more than acting as a cog in the crony combine.

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An Artist Against the NEA, Part 1: The Case of Karen Finley

Karen Finley: This is what you get when art and politics mix

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“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

-Benito Mussolini

The wailing commenced as soon as the numbers appeared. After decades of threatening noises from concerned conservatives and fiscal hawks, a Federal government budget was produced that eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

As an American artist, I think this is a wonderful development, long overdue.

Defenders of the NEA make the usual accusations, conflating being anti-government intervention in the arts with being anti-art. They justify the expense by pointing out how little the expenditures are out of a budget now reckoned in trillions. And they make the great leap to define withholding state funding of the arts as censorship. All of these assertions dodge accountability for results. How has the NEA improved the artistic life of America?

The NEA was the creation of the corrupt President Lydon Johnson in 1965. One quick measure of the program’s success is whether the visual arts are in better condition now than they were then.

On the contrary, contemporary art is undergoing a crisis of relevance, with hardly any interest and engagement from the public. I would suggest it’s the top-down direction of arts development encouraged by the NEA and its fellow traveler, grant-giving foundations which have helped cause this great alienation. Far from encouraging a vital, thriving culture in the United States, the handout and non-profit mentality is propping up a sick and decaying model of art as an elitist virtue signalling endeavor.

Make no mistake, the cultural institutions supported by such programs hold the values and founding principles of America in contempt. It’s key for acceptance. The long march was so successful that the entry to the establishment now requires allegiance with globalism, Post Modern relativism, and Cultural Marxist deconstruction. It’s the partisans of these ideologies that get the funding and support.

The art world has been warped by the priorities of the subsidizers. If you want their checks, better get on board with their agendas. Leftists have to taint everything with their politics, their own petty little version of God, and their fantasy of the all powerful state as a benefit dispensing Utopia. There’s no way I want anyone subject to such delusions in charge of recognizing artistic achievement.

Many years ago, I had my own special encounter with a NEA star, a typical example of what elitist culture has to offer.

She’s nothing but a historical footnote now, but in the early 1990s performer Karen Finley was big news. She was one of the so-called NEA Four. These controversial artists were up for the federal agency National Endowment for the Arts grants, and came under intense political criticism. The artists had their grants vetoed, although they eventually won a court case about it, and got paid.

However, as a result of the firestorm the NEA ultimately stopped funding individual artists. At least Finley can take credit for helping end that particular abuse of tax payer resources. But at the time I encountered her all the legal maneuverings were still in flux. When she came to speak in Richmond, at Virginia Commonwealth University’s  sculpture building, Finley was still notorious as a casualty of the Culture War.

Finley is a performance artist. Her claim to fame was hooting obscenities while smearing her naked body with yams. I wish this was a joke or an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Of course it was all about gender roles and social critique and whatnot, so that made it Serious Art.

We students didn’t know what to expect. Would we be spattered with tubers? Should we wear raincoats like we were going to see a Gallagher routine? Anticipation ran high.

As it turns out Finley kept her clothes on, and no vegetables were applied anywhere unusual. I suppose a group of mere students didn’t warrant the full Karen Finley experience.

She addressed the standing crowd gathered around her from a podium. I can’t tell you anything she actually said, as nothing she said was memorable. But we weren’t there for an insightful or intelligent lecture, we were there for a Serious Art Performance. And after her remarks, still standing behind her podium, Finley let us have it.

A Serious Art Performance, to Karen Finley, apparently meant yodeling, rolling her eyes and whipping her head around for a couple of minutes.

It was an annoying and mannered display. I felt the burning sensation of folly receiving the institutional stamp of approval. If that was art, then I’ve seen plenty of schizophrenic meth addicts hanging around convenience stores dumpsters that must be undiscovered geniuses.

Coming from her, it was all so phony. Her actions didn’t seem passionate or intense at all. It was clearly a ploy, a unconvincing simulation of being in a shamanistic frenzy.

My problem with Karen Finley’s art wasn’t because it was immoral; it was because it was stupid. There wasn’t an issue with obscenity, the issue was the failure to present a genuine and creditable work of art. And this is representative of the cultural experience our Washington elites wanted to throw money at.

As a bit of compensation for the dumb histrionics, Finley did show us a few nude video clips. She apparently liked to strip down in museums and pose next to actual art. That was kind of funny. The University was obviously putting all our student fees to good use, bringing in talent of such caliber.

During her fifteen minutes of fame, Finley got to play cultural martyr. She became a symbol, the fulfillment of the art world’s conceit of itself as an oppressed band of brave rebels.

The fact that what she called her art was a contrived, pathetic display was overlooked in the rush to the barricades. Her stated political agenda trumped any concerns about quality.

Finley has drifted into obscurity now, safely cloistered away  in New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts (annual undergrad tuition over $53,000.00), still trying to spark some interest in her sagging shock art. Museums are willing to throw her an occasional opportunity. In 2014 she did AA one better, and came up with a 13 step program for artists whose “lives have become unmanageable because of art.” Here’s a helpful hint: I wouldn’t blame art for the need to seek attention through grotesque displays.

Finley serves as a nice bit of trivia and nostalgia, a walking wounded veteran of the culture wars. The establishment takes care of its own. What they haven’t been taking care of is our society’s need for real art.

The NEA has failed in its mission. They’ve squandered their credibility. We will be better served by trying to find new ways to express an authentically American culture, one than the bureaucratic ideologues of the NEA never believed in.

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“It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry.”

-The Remodernism Manifesto

“I was not expected to be talented.”

Karen Finley

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please see other articles here for more commentary on the state of the arts.

ARTICLE-Outcasts: Post Elitist Art

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Past the Point of No Return: Elitist Art is Dead. What Comes Next?

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In my compulsive reading of the ongoing analysis regarding post election consequences and hysteria, I came across this insightful article (clink on the link to read the whole thing):

TRUMP AND THE RAGE OF THE BRAHMANDARINS, by New Class Traitor

The piece makes an interesting comparison between the power struggles of various factions of American society and the Indian Caste system. I see a similar dynamic at play in the art world, which will result in a whole new field of consequences and hysteria to explore.

India makes for an intriguing parallel for the United States after our decades of divisive establishment politicking. A melting pot no more, we’ve been encouraged to divide ourselves into competing niche interest groups, sorted out by race, class, region, religion, and genders actual and imaginary. In this, we now share much in common with the Indian subcontinent, which packs multitudes of distinct ethnic groups, belief systems, and languages into one technically unified country.

In response to the chaos inherent in so many striving factions, over time India developed a controlling system of social stratification and segregation, the caste system. It is a hierarchy where everyone was assigned their role from birth.

The article from New Class Traitor provides these definitions of the four major caste groupings (called varnas, “colors”) and a notable subset:

From top to bottom, the varnas are:

1.  Brahmins (scholars)

2.  Kshatryas (warriors, rulers, administrators)

3.  Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers)

4.  Shudras (laborers)

5.  Finally, the Dalit (downtrodden, outcasts — the term “pariah” is considered so offensive it has become “the p-word”) are traditionally considered beneath the varna system altogether, as are other “Scheduled Castes” (a legal term in present-day India, referring to eligibility for affirmative action).

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A schematic of India’s Caste System

Don’t read the “Brahmin” here as actual religious figures. In our context it means our new self-aggrandizing aristocracy of the well-connected: the globalists and their various functionaries, lackeys, and minions.

His article goes on to describe connections between this model and the current American experience:

American society used to be a byword for social mobility (“the American dream”) — but a stratification has set in, and it takes little imagination to identify strata of Dalit, Shudras, and Vaishyas in modern American society. The numerically small subculture of military families could be identified as America’s Kshatryas. So where are the Brahmins? (No, I’m not referring to the old money Boston elite.) And why am I using the portmanteau “Brahmandarins” for our New Class?

In India one was, of course, born into the Brahmin varna, and they actually delegated the messy business of governance to the varna below them. In China’s Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, not only was the scholarly Mandarin caste actually the backbone of governance, but in principle anyone who passed the civil service exams could become a Mandarin.

Originally, these exams were meant to foster a meritocracy. Predictably, over time, they evolved to select for conformity over ability, being more concerned with literary style and knowledge of the classics than with any relevant technical expertise.

Hmm, sounds familiar? Consider America’s “New Class”: academia, journalism, “helping” professions, nonprofits, community organizers, trustafarian artists,… Talent for something immediately verifiable (be it playing the piano, designing an airplane, or buying-and-selling,… ) or a track record of tangible achievements are much less important than credentials — degrees from the right places, praise from the right press organs…[emphasis mine]

The New Class should be more like the Mandarins rather than the Brahmins, as in theory (and to some degree in practice) 1st-generation membership is open to people of all backgrounds…

In practice, however, this class is highly endogamous, and its children have an inside track on similar career paths. (Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” made this case to a fare-thee-well.) Thus one finds 2nd and 3rd generation New Class members, whose outlooks on life tend to be much more insular and collectively self-centered than that of their 1st-generation peers. (It is important not to over-generalize about one’s fellow human beings: some of the fiercest fellow ‘renegades’ I know were to the manor born.) In that respect then, the New Class does resemble the Brahmins. Hence my portmanteau “Brahmandarins”.

He concludes with our last election acting as a kind of coup against the entitled “Brahmandarin” class which has dominated the establishment for decades now:

Fast-forward to the present. In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). Unsurprisingly, Brahmandarin presidents tend to appoint cabinet and senior aides from among the Brahmandarin caste, while Trump’s appointments came almost exclusively from the Vaishyas (Exxon CEO Tillerson for State, various other execs), and Kshatriyas (Mattis, Flynn, Kelly). It doesn’t matter that most of these people have real-world achievements to their names than a Robbie Mook type can only dream of: they are “ignorant” (read: insufficiently subservient to New Class shibboleths), “hate-filled”, etc. — All short-hand for “not one of us”.

For those same people who keep on prating about how open they are to foreign cultures (the more foreign, the better to “virtue-signal”) are completely unable to fathom the mindset of their compatriots of a different caste: they might as well come from a different planet as from a different country.

In the last election, with the smug “basket of deplorables” wisecrack, the anointed figurehead of the priestly/scholarly clique let the mask slip, and revealed the very unAmerican conceit that those who dared disagree with the establishment agenda were irredeemable Outcastes. The voters returned their verdict on that attitude.

“It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”

-Ronald Reagan

Judging from the terrible real world results of their chronic mismanagement, our governing, self-anointed “smartest people in the room” have turned out to not be smart at all. Their system of “meritocracy”  has been exposed as a racket, serving up only cronyism and a lack of accountability.

If these people had been truly educated, they would have learned from the ancient Greeks that hubris leads to nemesis. However, it’s hard to conceive of a greater collection of ignorance and nonsense than what passes for the coursework of contemporary academia, and so all the supposed best, brightest and most powerful were incapable of adapting to a changing world.

The assumption is the art world is about to rally, and put a stop this shocking turn of events. “What Does It Mean To Be An Artist In the Time Of Trump?” huffs the Huffington Post. Based on the interviews within, nothing new. These insider artists intend to offer the same old cryptoMarxist litany that has kept our contemporary cultural institutions unpleasant and irrelevant for at least 50 years. The luvvies of the establishment art markets declare they will bring you their rage. They will keep having futile tantrums launched from unstable platforms of identity politics, make lots of threats to keep subverting and questioning and denouncing, and use even more tactical buzzwords describing their various chew toy -Isms.

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Fight the Power!

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What these artists don’t see is they are defending the shabby shadows from a dead dinosaur of a political philosophy, one that has caused a century of suffering and oppression. They’ve been so well indoctrinated they don’t even realize how ineffectual they are. I won’t dignify their cheap efforts at propaganda and third rate activism with the meaningful status of art.

All art intuitively apprehends coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.

-Carl Jung

War was already declared on the excesses of establishment art, at the turn of the current century. And not only the ideological, virtue signalling style of art, but also the self-absorbed, alienating products of the Ivory Tower approach, status symbol art made to cater to the expectations of elitist curators, trophy hunting collectors, and other art snobs.

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Miro, Miro on the wall…

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In 1999, before there were recognizable populist movements aimed at stripping authority away from the incompetent and arrogant ruling political classes, there was a revolution in art. In England, a grassroots group of painters who called themselves the Stuckists launched attacks on the powerful but corrupted arts institutions of the UK. They blew apart the facade that the art world did anything but serve the agenda of the establishment. “Brit Art, in being sponsored by Saachis, main stream conservatism and the Labour government, makes a mockery of its claim to be subversive or avant-garde,” their manifesto accurately observed.

In their later masterful overview of the coming changes in collective unconsciousness, The Remodernism Manifesto, co-founders Billy Childish and Charles Thomson stated: “It is quite clear to anyone of an uncluttered mental disposition that what is now put forward, quite seriously, as art by the ruling elite, is proof that a seemingly rational development of a body of ideas has gone seriously awry.”

You can take the words “as art” out of that statement, and it summaries the abuses and failures that are coming to a head now in our culture now quite succinctly. With its distrust of received authority and emphasis on spirituality and personal responsibility, Remodernism was a harbinger of greater movements taking form across the globe.

Just like the “Brahmandarins,” the know-nothing educated classes who fancied themselves privileged and entitled, are being toppled from their positions of power in administration, so they will be cast out of their gatekeeper status in the arts. Their particular brand of “scholarly” art has had a hundred years to gain traction in our civilization, but has failed to do so. Without their endless partisan support, this stuff will vanish quickly, only notable as artifacts of a bygone era.

Who is on the wrong side of history now?

Cutting away the presumptions of the existing arts establishment is liberating. The possibilities are limitless. We are the latest iteration of the American character: optimistic, ordinary people working as explorers and inventors, self-reliant and productive. We make a complex art for complex times.

Welcome to Remodern America.

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Richard Bledsoe “Side Saddle” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

 

 

1917: A Shattering Discovery From The Year Art Went Into The Toilet

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What happened to R. Mutt’s “Fountain”?

For the last few days, inside the cocoons, there is much shock. As out-of-touch elitists in the would-be ruling class are processing an historic rejection of their presumptions, it’s worth revisiting a defining and divisive moment in elitist art history.

Recently, in some random reading I was doing, I came across a surprising story that may actually solve a genuine art world mystery.

I’m very critical of the nihilistic stylings of the contemporary establishment art market. I’ve written at length on its dynamic as both an elaborate con game and as an insidious effort at social programming and control.  Conceptual Art is the official art of the New World Order. Talentless cynics like Jeff Koons and Tracey Emin are promoted as pinnacles of achievement, and showered with elitist money and accolades. These conceptual artists claim that just having an idea is good enough to be considered art, as long as the right people agree.

The conceit of conceptual art, like most of the abuses of this decadent Post Modern era, comes from a thirst for power. Anything can be art if the gatekeepers say it is, and you better submit to their superior opinions. Contemporary art has become a wedge, a means for primitive tribal virtue signalling. You can divide the population up based on savvy insiders who prattle on about a dirty, unmade bed in a museum as a fascinating comment on normative functionalism, versus those mundane types who recognize a feeble failure when they see it.

A certain segment of the glitterati like to flaunt their ability to see shit as sophisticated art as a badge of honor, for some reason.

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of the totem these poseurs use as credibility for their if-it’s-in-a-gallery-it-must-be-art attitudes. In April 1917, New York City’s Society of Independent Artists had an egalitarian idea for an art show: anyone who paid the fee could show their art, which would be hung in alphabetical order. But the organizers were shocked when they received an anonymous submission, called “Fountain.” It was a sideways urinal, signed “R. Mutt 1917.”

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Marcel Duchamp, sporting a reverse mohawk

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One of the organizers was French artist Marcel Duchamp. When the committee balked at showing the urinal he resigned in a huff. Years later he spread it around that it was actually his piece.”Fountain” was a Dada assault on taste, a rejection of artistic skill, an undermining of the noble purposes of art. Duchamp and his advocates like to say it poses philosophical questions about what art is. Regardless, the piece can be seen as the harbinger of the whole empty, alienating, transgressive mess the contemporary art world has become. “Fountain” has been used as the justification for turning art into an ironic elitist assertion, rather than an uplifting communal experience. It’s a truly nasty legacy.

But did Duchamp even make the piece? Evidence suggests he stole credit for the piece from a female artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an wildly eccentric friend of his. She was part artist and part public nuisance, an exhibitionist, kleptomaniac and poet, who often dressed herself in food and utensils. The urinal would have been just her style.

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The real R. Mutt? Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

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On April 11, 1917, Duchamp wrote in a letter to his sister: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” So it seems while he may have submitted it to the show, Duchamp was not the one who came up with this iconic gesture. By the time Duchamp started to claim “Fountain” as his own, the mentally ill Baroness was long dead and forgotten.

It would match Duchamp’s character to perform such a swindle; he lived his adult life sponging off of, using, and abusing a series of women. He really was a cad.

It is so fitting the impetus of our contemporary establishment art world is most likely based on lies, theft, corruption and exploitation. But the originator of the piece is not the mystery I’m writing about.

What happened to the original “Fountain”?

Avant-garde gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz snapped a picture of it, but we are told the original was lost. The versions of “Fountain” now on display in museums around the world are “replicas” Duchamp commissioned in the 1960s to cash in on the notorious reputation of the piece.

I just found a surprising clue to what happened to “Fountain” in an unexpected place, while I was reading about a very different type of artist.

William Glackens (March 13, 1870 – May 22, 1938) was a significant painter in the early decades of the 2oth century. He got his start as an artist journalist. Before there were photographs in newspapers, illustrators had to create the imagery. They had to work fast, and since they were covering the news, they were used to depicting the common people as opposed to esoteric artistic subject matter. Glackens’s most notable journalistic work occurred in 1898, when he accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s troops to Cuba during the Spanish American War.

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William Glackens artwork from the field of battle

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After he left journalism, Glackens continued to make an art of the people, as compared to an art of the Academy. He was a key figure of the early American art movements The Eight and The Ashcan School, realist painters that rebelled against the stuffy elitist attitudes of the art establishment of their era. Glackens and his colleagues were considered controversial and gauche at the time for their depictions of everyday life.

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William Glackens “The Shoppers”

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I love reading artist biographies. So when I was recently at the library and saw on the shelf William Glackens and the Eight: The Artists Who Freed American Art, I was very excited. I knew about him and the Ashcan School, and I see the art movement Remodernism as fulfilling a similar role for artistic renewal now.

The book is by his son Ira Glackens, written in 1957. It is full of amusing and affectionate anecdotes about both of his parents; William was married to socialite and artist Edith Dimock. She is the central figure depicted in the painting of the shoppers above.

As William Glackens was one of the most important artists of his day, he was involved in many major events. I was thrilled when Ira Glackens wrote about when he was a little boy, during the legendary 1913 Armory Show that introduced Modern Art to America. He met visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder there, one of my favorite artists. But I was stunned when he recounted a story about 1917.

William Glackens was the president of the Society of Independent Artists committee that received “Fountain.” Another artist on the committee along with Duchamp was Charles Prendergast. Here are Ira’s words about how the  “Fountain”  situation was resolved:

It would be difficult to visualize W.G. [William Glackens] in an executive capacity, but nevertheless he proved a very valuable man, especially when an impasse was reached. The story of how he solved a great dilemma that confronted the executive committee was later told by Charles Prendergast, and he laughed so hard telling it that the tears ran down his cheeks… Everybody perhaps knows the story of the “Fountain” signed R. Mutt, a nom de guerre of Marcel Duchamp which the creator of the “Nude Descending a Staircase” submitted as his entry. This object was a urinal, a heavy porcelain affair meant to be a fixture, and it caused a great deal of dismay in the executive committee…The executive committee stood around discussing the thorny problem. Presumably the best art brains in the country were stumped.

Nobody noticed W.G. leave the group and quietly make his way to a corner where the disputed object d’ art sat on the floor beside a screen. He picked it up, held it over the screen, and dropped it. There was a crash. Everyone looked around startled.

“It broke!” he exclaimed.

By the 1950s when this book was written Duchamp had appropriated credit for “Fountain,” but it had not yet become the cultural touchstone it is now considered. I see no reason why Ira Glackens would just invent a story like that, or why their family friend and fellow artist Charles Prendergrast would say such a thing about the mild mannered and low key William Glackens for no reason.

We now have some hearsay evidence about what happened to the original “Fountain,” which has been overlooked for decades. There’s no way to prove it, but it’s a compelling conclusion to a sordid tale. As far as I’m concerned, William Glackens was on the right track and did the world a favor. If only it had ended there.

The pissy head games of elitist art need smashing, now more than ever.

11/22: Welcome Instapundit readers! Check out some of my other posts to see more about the state of the arts from a Remodernist perspective. -RB

COMMENTARY: The -isms of Modern Art

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Alfred Barr, Jr.

Director of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art 1929-1943

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Lots of people say they don’t appreciate Modern Art. The term is used as a kind of generic catchall description, often a term of derision for the hokum perpetrated by the out of touch creative class of visual artists.

Technically though, when people refer to Modern Art, they are talking about something that is already in the past.

Modern Art was the future that ended.

For centuries in the western world, art followed predictable formulas, and only changed slowly. Artists focused on creating variations of Classical art, inspired by the masterpieces of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Renaissance.

There was broad consensus on what made for quality art. Order, beauty, and flawless adherence to approved techniques were desirable traits. Support for artworks came from powerful institutional patrons: the church, the state, and the aristocracy. These factions had much to gain from promoting stability and the status quo.

Sometimes an isolated eccentric would create art of a different kind, and challenge expectations. The artistic and cultural establishment of the times reacted harshly to such experimentation. William Blake was called mad, and worked in near total obscurity on his visionary books. J.M.W. Turner faced criticism and ridicule as his landscapes became more atmospheric and abstract. Francisco Goya kept his powerful and morbid black paintings hidden away from his employers at the royal court.

Despite these occasional flare ups from forward thinking radicals, for centuries the art world was a model of social control. Creatives were dominated by the elite. Training and opportunities for artists were under monopolistic control. It’s not that different in today’s commercialized fine art market. Advancement requires conformity to the self-aggrandizement and conceits of the ruling class.

But by the middle of the 1800s, the traditional dynamics changed. Life started moving faster than the establishment could react. The long standing pattern of gradual cultural evolution done in the service of the powerful underwent massive disruptions.

The Modern Age was upon us.

There’s no clear cut definition of the time the Modern Era covered. I define the era of Modern Art as running almost 100 years, bracketed by two art shows: the Salon des Refusés in Paris 1863, to the first major Pop Art show held in New York in 1962. The roots run deeper, and the influence lingers longer, but this is a useful measure for when Modern ideas were the most important in the culture.

Before the Modern age, the conventional understanding was art should present beauty, which represents truth. In modern art, beauty was no longer the highest aspiration, because it symbolized a kind of order and redemptive quality intellectuals had lost faith in.

Modern age rationalism and materialism compels that everything needs to be dissected and analyzed. Artists brought this mentality into art, and manifested this questioning both thematically and visually.

As the Modern age unfolded, the ideas imposed by social changes seemed to demand artists abandon art’s enduring function as a tool for bringing harmony and unity into the lives of humanity. A sense of doubt became a standard starting point.

No longer did art look to provide the comforting experience of the beautiful.  Modern art featured probing and often critical ideas about the nature of art, perception, humanity, and the values we so often fail to live up to. Pessimism was a safe attitude, depicted with ugliness.

Modern art took on an unstable aspect as artists looked to find something to effectively replace the sense of meaning and purpose that had informed the art of the past. The creative class tried to define possible alternatives, angling for personal advantage and prestige. Theories abounded.

Modernism fragmented into competing movements, schools, and influences. With all the possibilities swirling around, artists were not sure what or who to believe in. In rapid succession, the art world moved through major phases: Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Abstraction, Cubism, Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism,. De Stijl, Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. Artists built entire careers based on the nuances of these experiments.

Modern art can be observed as a series of trends proposed as solutions to the void introduced into heart of art-and by extension, life itself. Nothing seemed to work for long.

This lead to a terrible burnout, and what we have now: the sophistry, shallowness and will to power of the Post Modern age. But even this horror is coming to an end. We are at the beginning of a new era. Welcome to the Remodern Age. We integrate the fragmentation of the Moderns back into a holistic approach, art as a tool for communion and connection once again.

ARTICLE: The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 2: The Corcoran Collapse

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Corcoran Quality

“…rich, expansive and uniquely integrated academic curricula grounded in real-world experiences.”

A Quote from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Graduate Studies webpage 

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As prospective college students spend the summer looking forward to starting a new chapter in their lives, they need to understand the consequences of the decisions made about about schools and majors. Straight from the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Washington, DC, comes a cautionary tale about studying art at the college level.

In the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott wrote about the collapse of the Corcoran School of Art and Design and its associated gallery at this link: “The Corcoran Gallery is going away just as its mission is more important than ever.”

First founded as the Corcoran School of Art in 1890, the school was the result of the can-do, civic-minded energy typical of the Modern era. The school was the legacy of William Wilson Corcoran, a wealthy merchant and collector of American art. According to Kennicott, Corcoran held an idealistic view of putting an art school right in the middle of the nation’s capitol; his hope was:

“Art would guide politics, forge an American identity, spur patriotic sentiment, reform morals and instill a sense of excellence in the nation’s leaders.”

Poor Corcoran had more vision and imagination than the art world he supported so optimistically. In the twentieth century the arts were quickly co-opted by the global Utopian statists. The elitist art world has no interest in serving the national interest; there’s nothing less fashionable to these totalitarians than American identity, morals and excellence.

As a result, the establishment art world is toxic to almost everyone who is not hooked into it in some professional or virtue signalling capacity. Kennicott gets a twofer here, as he is being paid to write about it, and he gets to broadcast that he, too, shares in the  puzzlement the coastal aristocracy feels when the public roundly ignores the corrupted stylings of our contemporary cultural institutions:

“When it comes to art in America, there has been both a triumph and a failure of confidence: American artists are second to none, in a country where art has become marginal.”

“And the Corcoran’s collection, even those ‘nudities and crudities,’ is newly relevant to scholars studying art through the lens of social history, race, gender and identity.”

Does it ever occur to him that the academic dogma of viewing art through the lens of the grievance mongers is part of what CAUSED art to become marginalized? Of course not. It would be blasphemy against his religion of elitist omnipotence.

The Corcoran played an uncomfortable role in the culture wars on 1980s and 1990s, getting caught in the crossfire between the decadent upscale art market and politicians fuming about public funding of objectionable works. The institute underwent decades of financial hardship; their landmark location needed $130 million in repairs, a bill they could not pay. Finally the Corcoran was dissolved; in 2014 the school was adsorbed into George Washington University, and the $2 billion art collection was donated to the National Gallery of Art.

Another recent article captures the wailing and the gnashing of teeth now that the Corcoran is awkwardly grafted onto GWU, at this link: Multiple Facility Layoffs Reported at Corcoran School. It’s reported that only 9 of 19 facility will be retained. The students were already unhappy at the costs and complexities of their new university, and one cheery announcement about a visiting professor can’t undo the impact of a cut of half the staff.

The announcement was made by school director Sanjit Sethi. His website bio is a masterpiece of SJW inflected status jockeying and credential collecting, the sort of resume polishing dear to elites as a substitute for actual achievements and quality results. In his art, we are informed, he “deals with issues of nomadism, identity, the residue of labor, and memory.” It’s the kind of typical crypto-Marxist art babble that can make you wince. Residue of labor sounds like something you’d scrape off your shoe, not hang on your wall.

The students are inconsolable. They send tweets of lament like “Whatever was left of @CorcoranDC is gone now. @GWtweets has destroyed it,” and “Curious what non arts conscious people in the arts looks like? Take note of @GWtweets treatment of @CorcoranGW. How do you still not get it?”

The sad truth of it is, thanks to the excesses and abuses committed by the establishment art world, “non arts conscious people” is practically the entire population. I wonder if these mournful students are so upset because they recognize their own diminished prospects for future employment in arts education.

Once you reach an certain level of academic training, with its space space huddling, trigger word hysteria, and Post Modern relativistic bullshit, you really aren’t fit for any other kind of life.  The goal was become a cog in the indoctrination machine, where you could lord over the next generation of pod people, training them in the ways of sophistry and presumption, just like the “education” you got.

But with the ongoing challenges to colleges in general, and art schools specifically, the opportunities will be far fewer. Good luck in trying to actually build an art career using the ridiculous and off putting priorities, attitudes and practices of the Ivory Tower.

That stuff doesn’t  work in real life.

See my previous article in this series at this link: The Death of University Arts Programs, Part 1: Eric Fischl

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please see other articles here for more commentary on the state of the arts.

COMMENTARY: The Great Tate Bricks Controversy of 1976

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It’s a pile of something all right:

A vintage photo of Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII”

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“The sensation of these pieces was that they come above your ankles…”
-Carl Andre

“Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art.”

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I imagine the tour conversation depicted above probably went something like this:
CURATOR: “Behold, a three-dimensional manifestation of essential modular forms; a configuration of material purity actualized in an industrial aesthetic.”
PUBLIC: “But that’s just a stack of bricks on the floor.”
CURATOR: “You obviously do not understand art.”
In 1976 London there was some tabloid excitement about the Tate Museum’s tax-payer funded purchase and display of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII-a group of 120 bricks arranged in a rectangle.
The piece was originally part of an installation in New York in 1966. When no one bought the work at the time, the artist returned the bricks to the supplier. He had to obtain new bricks for the Tate. It reportedly cost the tax payers about $12,000.00, the equivalent of about $50,000.00 today.  A real bargain, considering the seven figure boondoggles the art market currently traffics in.
This piece has since been vandalized with paint, mocked in editorial cartoons, and met with general bewilderment. This hostility is seen as a badge of honor by elitist cultural types.
But the limitations of material as message render the piece itself as dull and inert. Without lots of art blather to support it, the piece is simply a stack of bricks out of its normal context, without any inherent interest of its own.
Museums have only gotten worse since then. The poor judgement and self-serving cronyism of the arts establishment has made the modern museum into a void of overpriced. repackaged Dada. Sadly, Equivalent VIII and the way it was handled  was a harbinger, not of the direction of art, but of the power games and corruption of our compromised cultural institutions.
Carl Andre went on to be put on trial for the murder of his wife, artist Ana Mendieta,  who somehow fell out of a 34 story window during a domestic dispute over art career jealousy. Andre was cleared on the charges due to reasonable doubt.
The piece itself is still providing a trip hazard at the Tate Modern Museum.
Trip
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“Art is the exclusion of the unnecessary.” – Carl Andre
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That’s a great perspective. Let’s start by excluding misplaced stacks of bricks cluttering up what could be useful museum space.