Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Art vs. Reason


I’m going to rant about this article for a while. If you want to skimp the lengthy discussion, the short version of what I’m going to say is: Elites good. Bagge bad. Art good. Libertarians bad. Rousseau smash.

Long Version:

So this article and several things that people are bringing up, seems to get to a basic complaint that is often made about populists vs the elites. Which is basically that “the elite is in cahoots, we can’t trust them to monitor themselves.” and devolves rather easily into pulling out of context examples, and saying this shows how much that elite lacks basic common sense or fairness. We’ve all seen it. People who don’t trust that science has real discussion and self criticism, and claim evolution is just a theory. That the two parties simply work to hold a monopoly on power and serve special interests. That business leaders are dominating legislation to earn money and organize monopolies in pricing. For all these elites, and the artistic community as well, we have to trust that they compete with and criticize themselves (few ordinary members of the public have the time to really monitor scientific debates, committee assignments in Congress, SEC filings, and art and literary reviews and magazines). This trust is essential to the system, and it’s rather easy for people to make demagogic hay out of claiming “the emperor has no clothes”.

Do people agree with this? I’m sure everyone reading this post has seen examples of people claiming they represent pop culture or greater masses and claiming some elite that we are a part of is some monolithic self-congratulating body that is alien from the public interest. How are the worst and most ignorant screeds against the elites you respect any worse than this particular comic?

So this is the viewpoint I start out from. I believe implicitly that the “art community” (however it is defined, which Bagge certainly hasn’t made specific) has every interest in shooting down crappy and lazy work and promoting merit in its works and rising authors. I’m willing to be proven otherwise, but just like Evangelists complaining about biologists, I’d need to see better examples than provided so out of context as here.

You readers probably know I’m not the biggest fan of many things that would fall under broad categories of “art”. I don’t listen to music, I don’t go to art galleries a lot, etc. My few experiences with “the elite art community” have been due to visiting my aunt or friends involved in their communities. Exhibits in old breweries or creative spaces under the Brooklyn Bridge. And there’s been a lot of pieces I didn’t understand or appreciate, but its pretty obvious the work that went into them, and these aren’t just whatever is easiest for a self-indulged person to make up. Has anyone who agrees with this comic been to many arthouses or avant garde displays themselves, and have you found the modern art community is just that bad?

Besides just his ranting against the artistic elite, the comic has several other contradictions and absurd points.
- There’s too much unaccountable art, but the NEA funds only safe and boring art. Um, what exactly does he think the NEA should do there? Seems to say it fails in swings of both directions.
- He makes fun of advocates that defend all art based on “slipper slope” that Congress wouldn’t know where to stop judging, but shows a perfectly good example of a Congressman lumping in what he considers bad art (piss Christ) and good art (Maplethorpe) and claims this is a horrible failure on behalf of Congress.
- Like any argument in Reason magazine, he eventually comes to the conclusion that we will be saved by: the free market! And says the modern art community completely ignores commercial art, although there’s plenty of crossover between the artistic and commercial communities here. Not to mention that the same political groups that harangue “modern art” are also the most paranoid about Hollywood culture and think it degrades the public (ie, Jesse Helms). Congress is unlikely to cut the NEA if it means ceding moral authority for America’s art to Hollywood.
- Yeah, and what the heck was that with making fun of Shakespeare? Just seemed to come out of nowhere.

Anyway, lastly I ask anyone to feel that commercial art doesn’t get enough respect to check out the American Museum of the Moving Image. http://www.ammi.org/site/site.asp Not only do they have many exhibits celebrating the role of movies and television in our culture, but they’ve done several really cool exhibits on videogames and where they brought us. The hypnotic REZ, the creativity of video game engine art like Red vs Blue, and the have collected several 50’s and 60’s era arcade machines and done work on how these have affected our culture. This art is neither inscrutably elitist nor dismissive of pop culture. But Reason definitely has an ax to grind here regarding promoting commericialism.


Post a Comment

<< Home