The idea that only artists can create and critique (understand) art (and thereby completely control its production) was part of the polemic artists used to escape from the confines of aristocratic and bourgeois patronage, and the evaluations of art historians and critics. But if the polemic's indeed true then art has no meaning
On Beauty Spots and Open SoresThere is Nothing Egalitarian About Beauty
The middle income conception of freedom only makes it trivial. The beautiful becomes pretty, it becomes nice, and loses both its capacity to be cruel and to be compassionate.
A basic premise of Market Culture is that everything contained within the present moment is obsolete and in need of replacement. To be viable, Market Culture cannot point towards any future other than an endless series of stopgap measures (a sales-based version of Trotsky's Perpetual Revolution). Politics is a retrograde activity when confronted by this immense devaluation of the present and future.
All political ideologies rest on the premise that the present moment (if managed properly) will attain a successful resolution in the future. For this to be true certain intangibles must be given greater import than any market value assigned to them; in fact all economic activity must be viewed as a controllable means to gain non-economic ends. Market Culture inverts this attitude towards intangibles; they are only of use as a means of generating sales and perpetuating economic activity; and they are evaluated in terms traditionally reserved to the realms of fashion and taste.
Bourgeois culture is dead. It was on its last legs at the turn of the century and died during WWI. Huge chunks of its rotting carcass persist, and television (a main site for the media/market culture which replaced it) uses many of its myths to fuel its economic engines. More than at any time in the past culture exists only within the media through which its propaganda is disseminated. A critique of television and all other mass media is a critique of contemporary culture itself -- not merely its side effects. An appalling thought, but none the less true.
For the mid-income the world is mediated spectacle. All events have equal value and their importance lies in how it makes the mid-income feel. They act from within an aestheticised sense of self: a cheapened form of last-gasp romanticism. My life is my art has become Life is public access television: and they really think they're displaying their individuality when they tell you all about how the latest installment on their interior TV is making them feel. Freedom, for them, is the right to have access to spectacle, the right to have something watch so that they can appreciate the delicate interplay of their own thoughts and emotions. This is as close to art and beauty as they come.
The mid-income think that participation in the world and their experience of spectacle has value because it gives rise to feelings that they can appreciate. It's as if their emotional lives were the consummate work of art with everything and everyone else merely their oil and canvas. This is nothing new, it's been recognized as a parasitic form of romanticism for well over one hundred years. But it's the only allowable response to inundation by mass media (mass culture).
The idea that only artists can create and critique (understand) art (and thereby completely control its production) was part of the polemic artists used to escape from the confines of aristocratic and bourgeois patronage, and the evaluations of art historians and critics. But if the polemic's indeed true then art has no meaning, no value to the non-artist and the production of art is a dead-end game. The fact that the mid-income use a similar claim, that their yammer about their feelings as they watch the spectacle of life unfold is what marks them as distinct from the crowd (which can only be true if each and every one them is the only real artist and everyone one else a dilettante) is an incredibly stupid act of alienation. We Have Far Too Much Prole Art Already
It is not ironic that fashion and taste effectively neutralized the bourgeois ideals of Culture when they were used to sell goods and services in the mass media. Fashion and taste are part of an aristocratic/traditionalist sensibility. Both are arbitrary in nature. A person is born with good taste and fashion sense: neither can be learned. An acquired taste is a bourgeois attempt to co-opt the traditionalist's language. At their best fashion and taste view history as series of cycles where there is no discernible reason for change other than shifts in style.
It is the exclusionary nature of taste and fashion which makes media access imperative in the market culture. Know the right movies, watch the right TV shows, be aware of the right products, or be labeled a dolt.
Calling something kitsch is a form of aesthetic compromise best left to mid-income connoisseurs who try to escape the consequences of their immersion in mass culture by appreciating it. They've chosen irony and condescension as way of disguising the admission that they live their lives surrounded by the second rate. It's an attempt to hide a real attachment to the banal, the shoddy and the sentimental.
In the 19th century the newly emerging urban white collar class was sufficiently 'educated' and had sufficient income that it felt the need to express its participation in bourgeois culture. Mass production supplied this class with cultural artifacts but not with bourgeois culture. The aesthetic appeal of any mass market product has always been only one of many marketing and production considerations: the real goal is to sell the product. The 'aesthetic agenda' of a mass market product is fulfilled as soon as the product is purchased. Pointing at certain mass market items and calling them kitsch is one of many ways of confronting the product's indifference to the 'culture' the product's presence helps to create. Why bother when it's not a culture in the first place! Mass market products are always designed to satisfy someone else's need for culture. Camp simply extends kitsch by mocking the process of evaluation. There is No Such Kingdom
When aesthetics is divorced from a sense of social class and the political it isn't purified: it's eviscerated. It becomes an occasion for the display of education and the faulty emulation of some dead person's good manners. Art exists as a reflection of power and wealth. The art of the past is maintained only if it manages to retain a connection with current centers of wealth and power, even if the most recent center of wealth is nothing more than the people who spend money at the museum gate and in the retail shops.
Aesthetics is no less contaminated by the real. Absolute Art is a European construct which is misapplied to art from all times and locations. The aesthetic of Absolute Art has a political and social agenda. For instance, it allows non-European, non-Christian artifacts to be wrenched from their religious and cultural contexts and placed in display cases with nary a thought about deconsecration. How many dead European Aristocrats do you see in museums? How many have been exhumed and stripped of their burial robes so that the Art of the fabric construction can be appreciated?
Must the original creative impulse be directed towards the production of Art in order to be real? It's the decision to call something Art and to market it and display it as such which is always a reflection of power and wealth.
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Last Updated: December 16, 1998