654. Deliverance (XIV)
Why is contemporary art so bad? In a way, the answer is simple: the main patron of the arts is the state—and whatever the state patronises, except war, ends up low quality. Ergo, contemporary art is very low quality; and the quality is lowest among those people—this cry has gone up for over fifty years by the way, I checked the literature—who complain that “the arts are under-funded”. Let alone the fact that even 130 years ago the notion that “the arts” needed funding would have puzzled a late Victorian gentleman with his tea and toast and The Times in his club. If you see an artistic work today, the odds are quite high that it has been produced by a state-subsidised hack; and if that is so it will promote LGBT issues, feminism, and black people—just as surely as in the USSR artists centred the proletariat in all their works.
However, all is not well on the residual commercial side either: if you probe the big auction houses—Christie’s and Sotherby’s and the like—you will find that the arts market is quite counterfeit. There are a great many fakes and frauds out there—and if the truth came out about the arts market, the arts world more generally, you would find that much is built on whipped cream; it is full of air. Of course, collectors and dealers and artists have an interest in not queering their pitch; so there is often an implicit collusion in this counterfeit world. “Man, are you telling me nothing in this lame-ass so-called civilisation is real?” Not the food, not the vaccines, not the media, not the religion, not the government—“Hell, most people don’t seem real today...” F for Fake, as Orson Welles might say…where is Diogenes the Cynic, a banker’s son with a concern for good coin, when you need him?
The type of person who becomes an artist today is low quality: they are often narcissists, as with Oscar Wilde, because the narcissist is a natural actor and works in illusions. This problem is most acute in writing, acting, and any activity that has an “individual component”—cellists are rarely narcissists, sopranos and conductors often are (prima donnas). Fake-ass girls all know your name…
This problem has come about because art has been bracketed as a separate exercise deemed “unreal” by modernity—being unreal it attracts unreal people, narcissists. Artistic techniques can be used for entertainment (commercialised distraction) or for a recondite activity called “art” (serious) that defines itself by its novelty and its ability to épater la bourgeoisie (or piss off the suburbs, they would say today).
Due to this division, people who want to be “artists” often strike an anti-capitalist and anti-normal pose because they do not want to be confused for an entertainer—hence they are self-consciously anti-commercial and ugly; and they often use their narcissism to be individualistic in such a way that makes them non-commercial and “authentic”. The masses, not unreasonably, prefer the superficial candy-floss prettiness found in a Disney film to the “weird shit” that emerges from art colleges.
Art is a remnant from a sacred science and can change reality as surely as technology—even if it is never seen. The self-conscious artists residually understand that art is sacred, hence their aversion to commercialism. However, since they also think what they do is not “real”, at most it is a novel exploration of the psyche, they instead turn to post-Marxist explanations to underpin the non-commercial nature of their project—hence, aided by state-funding and their narcissistic personalities, contemporary artists tend to the left. Tom Wolfe, in American nationalist mode, attributed the rise of modern architecture to bullying European architectural ideologues who forced their egalitarian “functional” architecture on the American middle class. Wolfe thought if Americans were less pussywhipped by snobby Europeans they could fight off this egalitarian colonialism—yet it comes from above, contemporary art is ugly because the system wants it that way.