Poll of a Billion Monkeys

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I completely agree. Modern liberalism is obsessed with turning everything else into modern liberalism. To the death and detriment of everything else.

By Photo: Whitney Museum
Do more and more liberals find the emotions unleashed by the artsI mean all of the arts, from poetry to painting to dancesomething of an embarrassment? Are the liberal-spirited people who support a rational public policya social safety net, consistency and efficiency in foreign affairs, steps to reverse global warmingreluctant to embrace art’s celebration of unfettered metaphor and mystery and magic? If you had asked me ten years ago, I would have said the answer was no. Now I am inclined to say the opposite. What is certain is that in our data- and metrics-obsessed era the imaginative ground without which art cannot exist is losing ground. Instead of art-as-art we have art as a comrade-in-arms to some more supposedly stable or substantial or readily comprehensible aspect of our world. Now art is always hyphenated. We have art-and-society, art-and-money, art-and-education, art-and-tourism, art-and-politics, art-and-fun. Art itself, with its ardor, its emotionalism, and its unabashed assertion of the imagination, has become an outlier, its tendency to celebrate a purposeful purposelessness found to be intimidating, if not downright frightening.

The erosion of art’s imaginative ground, often blamed on demagogues of the left and the right, is taking place in the very heart of the liberal, educated, cultivated audiencethe audience that arts professionals always imagined they could count on. The whole question is so painful and so difficult that I have frankly hesitated to tackle it. It is relatively easy to point to the deformations of art at the hands of politically correct left-wingers and cheap-shot moralists on the right, as the late Robert Hughes did in the fast-paced, witty series of lectures that he published as Culture of Complaint in 1993. It is far more difficult to explain why people who pride themselves on their carefully reasoned view of the world want to argue that art is not a value in and of itself, but rather a vehicle or a medium or a vessel through which some other human value or values are expressed. That these thoughts are often voiced indirectly makes them no less significant. Indeed, such thoughts may be all the more significant because they are being expressed by critics and scholars who would deny that they are in any way discomfited by the unique powers of the arts. An illiberal view of art is gaining ground, even among the liberal audience. This is one of the essential if largely hidden factors that is undermining faith in our museums, our libraries, our publishing houses, our concert halls, symphony orchestras, and theater and dance troupes.

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