I have read Camille Paglia since the late 1980's, when a fellow writer suggested her first published collection, and, though at the time my political views were somewhat different than they are now,I found her both terribly interesting and often wrong. Since then I have followed her off and on, and, as she has moved in and out of conservative and libertarian circles as their on again, off again darling, pet reformed liberal, favorite lesbian (when Tammy Bruce isn't available), devil's advocate and sometime enfant terrible -- the last often preceding an ejection from the fold, at least for a time -- and I have continued to find her exactly the same, amusing, interesting, and still quite often wrong.
So, I was not surprised to find much of interest in her recent Wall Street Journal article
, a few points with which I agree, even a few I have made myself in the past, a number of small points of disagreement (her choice of artists and architects to praise, for example1
, not to mention her inability to get over an inexplicable respect for Warhol2
) and a central premise completely off the mark.
I know I am given to long, drawn out discussions, but let me make this one short and sweet. I am used to all sorts of nonsensical claims being made about the move of manual trades and industry overseas, but the loss of fine arts is a new one for me. Considering how many of the highlights of the fine arts in England and Holland came from mercantile and aristocratic classes with no more contact with manual trades than our own technophiles this is just nonsense. And it is doubly absurd, as Ms. Paglia touches on the real cause in her own essay, at least indirectly.
Painting is dying because it is not being taught, or more precisely because it is being taught by those who destroyed traditional painting. Though she may elevate Rothko and Pollock, the movement they inaugurated (and which was born long before them to be fair), destroyed painting. By removing any connection between the painting and the subject the logical endpoint was the monochrome canvas, or the many layers of multicolor globs, perhaps with applied bits of debris. And when students are taught that such is the work of the best and brightest, is it any wonder they are not likely to put in the effort to become the next Rembrandt or Vermeer, when they can just trickle paint and glue on baby doll parts and get NEA grants for life? Or, even better, ignore paining, go into video or photography and not even have to bother? It is not that the manual trades left, it is that we have degraded art, so that no one in their right mind would put in the effort, as no one is left to appreciate the effort it takes to become a true master.
If you need evidence, look at art schools where once students vied with one another to impress their masters with more and better reproductions of reality, with more clever techniques, with more interesting stylistic choices, with well chosen subjects and so on. Now they compete with faux-Matisse prints and mock-Minimalist canvases of differing shades of gray. Is it likely that such art schools will produce great painters? Especially when painting is a discipline which takes long practice and dedication to master? I don't think so.
So, rather than fighting to keep the mills in New Bedford and Durham to save the arts, I think we would do better to try to foster a bit of respect for the arts in our schools. (And eliminate government sponsorship of the dreck that today passes for art3
.) To do so would do much more than some sort of protectionism for Art's sake.
1. I know art is subjective, but certain movements in art tended to inspire a decline in standards, and a few of those Paglia selected seem to be more a part of the problem than exemplars of the craft at its best. Note also, while one may work with great passion and verve, it does not mean that the product of one's efforts will be worthy of praise.
2. Warhol may have been clever in pointing out the commercial nature of art and in cutting through the hypocritical posturing of some of his contemporaries, but he was also part of the same trend of denigrating art and lowering standards that was taking place throughout his lifetime. So, while he seemed to be mocking many of those trends, he also helped to advance them, or at least rush along their end results.
3. See my posts "Patronage Versus Choice
", "My Censorship Is Your Discretion
", "Time to End the NEA
", "The Problem of Pornography
" and "Canada, Subsidies, The Free Market and Intractible Reality
". See also "Why I Won't Be Contributing to Wikipedia
", especially footnote 1 which reads:
It is interesting to view those fundraising claims in light of the
proliferation of cable channels. I recall many times hearing PBS claim
that without voluntary donations (and government subsidies) there would
be no broadcasts of cooking shows, travel programs, home improvement
shows, foreign programming and so on. However, as The Cooking Channel,
Food Network, Travel Network, Home and Garden, BBC America, IFC and a
host of other channels now turn a profit specializing in just one of
those topics each, it shows how little truth there was to that claim. Of
course, in the era of heavily limited broadcast bandwidth, and
stringent government control of broadcasting (including PSA
requirements, the fairness doctrine, and many other limits on content),
it probably would have been difficult to create such channels, but in
part that was also because such channels would have been in competition
with the subsidized government channels. (Not to mention that PBS
channels used up several of those very scarce broadcast channels, making
the remaining channels even more expensive and difficult to obtain.) I
wrote on this before in my essay "The Debt Ceiling".
I know I generally avoid current events, and that includes commenting on current articles. However, I stumbled across this article and it was both so interesting and so wrong I couldn't help myself.