the myth is not invulnerable

Aesthetics and economics. As with the farmer, so it generally went with the small businessperson: dealer, salesman, contractor,and small merchant. Their income may be considered handsome when compared to past standards, but they are, collectively, a group that has to hustle. Accordingly, the arts are not for them. The famous George Babbitt from Sinclair Lewis, who in secret moments hungered for something with slightly more magic, knew in the end, that he had to concentrate his thoughts on the real estate business. Our competitive economy still imposes these requirements.

Jan van Goyen had to be a tulip trader to support his painting. H.L Mencken: the best and clearest thinking of the word is done and the finest art is produced, not by men who are hungry, ragged and harassed, but by men who are well-fed, warm, and easy in mind. It is the artist’s first duty to his art to achieve that tranquility for himself. Image:

Were ours still an economy of insecure small producers, we would have therein a sufficient explanation for the alienation of art from economic life. The insecurity of such a society is pre-emptive; the aesthetic response will only be strong where it is somehow protected from the dominant economic motivation.

But our modern economic society, the market economy and post-industrial age, does not conform to the classic competitive model. The centerpiece of the post-modern capitalist economy is the large corporation. It is an institution which is arranged to provide many with respectable and often secure incomes. Through control of prices, oligopoly practices, lobbying, and the effective management of consumer tastes, the modern corporation has greatly eliminated or much reduced the main sources of insecurity that plagued the competitive firm, especially if technological innovation does not catch it unaware. As a result, earnings are surprisingly reliable and profitability is the norm.

—There are of course works by Duchamp that “science” cannot explain. Étant Donnés, a surreal parody of realistic painting, stands outside Duchamp’s laboratory style, as do the readymades, which fall so far inside it that they tumble out the bottom.—Read More:

Hence, modern executives have a security of income far greater than say there grandparents had. The often benign and protective character of government employment is well known for protecting the unsuccessful. It can be said that the inadequate can be sidetracked with appropriate ceremony. But corporations have their own versions of featherbedding. Accordingly, the remunerative life provided by corporations should be hospitable to the arts, and for the good of the economy it must so become. The myth of an insecure, tough, competitive enterprise has outlasted the reality. To suppose that the requirements of a business career are secondary, or supplementary , to artistic or cultural interests or to a means of supporting them are still secondary, or supplementary.

—Francis Bacon
Version No. 2 of Lying Figure
$15,416,000—Kuspit:High prices seem to mean high reputation, but I am suggesting they create high reputation. The high prices paid for de Kooning and Pollock confirm that they are long-distance art-historical runners rather than sprinters who fall by the historical wayside.
In the last analysis — indeed, beyond any analysis — money makes them major artists, on the order of Leonardo and Michelangelo — nobody dares question their greatness, their establishment importance — rather than minor artists, like, for example, Bouguereau and Meissonier, who have a certain passing place of interest to period historians. No critical historian dares argue that de Kooning and Pollock may someday be regarded the way Bouguereau and Meissonier are today, should their Abstract Expressionist style come to be regarded as artistically inauthentic and insignificant, which is what happened to Bouguereau and Meissonier once Fauvism and Cubism came along, superseding them in significance and topicality. Read More:

Almost a hundred years ago, with the highly interested assistance of a Joseph Duveen, the great tycoons proved by their art collections that they were not mere moneygrubbers.For a Henry Clay Frick or J. Pierpont Morgan,  a few million dollars invested in Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Rembrandt, or Vermeer showed, as nothing else that the investor was identified with the secure and aristocratic leisured classes from the Renaissance on. Today’s organization men seem to prove the opposite; the Deitcher’s or Geffens in their quantification of the spirit are more aligned with the market values and the hard bitten entrepreneurship, but not really the other interests of the Andrew Mellon types.

Art is still the handmaiden of economics. There is still a near total primacy of economic motivation, a “what the people want” and a suspicion on what unduly taxes the imagination. It is peculiar that in the days of the cold war, what the Communists characterized as bourgeois degeneracy , the down to earth American conservative condemned as Communist-inspired. Those paradigms still exist; that inability to reconcile challenging art with pre-emptive pecuniary motivation.

To the extent that the business firm still insists on the primacy and inviolability of economic goals, it excludes and alienates the artist and narrows the aesthetic response normal to a society of secure well-being. A competitive society is almost always at odds with the artist; the penchant for uncontrolled development of economic activity is justified not only on grounds of efficiency, but as a moral good, and all its pathologies are defended by the competitive ideology. Throw in advertising, which is a jarring alternative that does little to contribute to beauty, we have a major force which alienates the artistic spirit from industry and we can see where the attempted marriage went to with Warhol and then posers lie Koons and Hirst.

Marcel Duch

was reflecting, emphatically, the preference for commonplace or banal design as a mirror of the aesthetic response of popular taste; but the businessperson should not really be blamed for lowering aesthetic response: when the Court and a few cultivated Parisians provided the principle market fro French craftsmen, the standard of artistic excellence could be high. That standard would clearly have fallen if France had suddenly become a prosperous, egalitarian democracy.

Business by nature, a little behind, lagging changes in aesthetic response due to a focus on popular taste and this is only handicapped by such conventions as planned obsolescence, this need to offset excessive durability and the inhibiting effects of this on demand which has an exhausting effect on artistic resources. In the past good design lasted a long time, and this is one reason it was so good.


(see link at end)…Art’s willingness, even eagerness to be absorbed by money — to estheticize money, as it were — suggests that art, like every other enterprise, from the cultural to the technological (and culture has become an extension and even mode of technological practice in many quarters) is a way of making and worshipping money — a way of affirming capitalism. Indeed, it is a way of signaling the triumph of capitalism over socialism, that is, the unimpeded pursuit of money and profit at the cost of the common human good that might be achieved by the re-distribution of capitalist-generated wealth.

Capitalism moves in where Communism has failed — however much both let down human beings, if in different ways — as the opening of art auction houses in ex-Communist countries suggests. They are in effect beachheads of capitalism, much the way the priests who accompanied the conquistadors were beachheads of Christianity. Read More:

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