I see Madonna has a new tour ongoing, in which she wears S&M gear, feigns being Christ on the cross, and whips men wearing horsey gear.
Wanna dunk a huge crucifix upside down in dung & urine? Sorry, it’s been done. How ’bout you make an image of the Virgin Mary out of shit? That’ll scare the rubes. That’s been done too? Hmmmm… Okay. How ’bout pictures of people with whips up their asses. (NSFW). Sorry, that’s been done too? Hmmm… this is getting hard.
Okay, I got it. We’ll have a film of some gay guy getting slammed by his buddy, and while that’s going on, the wide receiver in this little game of catch will sing the Star Spangled Banner as a brilliant, artistic slam on President Bush. Oh, sorry, forgot. That’s been done too. Um, okay, how ’bout we have sex with holy communion, pay prostitutes to stamp on the rosary beads, and dare God to strike us down? Now that will be a work of art, right? Sadly, it’s been done. A long time ago. It’s not new.
The idea that art is only worthy if it transgresses some perceived social norm is something the elites have foisted on us for a long time.
Leftist critical theory – specifically Marcuse and Gramsci – tells us we need to champion the outlaw over the cop, the prostitute over the priest, the profane over the reverent. In this way the existing social order may be destroyed, and some new Rousseauian Natural Man utopia created. Thing is, this wasn’t new to leftism, leftism was instead the embodiment of a lot of older bad thinking by half bright drunks and malcontents. Prior levelers are often called crypto-marxists, but if you really dig around, you discover that these early communists – dating back to around the 12th century AD or earlier – were basically either lunatics, malcontents, con-men, or crazed millenarians. Modern Marxism just put an industrial age glow on the whole anti-civilizational philosophy of the diggers and levellers and others of their ilk.
As a result, the triumph of leftism in our schools and other social institutions has resulted in an attempt to undermine what have long been believed to be objective standards of beauty and truth in representation, in the mimetic process by which art describes something in the real world. The turning of art’s purposes to the destruction of civilization, first by destroying the standards that governed art, then by attacking social norms and the fabric of society itself, has coincided with a sharp decline in interest in fine art.
The declining audience for contemporary art (along with America’s surprising adherence to religious faith in one form or another) tells you that we ordinary joes have pretty much stopped buying the whole “artist as transgressive rebel” routine. Sure, the black turtleneck crowd pretends to buy it (I hope they are only pretending – God, can they be that stupid) but nobody else even feigns interest in high art, except for the old classics which use an artistic vernacular still popular and current in the public’s collective mind. It is not a shock to me that Van Gogh and Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci and the Impressionists are massively popular while most current artists starve; their stuff isn’t loved because it doesn’t use an intelligible language. While earlier art can be classified by the manner it which it symbolizes reality – a language of semiotics – current art is an unintelligible babble, the equivalent of a one year-old’s gutural burbling. It’s not good because there isn’t any discourse in it, just the venting of immature emotional outbursts using the visual equivalent of grunts and screams. The artists not only don’t know the older language of art (and hence can’t even play off of it effectively) but they lack the ability to conform their outbursts to that language. It’s just not shocking any more to see the equivalent of a primal howl on canvas or in film or sculpture, and in fact, it’s kind of lame. When nothing is sacred, when there are no objective (and subjectively enforced) standards, the profane itself lacks meaning, and the innovative itself cannot appear innovative because there is no norm against which to measure the artist’s creativity.
The only people who don’t get this, seemingly, are the artists. Maybe the black turtleneck crowd has its reasons for cheering on the art-eests – leftist theory, being members of a club nobody else is members of, better quality cheese at gallery openings than at NASCAR events, whatever. But none of the rest of us have any reason to cheer. Granted, life isn’t a popularity contest. But when *everybody* hates you except for a couple clove cigarette smoking jackasses who tell you they suffer from ennui, then perhaps it’s time to stop and question your direction in life.
The sad thing is for a lot of people, when this smut – I have nothing against smut per se but let’s call so-called art what it is, smut – gets passed off as high culture, the ordinary people have no reason to give notice to any art. The classics are downed by the elites as passe, while the ordinary folk look at modern art extolled by the elites, and see no merit it in it. Art thus winds up a writeoff. They lose interest in looking for anything beautiful or fine in life. The ability to desire the extraordinary and the transcendant is taken away from them. The artists, really, have a lot to answer for.
The terrible irony here is that artsy-fartsy types are only to glad to go around calling all the rest of us hypocrites and unschooled ignoramuses who wouldn’t know a Rubens if it bit us in our ample butts. Yet at the heart of this art-scorn is the artists’ (and elite’s) foolish pursuit of gutter fancies as high art. Time was, shit went into an outhouse or a chamber pot. Feces were something you buried, or threw out. Now crap is considered high culture.
I think this explains why our museums are not crowded places. Except when old classics go on display.
Madonna isn’t to blame here. She’s a symptom of it. I look at her – she is a magnificent performer – and wonder what she might have done if she wasn’t caught up in the nihilists’ world view.
[Update: On the other hand, Emperor Misha, if you dare read him, has an idea for some performance art that actually would be transgressive with respect to both elitist notions of art and established conservative religion, which would surely generate, um, energetic reactions from the target audience. Nice doggie, Misha. Nice doggie.]
[Update: Our friend Lastango at Bill Quick’s place is similarly inspired. Yes, Lastango – that performance would be one for the ages. Probably her last, but pretty epic.]