Camille Paglia: How Capitalism Can Save Art – WSJ.com
October 22, 2012 22 Comments
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Camille Paglia. She’s one of my favorite commentators on all sorts of things from sex to art to design. To be honest, I often disagree with her, which is not surprising since she is a liberal libertarian but, what I love is that she thinks, and writes, what she thinks, fearlessly. Agree or not, she always makes a case for what she thinks.
In this case where she takes on the vapidness of contemporary visual arts, I’m pretty much inclined to agree with her. But read her for yourselves.
Does art have a future? Performance genres like opera, theater, music and dance are thriving all over the world, but the visual arts have been in slow decline for nearly 40 years. No major figure of profound influence has emerged in painting or sculpture since the waning of Pop Art and the birth of Minimalism in the early 1970s.
Yet work of bold originality and stunning beauty continues to be done in architecture, a frankly commercial field. Outstanding examples are Frank Gehry‘s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain, Rem Koolhaas‘s CCTV headquarters in Beijing and Zaha Hadid‘s London Aquatic Center for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
What has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts? Two major causes can be identified, one relating to an expansion of form and the other to a contraction of ideology.
Painting was the prestige genre in the fine arts from the Renaissance on. But painting was dethroned by the brash multimedia revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Permanence faded as a goal of art-making.
But there is a larger question: What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it? Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber. The art world, like humanities faculties, suffers from a monolithic political orthodoxy—an upper-middle-class liberalism far from the fiery antiestablishment leftism of the 1960s. (I am speaking as a libertarian Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.)
For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs.
Creativity is in fact flourishing untrammeled in the applied arts, above all industrial design. Over the past 20 years, I have noticed that the most flexible, dynamic, inquisitive minds among my students have been industrial design majors. Industrial designers are bracingly free of ideology and cant. The industrial designer is trained to be a clear-eyed observer of the commercial world—which, like it or not, is modern reality.
Capitalism has its weaknesses.[…]
Young people today are avidly immersed in this hyper-technological environment, where their primary aesthetic experiences are derived from beautifully engineered industrial design. Personalized hand-held devices are their letters, diaries, telephones and newspapers, as well as their round-the-clock conduits for music, videos and movies. But there is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone, as there is to great works of art.
Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored or suppressed.
Thus young artists have been betrayed and stunted by their elders before their careers have even begun. Is it any wonder that our fine arts have become a wasteland?
—Ms. Paglia is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her sixth book, “Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars,” will be published Oct. 16 by Pantheon.
A version of this article appeared October 6, 2012, on page C3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How Capitalism Can Save Art.
Read the entire article, I’d be very interested in what you think. Camille Paglia: How Capitalism Can Save Art – WSJ.com.
- Reader’s Corner: Camille Paglia (chrisbarsanti.net)
- Quotation of the day: Camile Paglia on capitalism (aei-ideas.org)
- Camille Paglia (1947) (womentransformingfemininity.com)
- Camile Paglia: I’m Addicted To “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” (queerty.com)