Artless by Michael Lind

In his article in The Smart Set, Michael Lind writes about how Millennials are disinterested in the fine arts:

“…Trends in American painting ever since the plate paintings of Julian Schnabel are not a big subject of debate among Millenials. As far as I can tell, very few college-educated people under the age of 50 pay any attention to the old fine arts at all….”

I’m not sure Schnabel’s paintings represent a turning point, but, for all their aggression, they seemed calculated and safe.  Schnabel’s generation was the first to come of age after the tenets of modern art became triumphant dogma.   The artists of Schnabel’s generation weren’t rebelling against the Academy–far from it–but were the approved products of it. The ascendancy of the ’80’s generation marked the end of true outsider art, and the victory of the state-funded Academy.

Since the ’80’s, state-funded fine art is no longer a trend but an established, monolithic fact that defines the art world. Entrenched in the Academy, state-sponsored modern art has lost its mojo.  Modern art trends that seemed exciting, vibrant, and healthy through the ’70’s have become domesticated.   The calculations artists like Schnabel made back then seem quaint and old fashioned today.  Then it seemed possible to see lines of growth and evolution.  Today that’s all gone.  Today’s academy is only interested in branding and marketing.

Lind describes it this way:

“Many of the Arts Formerly Known as Fine seem to have lost even a small paying constituency among rich people, and live a grant-to-mouth existence. In the old days, bohemian painters lived in garrets and tried to interest gallery owners in their work. Their modern heirs — at least the ones fortunate to have university jobs — can teach classes and apply for grants from benevolent foundations, while creating works of art that nobody may want to buy. Born in bohemia, many aging arts have turned universities into their nursing homes.”

I realized the truth of Lind’s position when I was in art school. Most of the professors–but by no means all–were timid and conservative, careful to stay within the confines of established modern art dogmas. Few cared about the history of art or the contemporary issues that inflamed me and my fellow students.  They were like government workers everywhere–desperate to keep their jobs.

But who am I to judge? The thing that bothered me most, the thing that made me swear to never take a job in the Academy, was the lack of drive and ambition among my professors.  Very few of them produced much art. That spoke volumes to me.

Lind ends his article with a discussion about the influence the rich have on the art world. Lind maintains that the ‘novelty’ art (Lind is referring to artists like Warhol) produced for the rich s different than that produced for the state. I doubt if that was ever true and it certainly isn’t true today.  The contemporary art world is driven by state-sponsored art–which nobody cares about.

He concludes by saying the art world is all about money, money, money.  I, for one, am shocked.

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