Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bad Art Gets Worse

SUPPOSE YOU HEAR ABOUT some particularly noxious art exhibit — you know the kind — that really offends you, because it either mocks religion, is perverted, supports those who want to destroy the nation, or is just extremely ugly. Or, more likely, all of these together.

So do you take an action against this exhibit, by writing angry letters to politicians, the media, and art galleries, posting articles on the Internet, and otherwise getting the word out about this latest abomination?

No, you shouldn't.

See the article, Painting Money: The Ugly Business of Contemporary Art, over at Catholic Culture.
In the end, protest proved an unwitting accessory to the exhibition's deliberate incitement to publicity, the lever that raises the market value of artists on display. Publicity is crucial to an art bubble that subsists on reportage and to collectors, individual and institutional, who would write art history ahead of time....

Public demonstration against offensive art feels good. Someone has to do it, right? No, not when it facilitates realities that undermine Judeo-Christian culture and cultivation itself.
Remember the old public relations motto: any publicity is good publicity.

The same principle is at work with other sectors of our culture, especially the media: think of the recent anti-Christian books, films, and television programs that received tremendous free publicity from Christian groups. Creating controversy boosts publicity, and therefore, sales. The same tactic works for those promoting political or social agendas.

What needs to be done instead is to fight back, but not in a way that generates publicity for the offending art. The highest levels of the fine arts world is an unregulated commodities market, with museum trustees having a vested interest in the art that they exhibit. These sellers of the fine arts require publicity to create value in their assets; and by giving them free publicity (thereby enriching them) we encourage the arts world to do more of the same. The author of the above-quoted article instead seeks legal challenges to the tax-exempt status and public subsidies of museums.

Modern art has always been bad, but there seems to be no lower limit to how far down it can go: decadence leads to outrage, which leads to higher art prices. This is a positive-feedback loop, which forces modern art even farther into the depths. That this downward spiral is fueled by greed on the part of the art traders, and by hatred on the part of the artists, shows that this is basically a moral problem.

The modern art world exists deep inside of Plato's cave: auction prices and social propaganda are purely man-made and have little or no relationship with reality, and instead are based on the manipulation of emotion. Modern art has little or no intrinsic worth, and like so many other financial assets, investors often buy it purely on speculation, hoping to sell it for large profit. The artworks themselves appear to be products of nihilism: and in the absence of truth, or goodness, or beauty, the only things left are power, or political upheaval, or destruction. Famously, the way out of Plato's cave is liberation, conversion, and the ascent of the soul, which of course is a spiritual path. Since the bad art problem is a moral problem, the solution will be a spiritual solution.

Traditionally, all things made are art, and good art is virtuous art: that is, things made with a happy confluence of talent, learning, and practice. Even better art is in harmony with truth, goodness, and beauty, and the very best gives praise, honor, and glory to God.

Good art must drive out the bad, and this requires evangelism, as well as marginalizing art which is bad.

Until recently, the Church was the greatest patron of the arts, but she has accepted ugly and iconoclastic modernism for the past number of decades, to the detriment to souls. This must change.


  1. I disagree strongly with your blanket viewpoint of "modern" art as this repsonse to your entry indicates.

    Agree that we need to ignore said bad art, and that the Church needs to reestablish its influence in culture through the arts and in the arts. Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog; I hope my response didn't seem too harsh. You just happened to hit upon a subject I'm very passionate about!

  3. No problem! I enjoyed your comments.

    The "meeting of the minds", and bouncing ideas around is one of the joys of the Internet.

    Next time, I hope to be better reasoned and use more precise wording.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Great post!

    You might be interested in the comments I left on this subject over at TAE.