GREAT QUESTION: Does Art Matter Anymore?

Published on August 4, 2014

Above: “Africa’s Black Death” by Doug Giles, buy the print here.

Does real art have a place in our society anymore? Mark Tapson digs into the breakdown of art in modern society. Check it out…

This past spring, a nude performance artist made a minor media stir by publicly pushing paint-and-ink-filled eggs out of her vagina onto a canvas to make a profound statement—okay, perhaps not so much profound as profoundly messy. Around the same time, Lady Gaga, the music industry’s most self-consciously artsy star, incorporated a vomit performance artist into her show (it’s even more repulsive than it sounds). “That performance,” says Lady Gaga, “was art in its purest form.”

I’m not sure what “art in its purest form” means, but was it even art at all? Have we so degraded the definition of art that it includes whatever we decide to spew publicly from bodily orifices? As a critic for The Guardian correctly notes, much of the modern tradition of performance art “is an embarrassing revelation of the art world’s distance from real aesthetic values or real human life.”

And that’s the problem. Such acts of disgusting fetishism, desperate self-promotion, and calculated shock value taint the endeavor of art itself as it has been understood around the world for many centuries. They make it difficult for the average person-on-the-street to understand, respect, and value art. They make it hard to remember that there was a time when creating art involved serious training, skill, and vision, and that it isn’t just about attention-seekers acting on their most idiotic or disturbed impulses.

In the past, creating art was the domain of a trained few, employed and appreciated by the moneyed elite. But with the rise of capitalism, gradual breakdown of the class structure, and the proliferation of museums, cheap reproductions, and art education, pretty much anyone could enjoy art. Eventually, access to affordable materials meant that anyone could also attempt to produce art. In time, this democratization downgraded our culture’s definition of art to mere personal expression, as if anything anyone does to express himself or herself rises to the level of art as long as a pretentious enough justification can be fashioned for it.

Read more: Acculturated

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