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Ed Driscoll

‘Blood, Poo, Sacrilege, and Porn’

November 30th, 2012 - 12:51 pm

Now that we have your attention, the above headline (wait, where else do headlines go?) comes from an article on the Washington Post’s Slate Website*, which focuses on eight theories on “Why the Art World Is So Loathsome.” The source of our headline is number two on their list, appropriately enough:

Old-school ’70s punk shock tactics are so widespread in today’s art world that they have lost any resonance. As a result, twee paintings like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Constable’s Hay Wain now appear mesmerizing, mysterious, and wildly transgressive. And, as Camille Paglia brilliantly argues in her must-read new book, Glittering Images, this torrent of penises, elephant dung, and smut has not served the broader interests of art. By providing fuel for the Rush Limbaugh-ish prejudice that the art world is full of people who are shoving yams up their bums and doing horrid things to the Virgin Mary, art has, quoting Camille again, “allowed itself to be defined in the public eye as an arrogant, insular fraternity with frivolous tastes and debased standards.” As a result, the funding of school and civic arts programs has screeched to a halt and “American schoolchildren are paying the price for the art world’s delusional sense of entitlement.” Thanks a bunch, Karen Finley, Chris Ofili, Andres Serrano, Damien Hirst, and the rest of you naughty pranksters!

But the first sentence of the above paragraph — “Old-school ’70s punk shock tactics are so widespread in today’s art world that they have lost any resonance” — is actually chronologically off by about five decades, and gets the source of the art world’s postmodern/reprimitivized games playing exactly backwards. Don’t blame the ’70s punks**; blame René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, and Dada of the 1920s, which pioneered exactly the sorts of stunts you see in a Piss Christ or the Virgin Mary depicted in elephant dung, even down the reminders of bodily waste. Like Ikea’s furniture, today’s examples of modern “art” are just merely cheap knock-offs of much older forms of modernism.

As with modern architecture remaining forever trapped in the 1920s, and much of culture in general trapped in the 1970s, if we’re going to remain in what Mark Steyn calls “present-tense culture,” for the first decades of the 21st century, why must it remain so permanently freeze-dried?

* I had originally planned to insert a crack at the start of this post about how Slate allows the Post to further left than its main namesake publication ordinarily can. But I’m not sure if there’s any territory further to the left remaining for the Post to go, post-JournoList. And speaking of both freeze-dried culture and the Washington Post’s leftward lurch, on PJM’s homepage, Bob Owens reminds us for the remarkably undiversified Post editorial board, it’s 1963 — and it always will be.

** Who could shock by being quite conservative — and occasionally still are.

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