Donald Frazell has allowed me to publish his article on art, culture and America. I’ll publish it in several posts though as it’s more lengthy than a usual post.
Donald is opinionated and happy to criticize the establishment, but they’re attributes that should be encouraged.
Imperial Clothing by Donald Frazell
Marketing The Cult of Individualism
This basically sums up the state of “Art” in America. Why? Because as with the Romans and British before us, America is a place of commerce, engineers and industry. We are a practical people, with one great genius. Selling a product. Coca Cola, Chevrolet, or the NFL, our marketing leads the world. It takes what it can use, from evangelism in religion, to music from our ethnic populations, to modernism for advertising; business brings to the world what it can convince them they need.
How has this affected Art in our country? From a weak history in visual arts, we institutionalized Art in academia. Fine Arts catered to the wealthy, bringing them the sense of luxury they required. Our crafts were democratized, simplified forms from countries of cultural birth, gaining a simple grace and sturdiness. On the streets and countryside, the arts of common people blended, taking from their neighbors what they could use, adapted to new environments, and flourished. Music, dance, furniture, housing, and house ware all grew and took on new character. The Fine Arts continued to emulate Europe, and also weak copies of arts from Asia. Only in the new fields of film and photography did we create new forms, ones that influenced the rest of the world. With our emergence as a superpower after WWII we convinced ourselves of our superiority, that our culture, and therefore our Art, must lead the world.
We created truly great collecting institutions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and private collections from the Frick in New York City, to the later Norton Simon in Los Angeles. In the post war era, every city wanted a Guggenheim to promote its greatness, and, of course, market for business and tourism. We went on a building binge, architects from around the globe vying for commissions to create the newest edifice proclaiming civic pride, and individual immortality. Museums, as with NFL stadiums, are selling their naming to the highest bidder, ensuring commercial sales in the sports venues, and personal immortality in all the Arts. For Art is believed to be eternal. Marketing genius.
What to put in this exploding acreage of empty wall space? Most of the great Art of the world had already been bought, or stolen. From the collections of Morozov and the Steins, to the Elgin Marbles of empire, and grave robbers from around the world. As artists like Van Gogh and Matisse became known, celebrity reigned with the explosion of media during the twentieth century. A vast new source of material became available, as investment, and speculation, making even the worst study or sketch of “name” artists valuable. New “schools” vied for attention to be documented, promoted, and sold. A new industry was born. The old Academy had been destroyed by the Post Impressionists. Now, everything was fair game, no standards to be created, fought against, or reformed.
Mega shows blossomed in the 1970s, after the success of the King Tut traveling exhibit, just as the supply of new creative arts was drying up. Hype, and attendance money, ruled the day. Cézannes apple had been sliced into such small slivers, there was no substance left to Modern Art. Pop, disposable art born of media, and psychological fetishes took over. Horrible shows proliferated. Ads promoting the glories of Picasso raged at many Museums, based around one quality piece to be reproduced ad nauseum as bait. The rest of the show comprising of a few mediocre pieces, and a lot of trash. For while no artist ever created as much significant work as Picasso, no one created, and preserved, as much garbage also. And collectors, read speculators, have wares to hawk, and increase their investments worth. Minimalist navel contemplating exhibits “filled” nearly empty galleries, eye stimulating and mind numbing op art flourished. Pop posters enlarged from the newest rags were plopped on walls. Supposedly shocking sexual art, illustrating self-loathing and perversion, totally lacked in sensuality. The harder they tried to be “new” the more they seemed childish rantings. And critics wrote volumes about the supposed glories of exhibitionism, and pseudo-intellectual games about viewer-artist-gallery-museum-blahblahblah-relationships All to get attention for themselves, for career, and $.
Museum budgets expanded, fundraising exploded, monies from membership and museum shops became means of revenue, no longer education and appreciation. Advertising campaigns to bring in new viewers grew, special shows drew hordes, earphones attached telling them what to think and feel, explaining the artists motives and emotions, when such things are truly irrelevant. With rising insurance costs, tickets became exorbitant, and museums competed to get shows. Where taped messages led the masses to buying trinkets and posters demonstrating ones good taste in Museum stores. They had to compete with forms of entertainment, and so, became it. And people missed truly significant works.
One example, from the 1980s, was the second Van Gogh show at the Met. It was a truly wonderful show, having many of his works from Arles and with Gauguin. But as the hordes fought in bunches before the paintings, viewing by number from the audio stuck in their ear, not thinking for themselves, a truly significant show right next to it was virtually unattended. Two rooms held the complete watercolors of Cézanne. His works influenced the century as no other, the watercolors having particular inspiration on post war work. But as the hype machine had focused on the Van Gogh show, no one attended. Three times I viewed it, no more than two others in the room each time. Marketing told the public to come and see this one show, huge lines and hefty ticket prices kept people focused strictly on the special “event”. For people had disposable cash, and had been taught to appreciate art as a commodity, whether they understood it or not. The purpose of art never having been explained, the Trivial Pursuit generation saw all things to be used, to entertain, and personal desires given primacy. Not the accumulated knowledge of man, to be added to ones appreciation for life.