Art, Top Stories

Art, Commerce, and Vision

I’m a novelist and my husband Sabin Howard is a classical figurative sculptor. Currently he’s the sculptor for the National World War I Memorial, which will be a 56 foot long bronze relief set in Pershing Park, Washington D.C.

Before Sabin forayed into public art, he sculpted from life models. Over the course of designing soldiers in combat and nurses tending the wounded for the WWI Memorial, he has evolved into an expressive humanist. But for decades he put clay over a steel armature while looking at a flesh-and-bones body in space, hiring models the way Canova or Rodin did. The model in Sabin’s studio was a vehicle both for an individual figure with psychological expression, and for an allegorical one that embodies a higher ideal.

Sabin has always been of the view that art elevates us. His body of work includes heroic scale sculptures, including the Aphrodite. Eight women posed for her: a flamenco dancer for the legs, a yoga teacher for the core. I can relate funny anecdotes about the responses from Craig’s List to his ad for a boob model. Sabin worked on Aphrodite for about a year. His work is slow art. Clay is painstakingly accreted to the high points of muscles spiraling over bone. One day he phoned from his studio. He said, “I have a chainsaw. Her gesture is wrong. I’m cutting off her left arm.”

It was months of work. Amputated.

When I tell this story, people smile and nod. This is the tale of an artist with an uncompromising vision of his art. It’s an archetype. They understand. But there’s another implication that they tend to miss. That is, Sabin had paid a dancer to stand and bear her arms aloft while he sculpted. When Sabin lopped off the goddess’s arm, we took a financial hit.

Art isn’t free to produce. Especially the kind of art Sabin makes. He buys steel and foam to make an armature; he lays out cash for clay and sculpting tools; he employs models, a photographer for reference images, a mold-maker, a foundry to pour bronze, and a finisher to weld the cast pieces together. He writes a check every month for his studio.

This is a business. A business driven by passion, but a business nevertheless. For nearly two decades, I’ve helped my husband run it. He moved away from the gallery system because galleries take a hefty 50 percent commission. My various literary agents take 15 percent for U.S. sales and 20 percent for international, so half the price for a sculpture strikes me as gouging the artist.

Few artists complain about the percentage; most spend so much time and energy learning their craft that they pay little attention to the business of art. They also cherish the notion that the real value of art isn’t measured in dollars but in its ability to influence culture and move its audience. Of the multitude of artists I’ve met over the years, most seem to want the gallery to hand them an allowance, so that all they have to do is keep making art. They don’t want to roll up their sleeves and climb into the muddy trenches of the marketplace.

But Sabin has an entrepreneurial spirit and he’s good at client cultivation. He decided to forgo the gallery’s percentage and create his own business. As his wife, I’ve been a full partner in all aspects: sales, promotion, marketing, webinar creation and support, web design, writing, and outreach to museums, clients, collectors, and media organizations.

We have better months and worse months. There’s a level of chaos we tolerate because every month sees a different income, and like everyone else, we have fixed costs: our apartment, our health insurance, our daughter’s education. We have to buy tomatoes and lamb chops and shampoo and school uniforms. It can be scary. But, despite the pressure, we’ve come to appreciate the dynamic opportunities afforded by the capitalist model.

That’s why I’m taken aback when someone turns to me and says, “You’re artists. You’re supposed to be left-wing.” By which they mean Socialist. They don’t mean socioeconomically, philosophically, and racially inclusive, or any of the qualities of independent thought and respect for the sovereignty of the individual generally understood as classical liberalism. They mean that we as artists ought to believe in a state-run collectivism that will provide us with an allowance—presumably so we don’t have to exercise our own ingenuity and take responsibility for our financial well-being.

Sabin Howard at work on the Memorial (pic courtesy of the author)

As mentioned, most artists work within the gallery system. The gallery cuts them a check when there’s a sale. Many artists teach, and universities run on a similar model, doling out a pittance with which an associate professor is supposed to make ends meet. It’s a well-greased, time-honored system with a clear hierarchy and a defined path forward. It’s structured. It feels safe.

There’s also a cultural notion that artists are supposed to be too high-minded to make money. The vapid romanticism of the starving artist has been promoted at least since Victorian times. During the Renaissance, a workshop and apprenticeship system, as well as an embedded ideal about the beautification of cities and the ennoblement of public and private spaces, provided a path to livelihood for talented artists. And “starving artist” hearkens to a mistaken idea about filthy lucre—that somehow hard cash and noble ideals are incompatible.

We recently worked with a business partner who was affronted when we explained that our venture together had to culminate in earnings or we couldn’t afford to do it. She felt that what mattered were the ideals behind our platform. Ensconced in her wealth, she couldn’t understand that our ideals are important, but that they will not be realized if we can’t earn a living.

The implications of the left-wing model go deeper than finances. They devolve into a vision of art as a collectivist endeavor: Art by committee. Art by groupthink. The state pays the artist, so the state gets to tell the artist what to make. But the collectivist framework is diametrically opposed to real art.

Real art is the product of the personal, human vision of the artist. However, it is not simply self-expression. Self-expression is worthy and sometimes well-executed, and a small percentage of it is art. Real art, on the other hand, balances the artist’s individual perception with something that is universal in understanding and meaning. People—everyday people without PhDs—feel it in their bones. They may not be able to articulate it but, like pornography, they know it when they see it. And, in fact, there are objective standards for evaluating art. Beauty, excellence, and the artist’s skill matter.

This understanding is incompatible with the fashionably progressive, postmodern credo that only the group matters and, anyway, everything is meaningless. God is dead and so are reason, meaning, and order. All that remains to understand how things are is a sterile process of deduction and, since every person is his or her own Sherlock Holmes, there’s no hierarchy of  taste or quality. All is relative. Except that, as always happens, some animals are more equal than others, and the animal that dictates taste is the collective or the state.

The Left behaves in the manner of the totalitarian state they say they fear. They dictate taste and expression. They extinguish an artist’s distinct, personal and human vision if that vision runs contrary to the collectivist agenda. Thus is creative ability squelched. As Ayn Rand declared in The Fountainhead:

…The whole secret of their (the creator’s) power—that it was self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated. A first cause, a fount of energy, a life force, a Prime Mover. The creator served nothing and no one. He had lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.

The inevitable outcome of a collectivist belief system is the ethic and aesthetic of the lowest common denominator. Ayn Rand managed to understand this without God (although, personally, I think she missed the mark on spirituality).

In distinguishing artists from leftists, I respectfully disagree with Jordan Peterson, whom I greatly admire. In a YouTube lecture, he discusses a spectrum with creative artists/non-hierarchical/unstructured liberals on one end and hierarchical/structured/non-artist conservatives on the other end. I believe this spectrum offers too easy a dichotomy. Watching Sabin, and meeting other successful artists, including world-class musicians, painters, and writers, I’ve found that successful creative people have a profound talent for hierarchy and structure. This is just an observation gleaned from personal experience. It’s not the result of a double-blind scientific study.

As the wife of a famous artist, I’ve lived the truth that art transcends social caste and class. Sabin and I have broken bread with billionaires and food stamp recipients, iconic musicians and stunt actors, broke underwear models and rich technocrats, lawyers and bankers and store clerks and ladies who lunch and everyone in between. This is really fun. People’s stories are a novelist’s raw materials, and I get to meet a breathtaking array of humankind.

My experience contradicts Dr. Peterson’s pedagogy. Truly successful artists have a masterful understanding of hierarchy. They see as a whole cloth how small parts fit into a larger whole; they see what is lesser and must be subsumed into what is greater. They’re also experts at structure and the discipline of their craft. Simultaneously, very successful non-artists foist a formidable creativity. They may wear a suit and tie instead of the t-shirt and jeans my husband favors, but their way with hedge funds or legal statutes or sound waves bespeaks an unlimited and inventive playfulness with the fundamentals of their field: creativity.

Recently, Sabin went abroad to make a 1:6 scale maquette for the WWI Memorial. Ultimately, the finished Memorial will be a 56 foot long, 10 foot high relief with 38 figures. All the figures fit into a unified narrative, all the small parts are ordered coherently into a greater whole to tell a story. It’s the hero’s journey from home through the hell of war and PTSD to a triumphal, and transformed, return home. It’s mesmerizing.

Fabricating the maquette, however, was an ordeal. The fabrication factory fancied itself as a “socialist collective of creativity.” But Sabin quickly discerned the truly capable workers. As Dr. Peterson correctly notes, when many people do something, some people do it better than others.  The fabrication factory specialized in film props and collectibles. Collectibles are great fun, but they are not art. They are dolls. Sabin parried an argument every time he said, “Make the right leg longer than the left. It’s not a literal translation from life. The figure is perspectival.”

He eventually booted the doll-makers off the maquette. He sculpted alone out of his personal, unique vision, persisting until he accomplished a maquette of power, beauty, and dignity. World War I veterans have all passed, but they will be honored by “A Soldier’s Journey.” The beauty and dignity of Sabin’s National Memorial imbue it with value—which leads to some criticism of the capitalist system. All too often, mercenary collectors expect an artwork to stand somewhere and get more expensive. The dollar value is the “value” of the art. They miss the intangible qualities that make art valuable qua art.

The capitalist system also tends to corruption in the market-museum system. The separation between market and museum should be clean and distinct. Increasingly, it’s not. It’s expensive for a museum to mount an exhibit; a cunning gallery will underwrite that exhibition in order to promote their artists and to shore up the asking price for the artists’ work. This pleases collectors who have already bought works by the exhibited artist. Their investment is safe. However, new artists, or artists whose work is on the next wave of art history, are ignored by galleries and museums. Art is reduced to a commodity.

Reductive and heartless, the capitalist system can go too far. It often does. But the alternative is worse: state-sponsored art that confines the artist to a collective agenda. I see that happening now in Hollywood, where so many movies are vehicles for preaching propaganda, not for telling a story. It gets boring.

History is replete with examples of artists who stayed the course despite the slings and arrows of groupthink. Michelangelo, for example, my husband’s great reference, stuck with his vision despite potentially fatal disagreements with a murderous Pope. To the benefit of humanity, he resisted Papal input and adhered to his unique, personal vision. The Sistine Chapel resulted.

Great art is not collectivist. And artists aren’t necessarily left-wing.

 

Traci L. Slatton is an international bestselling author of historical, paranormal, and romantic novels. You can follow her on Twitter @tracilslatton

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82 Comments

  1. Daniel says

    Traci Slatton, what a terrific articulation of art. Thank you. I hope you write many more articles, because this one was wonderful.

    • Morgan says

      It is a gutsy article, considering how the “left” deals with criticism nowadays.

      Her digs at Peterson are also pertinent.

  2. simon smith says

    ‘postmodern art is collectivist’ – biggest load of nonsense ive ever hear. various forms of modernism were collectivist – as were the ateliers of the renaissance; do you think Tiepolo painted every cloud in his pictures? – but postmodernism celebrates the celebrity individual who confers meaning on their work by their individual celebrity – eg Banksy and the shredded print. The state doesn’t care what artists do – it gives out grants, commissions etc, to further cultural branding. Since ‘radical’ art now poses no threat to cultural order – because there is no cultural order – the state really doesn’t give a damn whether its detailed realist war dioramas or a giant banana in a forecourt. Get real; no-one in power gives a damn about the content of art enough to want to control it.

    • Farris says

      @simon smith
      “no-one in power gives a damn about the content of art enough to want to control it.”

      Don’t tell Chairman Mao, his cronies and progenies. You may want to consult the word “propaganda” in a dictionary.

    • Collectivism isn’t only about the state that, in any case is increasingly receding in most democracies. It is also about the critic-curator-cabal that forces its narrow (and largely non-aesthetic driven) tastes down everyone’s throat and at the expense of artists who don’t conform. And when public art institutions are too literate or poor to go for such art, the cabal may be involved in creating private museums to house them. Thus Tracey Emin’s unmade bed goes for over $4 million at Christie’s and Damien Hirst’s dumping a shark in formaldehyde becomes the highest of achievements in contemporary art.

    • Maximilian says

      The author makes a large leap from leftist politics to those politics meaning state run, top down collective group think as a goal or end result of art production. Postmodernism in visual art did usher in a focus, for some, of identity politics and institutional critique that was formally absent, and politics in art became much more doctrinaire. But banksy is not really postmodern, and the artist as celebrity was/ is not distinct (maybe less so) in supposed postmodernity. Modernisms critical figurehead was Clement Greenberg, an avid marxist, and he would have despised many of the developments of PoMo. Post-modernism is really just a way of conferring importance and distinction to work that would have developed precisely the same way out of what we think of as post-war modern art. The term was dropped onto the natural progression and reordering of art – it did not create it. Art is always looking for new terms.

      • Grant says

        Not much of a leap. Group think combined with money and power promotes censorship. Most of the art we are familiar with over the centuries is art that was sanctioned by the elite, and much of the dissident art does not survive. The 20th century was a magnificent rebellion against that trend, but Traci’s cautionary statement is still valid.

    • You are seriously mistaken. The CIA was obsessed with promoting postmodern non art to oppose communism.

      Today, in France, you get subsidies to produce movies about multiculturalism and homoparentality, but you won’t get a penny to produce something portraying Christianity in a good light.

      The state is still absolutely obsessed about controlling what art is produced.

      Recently in France, the movie subsidy agency has started “Youtube” videomaker subsidies, with a comity to decide if a project goes along the vision of the agency. While there may not be an official government doctrine, it’s clear that the left wing current narrative will be promoted while every content creator who is promoting heretical ideas will not get a cent.

      • And what I also missed in the article and comments uptil now the “entartete kunst” of Hitler, and his Nazi art, see also the illustration on the matter in Harari’s Homo Deus,pg 262 (Hitler appalled by the modern art as presented by a bespectacled liberal intellectual, and presenting instead the figurative Uebermensch, the glorification of the human body, but in quite another way as created by Michel A.).

      • Grant says

        Government funding of ‘art’ (which is how THEY) define it, makes me uneasy.

  3. Aleph from Paris says

    Great article, thx.
    I also discovered a wonderful sculptor I instantly became a fan of, thx again.

  4. Yes, what actually is real art? How far it extends beyond self expression? Are there objective standards to evaluate it, as the author thinks there are. Yuval Harari thinks not so. -Art is anything people think is art. Art is in the eyes of the beholder-, he says in chapter Look Inside, of Homo Deus. He then continues – If people think that the urinal, presented as Fountain, of (so called) artist Marcel Duchamp is art, it is art (copies of it are exhibited in the Franciso Museum of Modern Art, National Galery of Canada, Tate Galery in London and the Pompidou Centre).

    Art (as the enigmatic fresco of Michel Angelo clearly and without a doubt is, the play of the fingers, the dynamics and rest, the red cape, green shawl, young lad?girl? under Gods arm, beautifully muscled and draped bodies, face expressions) has a difficult period in the time of capitalism, free market, client knows it all and decides, political top (no more art-loving popes) without much interest in things beyond economy, material goods and law).

  5. Fox Puffery says

    While it is true that the individual artist is the true author of his work, I don’t believe it applies in other artistic fields. If you look into behind theatre, television and film productions you will notice that there are other certain groups of individuals working on a project, whether they are writers, actors, musicians, clothe designers, and many more.
    This goes back to the auteur theory in filmmaking, that the director is the true author of his film. The theory appears logical since the director is responsible of putting the film together. However it isn’t true if you look at the production as a whole, as there are many individuals from different fields of art putting their owns skills and knowledge into the director’s work.
    I’m just explaining that this is an example of a collaborate medium, where many people are working on a project with their own artistic skills. It is true that a writer, artist or musician can be the sole author of his works as long as he only created them by himself and not others. I’m just putting this out here just to note the distinctions.

    • But Fox P., are you serious? Theatre, television and film, is that also art, comparable with Michel Angelo, Rembrandt and van Gogh? Sorry, I have another idea about standards! As entertainment and group performance and efforts, OK, but as real art???

  6. cacambo says

    From my faded memories of Art History 101, the image of the artist as a solitary genius was an invention of the Romantic age, and then projected back onto the Renaissance by scholars like Jacob Burckhardt, but then the Romantics were enemies of the Enlightenment, so Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson probably don’t like them, but then again Nietzsche was certainly influenced by early Romanticism, and was certainly no collectivist–he would probably even have approved of the idea of war as a hero’s journey–but Jordan Peterson likes Nietzsche, but then again so do some postmodernists like Foucault… Dang! It’s hard to keep the good guys and the bad guys straight sometimes.

  7. Farris says

    Though not aesthetically pleasing, persons who create their own businesses, feel the same way. They have a vision and a goal. Profitability occurs as a result to adherence to the vision. Business is not immune from the collectivist either. Bureaucrats come forward to tell (threaten) business owners, “direct resources here, pay this fee, buy this permit or license, replace this equipment, submit to this inspection, fill out these forms, pay this compensation and of course pay this tax.” Sometimes the business owner wonders who he or she is actually working for.
    And after all the hard work and hear ache one day the President of the United States may come forward and tell the business owner, “you didn’t build that!”

    Great article. Thank you for the insight as to the creation of your husband’s art.

    • Utility doesn’t have to lose aesthetics, though clearly that’s not its goal.
      Profitability is unrelated to “adherence to the vision” unless the vision is, in fact, the best path to profits. Change/adaptability is the biggest key to profits unless you just happen to have the best product/service ever, or a perfect vision. Those are unlikely.

  8. Pingback: My Article in Quillette Magazine: Art, Commerce, and Vision - In the mouth of the serpent

  9. Art, like society itself, contains strands of collectivist and individualist impulses.

    The Sistine Chapel was a work of religious propaganda, expressly created for the purpose of promoting the Church’s notions of truth and combatting any competing ideas. The ideas it expressed were not solely Michelangelo’s, but part of the overall catechism developed by- wait for it- a collective body of bishops and theologians over the centuries.

    Michelangelo contributed certainly- his figural works put his interpretation on Church dogma. But the end result was what his patrons demanded.

    Ayn Rand conjured up a fantastical and cartoon-like image of an artist. The Howard Roarks of the world just spring up out of nowhere like toadstools- they don’t have influences, they don’t grow and change, or adapt to criticism and advice. They simply exist fully formed in a vacuum, inert and impervious.

    Artists, in fact, can’t exist in a vacuum of self regard. They need criticism and outside input because art is fundamentally a dialogue between different persons, the creator and consumer. And the message the artist creates is itself the result of a vast collective enterprise, the overall culture in which he swims.

    • I see in this fresco very little religious propaganda and promotion of church notions Chip, but much more a hyper sensual expression and individuality, with religion as an excuse to have it all done in a public centre. I wonder what the pope was thinking, checking the progress now and then in the years that the artist was busy. Probably, shaking his head all the time, but not really daring to interrupt, because of the artist’s reputation!

      • The Pope didn’t just turn some artist free to do whatever he liked; the mission statement was clear about what message was intended, no unorthodox deviation was allowed.

        The work explicitly works in the theme of Catholic Christianity, and as such is premised on the notion of a universe of hierarchy (God>Pope>King>Peasant) to which the individual must submit.

        There were plenty of Church officials who had no problem interrupting and complaining about things they didn’t care for (nudity among them).

        • Block says

          Are you an art historian Chip? The briefest of Wikipedia perusals reveals that it is unknown and the subject of much speculation what degree of autonomy/discretion was exercised by Michelangelo in the formulation and execution of the Sistine Chapel ceiling scheme.

          • Michelangelo was free to paint Catholic dogma in any manner he wished.

        • Peter from Oz says

          As those great artites, Banarama would say:
          It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it.

          • That’s not true Chip, many of his sculptures and paintings just were not accepted, and downright rejected by cardinals and popes,like the naked Jesus and Mary of the Last Judgement, in that same Sixtine chapel (where the genitals were discretely overpainted by other artists), sacrilegious expressions of artists were only allowed until certain limits, even in those liberal times. BTW, his David,made before the Sixtine painting, had pubic hair, but the Adam here above not at all. Why should that have been???

    • Block says

      Chip,

      It’s very fortunate that you are wrong and that art is not just a vehicle for the culture of the artist otherwise truly great art inspired by beauty, humanity and vision which transcend all culture would not exist and our world would be much poorer for it.

  10. augustine says

    Thank you for an interesting essay. The photo of your husband with some of his work was especially helpful to the writing.

    “…successful creative people have a profound talent for hierarchy and structure.”

    But as you say, those in the art fields are expected to have adopted contemporary liberal ideals. Those ideals tend against hierarchy and structure, which are after all the tools of patriarchy and other sins according to post-modernism. It would be an unusual artist who defends ideas of hierarchy and structure in terms of society and politics.

    A more apt dichotomy perhaps is between process and content, where the former especially is emphasized by creative types as a way to achieve the latter. In its most extreme expression, process is valued above all, so that all the content– participants, markets, materials– is merely incidental to dynamic movement. Globalism works by similar ideas.

    • Paul Ellis says

      “…successful creative people have a profound talent for hierarchy and structure.”

      By which you mean, I think, that successful creative people recognise others who are actually, measurably and obviously, better than them at what they do. I was a musician who recognised that JS Bach, Charlie Parker, and Josef Zawinul, were all very much better musicians than me, and always would be. I’m comfortable with that, because it doesn’t devalue what I could do as a musician, which had value. It simply disabused me of the illusion that my work was of the very highest, timeless rank.

      A bit of genuine, realistic modesty goes a long way.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”But as you say, those in the art fields are expected to have adopted contemporary liberal ideals. Those ideals tend against hierarchy and structure, which are after all the tools of patriarchy and other sins according to post-modernism”
      This is not true. It is clear that the left/po-mo/liberal people just have a different hierarchy with them at the top in well paid government funded jobs. As the article mentions, the po-mo types are trying to pull a con trick, but telling us there is no truth while at the same time trying to impose their own truth.
      If there is no objective truth, then the statement that there is no objective truth itself cannot be objectively true.

      • augustine says

        Some hierarchies are more equal than others. I meant hierarchy in the sense of the natural order rather than structures we create in a social-political context. It is the natural order of things, and our relating to one another and to the world by its evident truths, that postmodernism seeks to destroy. Objectivity and truth become their epistemological victims as you indicate.

    • Daniel says

      augustine,
      But wouldn’t you agree that leftists, while denigrating hierarchies, themselves inhabit an intensely hierarchical structure? I wonder if the point of Slatton’s quote that you mentioned is that a good artist understands the social realities of the subjects they are portraying.

  11. At the beginning of my research career, grants that permitted one to follow a line of investigation were mostly to individuals. Out of the grant, one had to budget and, if the idea was not mainstream, budget a lot, to slowly accumulate evidence for something. Collaborations occurred when you and a colleague had common interests. By the time I retired, the primary model for research in Canada was to support grand inter-university projects that evolved by committee and ‘priorities’ articulated by administrators, with each member answering to administrators. The amount of paperwork went up 10-fold. Even within this model a few still do pursue novel ideas within the structure. It is true that expensive infrastructure and equipment needs to be shared, but this can be done without the direction being dictated from above.

    The story of Svensmark’s theory of cosmic rays producing clouds which have major effects on earth’s climate is an inspiring account of how an individual’s idea can evolve, even to the extent of running the proof at CERN. Because he was proposing something additional to, perhaps more important than CO2, the international ‘committee scientists’ actually called for the Danish Academy of Science to expel him. Fortunately the DAS supported him and allowed him to do the experiments to obtain enough evidence to get the slot at CERN.

    The structure of Sabin’s work does not sound much different from basic science to me. I don’t think the kind of science I know fits into the dicotomy that Peterson talks about between liberal and conservatives. There has to be more than one dimension describing humans, and real science has a streak of libertarianism in it, with state support because of the spin offs that benefit us all.

  12. Constantin says

    Seems inevitable that true talent will clash – sooner or later – with collectivist impulses and approaches, but this is not happening because some great “appreciation of” and “a masterful understanding of hierarchy”. Those who do not, do so at their own peril – no matter the milieu in which they function. The “Borg” did not produce much artwork, did they? I also think that the author completely misunderstood Dr. Peterson argument. Dr. Peterson simply noted that creativity, including artistic creativity, has been found to be strongly associated with left leaning politics (but not necessarily grotesque collectivism or the hideous modern manifestation of post-modern intersectionality). The political leaning he was talking about is one of compassion and sensitivity to human suffering – which Dr. Peterson describes as the legitimate and necessary function of the political left. Also, Dr. Peterson was not simply outlining a theory yet to be proven, but rather the result of solid empirical research. There is much in this article that is appealing to the mind, as the spirit of it is one affirming the independence of the spirit – the essence of individual freedom. It is sad, however when one ventures in support of an argument on poorly understood territory. There can be no doubt that great art cannot be collectivist (although the prostitution of great artists is not at all outside the realm of possibility). The second point, however, is hardly proven from a statistically valid perspective.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I think where Dr Peterson goes a little wrong is the idea that the left-wing person’s compassion is anyhting more than that of Mrs Jellyby, i.e. a compassion for groups of people in the abstract, not for individual sufferers in close proximity.
      The left is collectivist in nature, the right is more individualistic/familial. I suspect that a lot of artists, even though they are in fact petit bourgeoise small business people grafting away in one of the most capitalistic of industries, seek shelter in the collectivist left because of the insecure nature of their line of work.

      • -Line of work-??, can you speak of work, where artists are discussed? As if they just do some other jobs as plumbers, engineers or teachers? I don’t see it like that, though many people maybe do. In the egalitarian world we live in. I wonder whether Michelangelo saw his art as something similar as that of the farmers , shop-owners and artisans in town. What I know, that he did not care about food, cloths, housing and even social contacts (apart of his erotic encounters later in life), in fact, similar as composer Beethoven, that other great and terrific artist that changed the world. Please, really, I get miserable if I hear the words -work-, or -line of work- where real, great, terrific art is concerned.

        • Grant says

          @dirk…..well it is all work and often a line of work. Often the great are obsessed by their work and neglect other things that might take up their time. Michelangelo was a paid apprentice and sculpture and decoration was big business in Europe and he enthusiastically participated.

      • @ Peter from Oz

        “The left is collectivist in nature, the right is more individualistic/familial.”

        Ironic coming from one of the most dogmatic one dimensional right wing party pushing commenter on this site!

  13. codadmin says

    Many thanks to Quilette and the author for this article. I was not aware of Sabin’s work before it. He isn’t half bad at drawing either!

    The fact that most would have heard of Banksey and not Sabin is one of the more damning indictments of modern, leftist dominated, Western civilisation.

    Also, to pick up from the concluding sentence, feminists are not necessarily leftist either…or anyone else of value for that matter, despite their claims.

  14. Sydney says

    Wow, a new national war memorial! Artists/creators of such things face an uphill battle (no pun intended) today, when po-mo intersectional left-wing teachers K-12 are brainwashing children with simple-minded directives that ‘war is bad’ and that anyone involved in past wars of history ‘is bad.’

    (My Grade 10 son just experienced such a simple-minded lesson by a moronic public union teacher in Canada, and by the similarly left-wing textbook that accompanied the lessons. The left is framing the entire concept of war as you’d expect a five-year-old girl to frame it.)

    I expect that your husband knows that his artwork will face insult, threat, possible defacement, and demand of removal. It was just reported today that an American ‘feminist’ undergrad in the UK threatened to destroy a WWI memorial mural because it doesn’t suit her politics. She was made to apologize for her tweets and outbursts, but many are certainly behind her, supporting her ridiculous notions.

    Back to art itself, I see OVERWHELMING left-wing groupthink in the Arts communities, which is incredibly dangerous for society. I was happy to see Quillette publish this piece.

    • Art is never, never, never groupthink Sydney!!!, and war is neither good or bad, it just happens where different groups of people live together and don’t agree. But I agree, the stuff that the youngsters these days have to swallow has very little to do with reality!

  15. Circuses and Bread says

    This was a very good article, and to my delight, the artwork profiled wasn’t utter crap! I thought the sculpture was quite well done and provocative and I have to wonder how it ever made it through the selection process. Anyway, well done.

    • In the USSR time, the only selection process for art and sculptures (such as the glorification of soldiers in war scenes) was the government and the Party of course. Some of these sculptures in the now free east european nations are still maintained by the local authorities (I saw one with even now flowers and well kept lawn in front, in Slovakia), most are torn down.

    • codadmin says

      Quite well done…you must be British with that sort of understatement! Haha

  16. “But the alternative is worse: state-sponsored art that confines the artist to a collective agenda.”

    I have to disagree with this to some extent. Heck of a lot of great art from the past was patronized by the state. I know what the author is trying to say, but this is historically not correct. And then there is the conservation of culturally significant high art which often fails to find willing patronage and relies on the state prop it up.

    You could say it is the agenda element that is problematic and largely that would be true. But even then… it depends who controls the agenda.

    • Saw file says

      @reading nomad: “Heck of a lot of great art from the past was patronized by the state. I know what the author is trying to say, but this is historically not correct. ”
      I suppose that it depends on what you presume that the’state’ is?
      The post-WWI memorial/cenotaph ‘industry’ of the thousands of artistic creations across Canada, to honour our lost generation of men, was sponsored by the city/town/villages of Canadians.
      Countless: bake sales, box luncheons, dances, social dinners, Church/business/labour group/social organization & etc., benefit functions. Sometimes the various levels of government also contributed some tax dollars. Mind you, this was (obviously) a national consensus, and at a time that money was a scare national commodity.
      Historically, in Canada, this is a fact. There is (literally) not a single city/town/village in this whole country that doesn’t have a artist made memorial, to our losses from The Great War.
      To this day, these artistic memorials are still carred for. Every one of them.
      By the descendants of those that paid for them, not the ‘state’.

  17. Our modern understanding of art is very new and different than how art has historically been understood.

    Until the 19th century, art in almost every human society was understood as revealing the one singular truth of human existence, the same view as shared by whatever religion and state the artist happened to live in.

    The artist as a critic or opponent of the contemporary society would have seemed odd to a Renaissance painter or Medieval Japanese sculptor.

    Which I think explains the crisis that modern art is in.
    It wants to wear the robes of the priesthood of Revealed Truth, yet keep the freedom to express personal and idiosyncratic viewpoints.

    Sabin’s work isn’t any more or less “collectivist” or “individualistic” than those of leftists; its just representing a different view, one that happens to be shared by the larger culture.

  18. About these differences, chip: renaissance painters and sculptors were (financially) dependent of pope, cardinals, kings, or magnates, therefore made large, expensive and conspicuous art. In Flanders and the NL,ordinary citizens paid the artists: portraits, landscapes mainly, and had these paintings on their walls, in their homes, or, statues in gardens, thus were much smaller, and also cheaper than the former ones. Of course, governments and local authorities also often ask for certain art, such as generals and kings on a horse, or war memorials, such as in the US and the USSR of once. Singular or Revealed Truth, or viewpoints? I can’t see it so much (maybe in literature, Tolstoy, Dickens, Victor Hugo).

  19. I really enjoyed this essay, in particular the discussion of the relationship between creativity and order.

    Jordan Peterson has briefly discussed the case of the individual who is high in both trait openness and trait orderliness, but he seems to suggest that such an individual suffers from an internal conflict, and gives Adolf Hitler as a very unfortunate example. I agree with you that by neglecting the relationship between order and aesthetics, Peterson misses a big part of the “creativity” picture.

    It seems to me that while great art does indeed pursue new perspectives, new solutions, new experiences and new connections between disparate ideas and phenomena (these pursuits fitting Peterson’s understanding of creativity), it does so, not in the service of novelty, but in the service of something that feels objectively good and true. I am particularly interested in music and architecture – two disciplines where the idea of an objective good manifest most obviously: in harmony, hierarchy & proportion, but these qualities are no less present in less geometric art forms. Even in music and architecture, this “order” is rarely of a kind that can easily be measured or quantified, which is what makes art so appealing; it hints at a kind of order that is dynamic, elusive, even unattainable.

    It is presumed today that the purpose of art is to be counter-cultural, disruptive and chaotic. Art has a proud history of disruption, but for millennia, that disruption has purposefully aided the perpetuation and advancement, rather than the rejection, of civilised culture.

    • Art can rougly be divided in two types: the academic one (taught by experienced masters on Art Institutes) and the non-academics. Klimt and Schiele rebelled against the official, culturally accepted norms and classical ways of seeing things, same with the first Impressionists (hell, you can scarcely see what it is!, reactions onTurner), and expressionists and cubists (van Gogh never sold a single painting, it was too far away from the standards at the time, he was a real poor leftist, post-post modernist).

      • But best example, of course, is Beethoven. Imagine, being used to sweet and harmonious, quiet and balanced rhythms, and you hear the beginning of his Fifth!! Complete chaos!!! the hell is loose!! Finish all academic norms, many people left the concert hall, and wanted their money back!!

        • codadmin says

          The difference is Beethoven didn’t break the musical theory. He didn’t hate western music like leftist hate western art. Leftist ‘art’ deliberately cuts away at western art theory, like a vandal.

        • Right, humans are exploratory by nature and art needs to periodically break away from cultural/academic norms and expand into new territory, otherwise the culture will die. But Beethoven and the painters you mention remain appealing to us today, not merely because they are chaotic or counter-cultural (the excitement of rebellion is ephemeral), but because their visions, while personally or culturally peculiar, are couched in an artistic language that is internally coherent and convincing according to invisible rules that are yet perceptible to us centuries and continents away.

    • augustine says

      The relationships you reference are akin to the old, perhaps very old, antagonism between faith and reason. I see these polarities as more interdependent than conflicting. A society or culture cannot exist by order alone any more than “pure creativity” can govern personal or public life. Yet social development seems to require these elements, and others, working in concert, so that one man’s idea of harmony is never realized fully or for very long.

      • Augustine, yes, very good summary. Harmony seems to be a transcendent ideal at the same time that it is, paradoxically, context dependant. It is like a horizon towards which we aim, but which recedes as we near it.

        • codadmin says

          Harmony isn’t context dependent.

          Harmonic pattern is embedded into the fabric of nature itself. The laws that govern the universe are harmonic and finely tuned.

          Art must always strive to mimic this harmony as much as possible. Otherwise it isn’t art, it’s destruction.

          • Codadmin, I realise now that the word ‘harmony’ is ambiguously defined, but I use it synonymously with qualities like balance, symmetry, consonance, regularity, logical pattern/progression, etc.

            Harmony in mathematical terms could be considered an absolute, but what I meant, and should have written, is that the role of harmony as an ideal is context dependent. Art that is purely harmonious may be objectively beautiful, but subjectively boring in the wrong context. My sense is that art should be a dialogue between the ideal of harmonic perfection and the messy reality of the human existence.

  20. Saw file says

    @ reading nomad…you, as well,
    but i clearly stated that post-WWI, there became a ‘commercial war memorial industry’ that was wholly dedicated to it, by the artists that spent a couple of decades doing it.
    Many beautiful works of art were created from funds wholly outside of the ‘state’ .
    Is there a debate as te these honour war?
    Ask that at your locals Legion hall.

      • I read your link Saw, interesting, there must be many more Allwards on this world, in Canada, US, USSR (Gerasimov, painter of heroic scenes) and China (where the smiling cotton pickers are the new heroes). However, I would not call them artists, but, rather, artisans, though with perfect skills and mastery of the material.

  21. Charles G. says

    As an artist myself, I feel a lot of this needed to be said in just this way, so let’s thank our lucky stars Traci L. Slatton is courageous enough to say it. Excellent read.

  22. Powderburns says

    Don’t forget to check out his work. I’m reminded of blexit. When will the creators escape their own lefty gulags: Slowly at first, but then in a stampede. We seem to be entering the stampede phase.

  23. Great art can’t do without touches of the terrible, the bizar,even disgusting for many. Michelangelo was called el bizarro, Beethoven the terrible. The USSR and Nazi art was quite normal, nothing bizar, just pretty and inspiring (for the masses).

  24. “I’m a novelist and my husband Sabin Howard is a classical figurative sculptor. Currently he’s the sculptor for the National World War I Memorial, which will be a 56 foot long bronze relief set in Pershing Park, Washington D.C.”

    When you’ve quite finished parading your store of cultural capital. Full disclosure, this was more than enough to stop my reading in its tracks.

    • Grant says

      @kingfelix….Your disdain for someone’s labor and the profit they derive from it is puzzling.

  25. But why did you start reading an article here on Quillette in the first place, Kingfisher? For most of us, it is an occasion to slap those evil leftist and pomos and SJW’s on the nose, and, I think, again here, it was a pretty succesful example. Just go on reading next time, don’t leave us.

  26. Joseph R. says

    The second to last paragraph caught my attention:

    “Reductive and heartless, the capitalist system can go too far. It often does. But the alternative is worse: state-sponsored art that confines the artist to a collective agenda. I see that happening now in Hollywood, where so many movies are vehicles for preaching propaganda, not for telling a story. It gets boring.”

    Where I’m confused is when the author states she sees Hollywood “preaching propaganda.” This charge is not new but I often feel it’s a vague accusation. If Mrs. Slatton, or anyone else, could give their opinion, I’d be interested in hearing it. Black Panther comes to mind as a movie that came out this year where you heard charges of foistering a PC -inspired narrative. Thanks!

  27. We’ll see how well the average sculptor can make a living from creativity when there’s a 3D printer in everyone’s den.

    I happened to musicians.

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