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The Avant-Garde’s Slide into Irrelevance

Many adherents to the aesthetics of the avant-garde in tenured positions at American art schools and universities are still enthusiastic supporters of the ideas and strategies that won them the culture wars of the late twentieth century. They steadfastly cleave to the doctrinal ideas that brought them into their positions of power and authority and have entrenched themselves in defense of an exclusively Euro-centric cult of avant-garde art. But as Western culture has changed around them, they have been outflanked by sentiment and technology.

The foundations of the avant-garde were built upon the opposition of true and fake art. The avant-garde provided true, ethical art, while its opposite pole was fake, sentimental kitsch. The Frankfurt School writer Norbert Elias was first to identify sentiment as the enemy, followed by Herman Broch, who provided doctrinal writings describing kitsch as evil, and tying true art to the exposure of social reality. The young Marxist Clement Greenberg came to the game late, famously bringing their ideas to an American audience with avant-garde doctrines that despised kitsch and favored an elitist intellectualism. Regardless of the importance of emotion in human relationships, a fundamentalist rejection of sentiment in art coupled with an embrace of ethical confrontation became doctrinal to the avant-garde throughout the twentieth century.

Representational artists—painters and sculptors who make images of people who look like people and things that look like things—were their favorite targets, partly because this was the dominant art of the West’s Soviet enemies. The Soviets used representational Socialist Realism to propagandize their ideology, and made use of sentiment as a manipulative tool. American Communism had fallen into disarray after the Stalin / Hitler pact in 1939, and after the war revelations about Stalin’s gulags turned many communists anti-Soviet. The US government courted their allegiance, enthusiastic to present America as the open-armed home of free thought – even if that thought was opposed to the government – in contrast to the straight-jacket of totalitarian doctrine. This created the paradox of American Marxist avant-gardists being set against Soviet Socialist Realism. Offering avant-gardism as a liberating alternative to the constrictions of Communism was essential to America’s strategy for winning the cultural Cold War. If the enemy restricted and controlled art in the East, in the West artists were encouraged to provide political commentary and to transgress. The avant-garde was fresh, seductive, and appealing. If sentiment and representation were the tools of our lying enemies, we must offer the opposite—concept and abstraction.

The establishment of the avant-garde depended upon an intellectual and financial dominance of American arts that was still possible when cultural gate-keepers like Greenberg, Alfred Barr, Nelson Rockefeller, Larry Gagosian, or Charles Saatchi maintained authority over the limited number of literary, museum, and academic outlets that controlled the discourse and development of American culture. Until the late twentieth century, critics could still speak of the “art world,” as a Western hegemony, a monolithic defensive line in which all artists must participate as avant-gardists or be sidelined.

But a true avant-garde leads the way forward. Establishment entrenchment behind bunkers is not a position for a revolutionary, progressive, or idealistic advance. Surely, avant-gardist artists should be at the cutting edge producing new revolutionary notions, not in the vampiric business of sucking school fees from students as payment for a dubious and outdated Marxist indoctrination. Consequently, although avant-gardists are fully established as the academic art establishment, their obsolescence is self-evident. Perhaps the reason avant-gardists traditionally wore black was because they knew they were heading for the funeral of their ideology.

By the 1980s the disintegration of the avant-garde art world had already begun. McEvilly had recognized the Western bias of the avant-gardist cause and pointed out its hypocritical exclusivity. He argued for a multicultural relativism that broke down the unilaterally white, Western, male order of this art world, giving equal credence to art originating from other races, cultures, sexual orientations, and genders, hoping to create a globalized culture that paid equal respect to all of its parts. But instead of creating a new, homogenized and inclusive art world, by the noughties and teens of the twenty-first century, this had led to bitter infighting and vicious power-struggles within the entrenched avant-gardist community as the various special interest groups fought from their corners.

Hamstrung by complaints of cultural appropriation, intersectionalist avant-garde artists no longer dared to produce work that referred to the struggles of racial groups to which they did not belong, or to explore the issues faced by members of cultures other than their own. Cis-gendered avant-gardists were censured for creating work that dealt with homosexuality or gender. Male avant-gardists could no longer produce works dealing with feminism, or the female body in any way. To stand for the oppression of others without being an initiate of that group was condemned as hypocritical and inauthentic. This was like a knife in the heart to avant-gardists. Their philosophy had insisted that artists must be ethically confrontational since its earliest days under Broch, whose ex-cathedra pronouncements placed ethical judgements of the human experience at the center of avant-garde aesthetics. The avant-garde art world was crumbling, brought down by its own proponents. A white female avant-gardist painter was excoriated for painting a canvas of a black boy who had been killed by police. A highly-qualified but white professor could no longer teach African Art History. An exhibit extolling the virtues of tearing down Confederate statues was condemned as racist.

And if the philosophical situation was deteriorating, the cultural situation brought avant-gardists even more bad news. Avant-garde social-justice activism was being flanked by multiculturalism at the same time as the rise of the internet-connected spectacular society. The latter had been predicted by the unhappy Marxist scryer Guy Debord, who foretold an inescapable capitalist Society of the Spectacle in which banking, entertainment, and culture were bound together by tight bonds of electronic communication. (Ultimately, perhaps his prognosis for the dominance of capitalism led to his suicide.) The spectacular internet has allowed the creation of multiple art communities, fracturing the hegemony of avant-garde authority. These communities feel no need to follow the rules of the avant-garde, building their own groups of people with specific interests. The democratic freedom of the web does not lend itself to elitist authoritarianism. A new heterodox bubble-bath art world replaced the avant-garde.

Representational artists and thinkers who disliked the authoritarian nature of avant-gardist academic discourse have created their own cultural bubble of conferences and conventions, of academies and ateliers, of magazines and journals. The Representational Art Conference series stands as evidence of this phenomenon, providing a place for academic studio artists, art historians, and thinkers who enjoy exploring and celebrating the philosophical and critical breadth of twenty-first century representational art. Under the avant-garde, artists who made an appeal to sentiment were reviled and traditional Western studio skill was decried and rejected in favor of “deskilling.” Now, powerful voices offer their support. Speakers like the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, presently embattled for daring to say that houses should be beautiful homes, were given a rare academic platform from which to speak about beauty. The libertarian Stephen Hicks, author of Explaining Postmodernism, was able to share his ideas about the shortcomings of avant-gardist philosophy. The great art critic Donald Kuspit said, “The Representational Art Conference is the most important art conference in the United States, and the world, in support of representational art, an art grounded in attention to objective reality, with no sacrifice of attention to emotional reality.” Among members of this community sentiment was welcomed, and technique celebrated.

In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, independent ateliers—traditional-style art schools with a focus upon skill based training—flourished as alternatives to avant-gardist University art schools and colleges, and are now accredited as legitimate institutions where students may learn studio techniques that lead to employment as fine artists and in the movie, animation, and video game industries. The New York Academy trains its students and demands imaginative ideas of them. The Laguna College of Art and Design produces distinguished figurative painters and sculptors like Julio Reyes and Candice Bohannon, until recently boasting “The Reluctant Realist” F. Scott Hess among their faculty. Daniel Graves’s Florence Academy brings international credibility to this form of disciplined art study, with ateliers based in New York, Sweden, and Italy. David Chang has established an atelier program in the art school of Florida International University—the first program of its kind in a public research institution. In Oregon, under Graham Toms’s guidance, the Salem Kiezer Career Technology Center is providing intensive training in drawing for high school students who are interested in acquiring marketable skills that may lead to jobs in the vast world of motion pictures and video games, an industry that is hungry for new employees who are capable, not only of using computer programs to render convincing digital imagery, but also of understanding anatomy, value, and color. This hybrid of traditional skill-based studio training merged with technology shows how avant-gardism is being out-flanked by the practical necessities of employment.

These schools offer accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They are flourishing. Their graduates are equipped with real skills, and prepared for real jobs. University recruiters should be aware of their success in the face of the failure of the avant-garde academy to provide any prospect of a career to their students. Outstandingly skillful representational artists are prying open the doors of American galleries. Painting images of people who actually look like people, and things that look like things, remarkable artists like Teresa Oaxaca, Z. S. Liang, Pamela Wilson, Stephen DaLuz, Andrea Kowch, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Mario Robinson, Randalf Dilla and many others are enjoying successful careers in an art world that exists beyond the reach of the avant-garde.

In California and New York, high school teachers are enthusiastically accepting skill-based ideas about art education brought to them by the Da Vinci Institute, led by Mandy Theis and Kara Ross of the Art Renewal Center. Because of the need for contemporary education to provide assessable learning outcomes, atelier-style projects are returning to the art curriculum. The avant-garde treated art as a self-indulgent ejaculation of experience at the expense of technique. Now art training is opening up to the eminently practical idea that students need to acquire a skill set so they can create the images their imaginations offer and their future employers can use.

The science fiction and fantasy art world bubbles are growing too, developing huge followings of enthusiastic votaries, who meet at conferences like IX Arts, hold prestigious competitive exhibits, and share examples of their work in online fora. Much of the work is of exceptional quality, because many of its exponents have been trained at illustration trade schools like the Rhode Island School of Design, or the Pasadena Art Center—places where the avant-garde never encroached. Illustration was always unashamedly sentimental, because as the servant of advertising it depended upon it as a necessary tool. Illustration and art were separated because of this inconvenience.

Perhaps the greatest representational painter of the century, the extraordinary Odd Nerdrum, has re-opened the discussion of the place of sentiment in art, claiming that he is a “kitsch-painter” not an artist, pointing out the long-lived false dichotomy between avant-garde and kitsch. Nerdrum’s voice has a broad and significant appeal. David Bowie gave him the ultimate stamp of popular approval by collecting his work. Meanwhile, the Burning Man organization is a major funder of popular figurative and visionary public art—almost entirely sentimental and neglected by the academy, while deeply appreciated by its audience.

A generation of students has arrived at our universities which has grown up within constant reach of smart-phones, gaming consoles, and the internet. Born and raised in the twenty-first century, these students have never known a world without immediate electronic connection with friends and entertainment. They have no personal memory of 9/11, did not live through the last century’s culture wars, and think of the Second World War as ancient history. Consequently, their experience of reality is absolutely not the same as that of previous generations. Nor is their experience of art. Instead of receiving art through the vehicles of art magazines controlled by avant-gardist gatekeepers, they are under a constant deluge of images from a huge number of sources.

Much of this torrent is superficial. Much of it is an overload of the senses. Many of the people consuming it are wholly, thoroughly, and fondly addicted. When we walk across any university campus, we see two-thirds of the student body walking alone, in the characteristic pose of our time, with head down, gaze focused on both hands held together at waist height. Many of us decry this. We want to interact with them, but feel completely blocked by their digital focus, as if watching them in a boat at sea while we walk along the shoreline. But can we blame them for their distraction? They are afloat in a flood of extremes, a competitive flow of images that are bigger than, better than, and more than everything that has come before, in every sphere. Many of these images unashamedly appeal to sentiment. They are thoroughly kitsch. They have nothing to do with political ideology. Fluffy kittens! Pretty puppies! Cartoon selfies! There is no chance whatsoever of a small elite class of avant-garde authorities exerting any control over the aesthetics of the imagery our students share.

Spectacular society has allowed sentiment to over-run the avant-garde. With the popular abandonment of the heart of their philosophy, the avant-garde is hopelessly outflanked.


Michael J. Pearce lives in Ventura County, California, where he teaches painting, drawing, and the philosophy of art at CLU. He is author of Art in the Age of Emergence. You can follow him on Twitter @gildedraven


  1. E. Olson says

    I’m not sure that avant-garde art hasn’t always been over-rated in terms of popularity. I’ve been to many of the world’s great art museums and galleries, and many special exhibits, but the most popular and appreciated art exhibit I have ever attended was a special tour of Norman Rockwell originals that went around the US some years ago. Rockwell never considered himself an artist, but merely an illustrator, but his work resonated with the audience of all ages like I had never experienced before – certainly far more than any avant-garde exhibit I have attended, and I heard the same thing from friends who attended in other cities. A favorite of mine is his spin on Jackson Pollock as seen and told about in the link.

    • I have now lived long enough to experience the unthinkable: The transformation of the critical response to the cornpone illustrations of Norman Rockwell from a consensus view that they are abominable if harmless kitsch to the current ironic appreciation from the cool kids now slithering out of art school.

      I would have much more easily imagined that the collected works of Jackie Collins and Barbara Cartland would one day be breathlessly extolled in grad school comparative literature classes. (Although, with postmodernism and post-structuralism in play, one probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility.)

      As far as Pollock goes, if you’ve ever seen one of his major larger works on display and weren’t blown away, there’s nothing that can be done for you. Because you’re frankly hopeless.

      • Bubblecar says

        Abominable? Not really. He was a deservedly popular illustrator whose work reflected and celebrated the suburban US of his day, and as such is still of value as a social historical record of everyday life and the way it was culturally depicted.

        And in that image, he did a pretty pleasing fake Pollock 🙂

      • Trimegistus says

        The sneering insularity of your reply is a perfect example of why the “avant-garde” is in decline.

        By the way, cornbread (“cornpone”) is pretty tasty. Not that you’d ever know.

        • Cornbread is only even the least bit palatable with copious amounts of honey and butter – if you’ve actually had “real” cornbread and not the modern-day “corncake” which popularly goes by the name “cornbread”. Otherwise it has roughly the consistency and flavor of a very old, very dry kitchen sponge.

          By the way, cornpone was used in the adjectival sense in the above comment (i.e. rustic, unsophisticated, down-home, etc).

          • Farris says

            Cornbread is leavened with baking powder. Cornpone is unleavened.

          • Trollificus says

            “Real” cornbread can be sweetened with molasses or sugar but REAL po’ folks wouldn’t waste resources to make it the almost pastry-level sweetness I’ve seen from some modern versions.

            The old folks used to take “frog-eye” (the grease and dripping from pork chops) and pour it over cornbread with butter and sugar on it…was a desert worth waiting all year for.

            This was home cookin’ for some “grapes of wrath” southerners in central California, back in the 50s and 60s. They all approved of Rockwell, and some of their work clothes looked painted by Pollock.

      • D-Rex says

        Well Bubbles, I saw blue poles 40 years ago in Adelaide after our government spent over a million dollars on it and thought it was shit. Looking up Pollock’s art on google made me realise I was too easy on the guy.

      • Rendall says

        It’s okay to disagree. I suspect too that the article is a poorly-written polemic, but I have not fully absorbed it yet. I thought reading the commentary would help.

        Remember, we’re presented with ideas in a bit more of a raw, diverse form than we are generally used to: the Overton Window is comparatively open, here. The goal is to read and process ideas that you might at first find repulsive or challenging, and decide if the idea has merit. Maybe it’s a keeper, and your world-view expands. If it’s a stinker, arguing against it in good faith strengthens your own perspective. That’s the IDW in a nutshell.

        To that end, please try to refrain from absolutist language like “you’re hopeless”. It does not advance the pro-avant-garde cause, and makes us look defensive. It does not promote good discussion or exchange of ideas.

      • I’ve seen a Pollock in person. I can’t say I was blown away. Yet I still have hope. Not that I can fool myself into liking it, but that I will find better art that is pleasurable to look at.

      • Color me hopeless then. Pollocks art is crap in these eyes, as is all the piles of welded junk they claim is sculpture in front of government buildings across the U.S.

      • Constantin says

        “Hopeless” in what sense? I have no doubt that only a statistical insignificant minority gets “blown away” staring at a large Pollock canvas. Beyond appreciating the fact that he had a notable sense of color combination, I have never been able to summon any kind of emotion in response and forgot it within 30 seconds of viewing. The most I could summon was the idea that his paintings would make for fancy kitchen countertop designs with the only drawback that dirt will be nearly impossible to spot. Can you describe your profound “blown away” emotion and how it affected your life to a mere and likely “hopeless” mortal? Abashedly I have to admit that, I would have easily picked Rockwell’s imitation background for my countertop. LOL
        Maybe this was the whole point of the article: the elitist avant-garde so dear to a class of self-described connoisseurs has failed the test of time and is fading in memory without a trace of perennial value, and has shockingly lost even to mere newspaper illustration in the degree to which it impresses most people and posterity as a whole. It is a sad day, but reckoning was long overdue for an art movement lost in an elitism completely ignorant of what people like and care about.

      • Frankly, your response is hopeless. Tastes in art in art is like tastes in music, everybody is impressed by something different. No one size fits all. This is precisely why “avant garde” is becoming irrelevant, as its almost fascist dictatorial doctrines exclude any variety outside of what it considers the norm. Therein lies precisely the point, “avant garde” has become the norm, and therefore no longer avant garde, something that is subversive in the face of a dominant paradigm. It is now subversive to produce and promote representational art, because it goes against the dominant paradigm of “avant garde”.
        Art has fashions and trends, which come and go. “…for the tmes, they are a changing.”

      • Joseph Mcgurl says

        Pollack had one idea one day —drip the paint. Cool idea but boring after you’ve seen a few.

    • Lightning Rose says

      That’s because actual, real, well-adjusted people everywhere like art that’s pretty and makes you feel good when you see it hanging on your wall. Art they can relate to in their own lives. Outside the overeducated class, who wants to be reminded of the 20th century’s failures? Water over the dam, and we’ve all had about enough of “intersectional” nonsense by now.

      • Bubblecar says

        It may come as a surprise to you, Lightning, but all people are actual and real. And there’s a pretty much limitless range of art styles and subjects that will interest some people, and not others.

        And while it’s possible to be undereducated, it’s not actually possible to be “overeducated”, except in the narrow sense of “having qualifications that are extraneous to one’s current employment”.

        Fortunately, many people value the attainment of knowledge and expertise without requiring that it have any economic utility.

        • No, I agree with Lightning Rose and her comments about “over-educated”. What she means, I think, is that many people educated in absolutely everything except good judgment, wisdom, financial success and a values system worth defending.

        • Constantin says

          @Bubblecar – I believe that Lightning Road meaning when she said “overeducated class” was in reference to a class of individuals who saw either true or simulated art “appreciation” as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest. An education that fostered class elitism and saw opportunity in virtue signaling over the incomprehensible as a way to mock and humiliate outsiders. I fear that, while in the abstract education is a very good thing, it has its own demons and not all taught material is a general good for humanity. if it is possible to “educated” in pure unadulterated intersectional post-modern nihilism, it is very easy to accept the idea of “over-education” as incorporating a good dose of brainwashing function that can overlap really useful stuff. Similarly, when she said “real people” she meant people not motivated to fake a response. This was fairly clear to me. I know that her comment must have rubbed you the wrong way in a hurry, but the context makes its meaning quite plainly clear. We could agree that truly valuable art should be able to withstand the test of time and the mere patronage by an elitist millionaire, or a parade of self-indulgent high-class society members watching each other’s reactions like hawks is not a real test of value. I think that the reaction of the simple man is a much better predictor of future/real value in art and that Michelangelo draws similar responses from the rocket scientist and the illiterate visitor from the poorest region on the planet. Pollock ‘s audience is infinitesimal by comparison and burdened with a despicable and irremediable elitism.

      • @Lightning
        We share a wavelink here. I’ve been an artist/painter all my life. All my paintings in the last 15 years has been commissioned. Never has anyone ever asked me to drizzle/splatter paint on a canvas. Most of the work is based on photos they’ve handed me – “can you paint this?”

        see here:

    • Ray Andrews says

      @E. Olson

      Bloody marvelous. No need even for comment.

      • E. Olson says

        D-Rex – glad you enjoyed Rockwell and thanks for the links. As for illustration versus art – I am not an expert and the distinction is one that Rockwell made himself, but if I were to make an educated guess I would say illustration is a reliance on models/photographs (which Rockwell always used) for commercial purposes (most of Rockwell’s works were for magazine covers and advertisements), while art is more likely “free-form” (although some use models) and is non-commercial (although many artists hope to sell their work to collectors). Personally, I think Rockwell was an extremely skilled artist.

        • Steven Seward says

          D-Rex, there should be no meaningful difference between Illustration and Art. They are both “art” with only one practical difference. IlIustration is any art that is used to “illustrate” a story or idea, often though not necessarily, in a commercial publication. If I used a photo of one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings to illustrate a story about bad art, then it would become an “illustration”, as well as being “art.” You could also argue that modern “fine art” paintings that are meant to convey some social message are illustrations, too. The category is a bit flexible.

          There is a type of snobbery in the art world that looks down on illustrations, but I think this is totally unwarranted. In the modern World, I would say that I have seen better artwork produced by “illustrators” than by so-called “fine artists.”

      • Trollificus says

        D-Rex: It’s an assigned value, from the gatekeepers of “high art”. Mostly they decided that since conceptual art was the easier scam (compared to actually learning to paint or draw), the opposite, which required hard work and some talent, would be demonized. Thus does one of my favorite artists also get thrown into the “illustrator” category: Maxfield Parrish, who was as innovative and Bohemian as any trendy “avant guardian”.

    • codadmin says

      Norman Rockwell is good. Avant-guard is shit.

      Normal people are not sufficiently educated to appreciate the shitness of avant-guard.

      • Tome708 says

        Will Avant-Guard become the equivalent of 1970s architecture in retrospect?

    • D-Rex says

      @E. Olsen
      Just had a closer look at Rockwell’s art on google images and fell in love, thank you. I followed the link to one of his paintings called “girl running with wet canvas” and read this interesting article; “Beyond Objectification: Norman Rockwell’s
      Depictions of Women for the Saturday Evening Post” here;

      Thought you might find it interesting.

      • Trollificus says

        That was an excellent, and surprising, analysis. Sadly, in current year there seems to be no place for appreciation of someone who dealt so fairly with women, if his reasons weren’t consistent with feminism but were instead just because his heart was in the right place.

    • Kenny says

      I saw that exhibit at the Guggenheim. It was awesome. And so crowded you could hardly move. Rockwell was no dummy.

    • vsopvs says

      Salvador Dali is really Norman Rockwell’s twin brother kidnapped by gypsies in babyhood. – V. Nabokov

    • the Reverend Wazoo! says

      Missing seems to be some blatant technological/economic aspects: photographic technology, conspicuous consumption and how they combined to create a need for a “Modernism”(avant garde) which excluded those without the money and its attendant schooled “taste” to mark one’s self off from the Great Unwashed or for the nouveau riche to buy admittance to the upper echelons of society. Any schmuck could get a life size photo portrait more accurate than a painting in a gaudy guilt frame so how’s a Master of the Universe to show his superiority and prove his wealth buy buying something with no intrinsic value?

      Wth photography, the bottom started falling out of the painter’s main bread&butter market, portraiture, still lifes and landscapes. Rembrandt’s famous “Nightwatch” was a commissioned group portrait don’t forget and what’s the point of spending/charging for a week’s work painting a still-life if anyone with a Kodak can do a better job pronto.

      Anyway, my dad the artist pointed this out as a push for artists to convey something the camera couldn’t but also for the purchasers of art to want something a camera couldn’t deliver as that was now too common. Fair enough, and Expressionism, Cubism etc delivered new ways of viewing the everyday world, not to everyone’s taste but a valid effort in that direction.

      But just as unprecedented numbers of people learned to read and write so did they learn to draw and paint as well as make better and bigger photographs. So even more pressure came to bear on those who sought to differentiate themselves as the upper crust which was answered by a combination of artists and theoreticians willing to be handsomely paid for satisfying that need.

      So long as enough of the well-to-do contrived to exchange these objects with each other – in the manner of platinum cufflinks – they were negotiable stores of value akin to other family heirlooms but some scorekeeping was required so museums were dragooned and often created to validate the value of such objects d’art.

      A clever double-whammy: the benefit of conspicuous consumption akin to ordering a dozen $1,000 bottles of champagne as an aperitif but still able to sell the object on again later or better yet “donate” it to a museum on the condition they value it at 5 times the purchase price which generates a tax deduction savings worth twice the purchase price. And what museum wouldn’t give that free valuation in exchange for an object that can be sold later? Sweet.

  2. Heike says

    Here’s reason why modern art and modern architecture are so terrible.

    I think it is an elitism spiral.

    Instead of trying to appeal to general audiences, even educated ones, modern poets, artists and architects try to appeal a small circle of people consisting of themselves, professional critics, and a small number of big-pocket patrons who, unlike the patrons of past classical art and literature, seek to distance themselves from the masses rather than win their approval. This has created a spiral where creatives try to constantly outdo each other in going against established norms and tastes by being controversial, offensive, or outright incomprehensible just for the sake of it.

    And they were largely successful at it: they created a “high culture” that reliably signal a certain upper-class/elite subculture, but is repulsive to all us peons, who instead consume what is disparagingly designated as “pop culture”.

    Imagine artists and art critics/enthusiasts as two interacting communities where the artists create works and the critics validate the artists’ creations as good and successful. They depend on each other. Crucially, one’s position in one community is partly dependent on playing along with the other. Critics earn status by being skilled at interpreting art – the subtler and more difficult the better – while artists get critics’ attention and praise by making works that let them show how skilled they are.

    This sets up a feedback loop where critics cultivate increasingly sensitive mental faculties specialized in perceiving artistic messages, while artists make increasingly subtle and ambiguous works to match the audience’s increased sensitivity.

      • Trollificus says

        Also, with regard to architecture, in “From Bahaus to Our House”.

    • Song For the Deaf says

      That’s part of it. The other part is that the parameters of the American avant garde were defined almost entirely by neurotic Jewish intellectuals in NYC, who had nothing but contempt for the gentiles and their culture. Nearly all the critics and gatekeepers listed in this article are Jewish, and they all saw American culture as alien.

      • Lucas says

        It’s not about Jews. We had the same problem in France in the 1960s and 1970s with non-Jewish critics and theorists. I remember reading somewhere that most of them were Protestants (a small minority in France).

    • “elitism spiral”. Absolutely brilliant. I wish I had your expertise with language.

    • Steven Seward says

      Heike, great insights! You have added to my comprehension of the incomprehensible.

  3. ga gamba says

    I think we can, and ought to, delve deeper by examining each artist rather than the movement. The Cubist Georges Braque presented a new and interesting way of viewing objects from the perspectives of color, line, texture, and dimension. Clearly, Picasso and Dali were very skilled artists; they weren’t throwing paint around willy nilly and producing rubbish or kitsch. Contrast their work with Tracey Emin’s. It’s a tragedy she’s sliding into irrelevance because this forces us to recognise she was once influential for no discernible reason and certainly not for talent.

    Artist Henri de Saint-Simon, who coined avant-garde, wrote: We artists will serve you as an avant-garde, the power of the arts is most immediate: when we want to spread new ideas we inscribe them on marble or canvas. What a magnificent destiny for the arts is that of exercising a positive power over society, a true priestly function and of marching in the vanguard of all the intellectual faculties! (Bold mine.)

    Whether or not de Saint-Simon was full of himself is debatable. But, at the very least, he was a keen student of physics, mathematics, and physiology, and he saw the influence of art, science, and industry freeing man and improving lives; a man of the Enlightenment. He even moderated his anti-religious fervour later in life seeing the church as a stabilising force in society.

    The avant-garde of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was filled with excitement for the future – the anti-art mixed-media collages of Dadaism being the po-faced exception. It was daring and optimistic, and it was done with competence. In the latter part of the century it shifted sentiment. The emergence of Minimalism – the white on white cubes of Malevich, Albers, and Martin – caused the public to take notice and respond cynically: “C’mon! You taking the piss? Anyone can do that!” And less talented ‘artists’ did so. From that it moved to despondence and protest, one whinge after another. “I’ll add a few provocative words to my poorly executed composition.” It strikes me as attracting those whose life’s navigational chart is fake it ’til you make it.

    Much of it is akin to poorly done fusion cuisine, which is most fusion I ate. Take a mediocre French chef who then adds another cuisine s/he barely knows, say Navaho, to whip up vile slop that’s overpriced and overhyped. The chef becomes the talk of the town and you have be someone who knows someone to get a table booking.

    Whilst the chattering class is fawning over itself for being in the know, simple and delicious dishes such as thinly sliced and grilled calf and lamb tongue are forgotten.

    • Dr. Camille Paglia has very thoughtful comments to make on this subject, particularly in her discussion with Professor Peterson. Do check it out.

  4. Minus: Appointment of National Gallery Kaywin Feldman as its next director, announced today (11 December). “I’m a feminist, and I have long advocated for gender equality, so it’s really exciting for me to be able to lead the nation’s art museum . . .”

    • Wow. That is truly grim, and captures in a sentence why I don’t bother with the art world.

      If you like it, hang it on your wall. Everything else on the topic is dross.

      • Nakatomi Plaza says

        You don’t “bother” with the art world because a gallery director is a feminist? Your aesthetic sensibilities are so fragile that you can’t handle that curators have opinions that don’t perfectly align with yours? You poor, poor fragile baby.

        Let’s just pray the art world can survive without you and your insights.

        • Song For the Deaf says

          You’re kidding, right? Because the art world is way more bigoted towards people like him than he is towards them. The feminists being the most bigoted of them all.

          • Bravo. Possibly the most salient comment I’ve ever read here on “Quillette” in the comments section.

    • Kaywin Feldman’s priorities:

      “Without direct intervention, museums will continue to replicate societal patterns of oppression such as sexism, racism, and ableism. It will take an intentional and comprehensive strategy to transform museum practices towards greater gender equity. It is time for a new intersectional feminist agenda that focuses on increased representation for women of color and gender minorities, and closes the gendered leadership gap. It is time to move women and gender minorities in the field from presence to power.”

      • Lightning Rose says

        Does anyone in the REAL world give a flying frack? These people remind me of a bunch of goldfish who don’t realize their “world” is no bigger than a birdbath.

        • Craig Willms, I don’t understand what you mean. My comment above was nothing but a quotation from a link.

  5. Frances says

    I am excited to learn that representational art is a thriving movement. I know very little about contemporary art, but do know Jacob Collins, who has his own atelier, and I think is superb. If you want to view incredible representational art go to the Hoki Museum in Chiba, Japan which exhibits many such artists who are simply amazing.

  6. Bazza64 says

    George Harrison nailed it when referring to Yoko Ono’s work “Avant-Garde a clue”

    Most AV art is clearly a case of the emperor having no clothes

  7. Defenstrator says

    To be blunt the Avant Garde has not been taken seriously by anyone except themselves since the early 80s. This essay is someone on the inside coming to terms with reality. Certainly anyone who had an interest in Sci-fi or Fantasy never took them seriously. We liked artists who were trying to portray and realize the look of entire worlds. Having the know nothings expect us to belueve a black canvas meant something was considered laughably stupid by all except those who pretended they were in the know. Having created the fiction thet desperately kept perpetuating it. After all, people will say almost anything when their paycheque is on the line.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Most of the time “in the know” is performative social climbing and nothing more. Which is why this crap is hanging on the walls of monochrome open-plan cookie cutter mansions in the Hamptons.

    • Martin28 says

      Don’t kid yourself, Defenstrator. Avant Garde is taken seriously by academic institutions, which have are a major part of our economy and mold young adults, by foundations, which have close to a trillion dollars in assets, by self-identified high-brow media like the NYT, by art critics, by museums, by the “art world” including galleries. At least that has been the case for the better part of a century.

  8. Defenstrator says

    Can Quillette introduce an edit function? My spelling mistakes are driving me mad.

  9. Fickle Pickle says

    A comment on the word avant-garde. Though now identified with artistic endeavors, avant-garde was originally a military term, referring to the foremost attacking position of an army or a naval fleet. In this respect, the very foundation of avant-garde culture is war (the USA for instance is now a permanent warfare state). When art is war, war itself must be no different that art. The avant-garde artist and the military general – two mirrors of the same schizophrenic condition.

    All art, including “realistic” representational art is abstraction.

    Art is always coincident with the culture of the time and place in which it is/was produced.And culture of every time and place is invariably bound to and limited by the dominant zeitgeist of its time and place. Present time Western civilization (or what remains of it) is entirely secular, superficial, materialistic, outward directed, and object oriented. It is founded on a mode of propaganda about the nature of existence that has driven humankind to the point of collective self-destruction.

    And,ALWAYS,- no matter how many landscapes, portraits, still lifes, or visual narratives one looks at or produces at – all images constructed within that zeitgeist/paradigm are essentially about oneself. One is constantly reminded of oneself, constantly reminded of ones presumed separate self. One is, in effect, constantly walking into one’s own face. How profound could that possibly be?

    The circumstance of existence, in and of itself, is disheartening. That is why it is necessary to do art. Art is an essential response to the conditions of existence, a means by which limitations are transcended, Reality is Realized, Truth is Realized, Light is found.
    Without that activity, there is nothing but this overwhelming intrusion of changes and death. Participation in an art form should be at least as great as that art form.
    Art should change you. That is the purpose of it. True art heals. True art restores equanimity. Art must regenerate the sense of well-being. That is its true purpose. When art is really useful, it serves this ultimate process of healing, well-being, higher sympathy, and Spiritual Awakening.

    Meanwhile two references to check out:

    The remarkable 1975 book by Jose Arguelles titled The Transformative Vision : Reflections on the Nature and History of Human Expression.
    From the back cover of the original Shambala edition.
    Man’s psyche – the primary intuitive being – is seen in conflict with techne – the side that creates order. When these two sides of man’s nature are in harmony, the author explains, aesthetic activity flourishes. Arguelles traces the history of human expression from the Renaissance to the present, arguing that modern history is characterized by an increasing repression of man’s psychic self by the technical side of his nature. Thus modern art becomes more and more exclusive while our everyday lives become more and more mechanized. In focusing upon the tradition of the modern visionaries, a perspective is provided for the restoration of this situation..

    Meanwhile 45 years later the schizophrenic split of our collective condition is far more extreme or “advanced”. The repression of the human psyche – the primary intuitive aspect of our existence-being – has reached ground zero.

    • “The circumstance of existence, in and of itself, is disheartening.” Nonsense, life is a great opportunity, the best you’ll ever get. Being one of the very tiny minority of living creatures born human is a huge bonus, make the most of it.

    • Lightning Rose says

      “The circumstance of existence” being “disheartening” is pretty much the definition of neurosis. The world will always have problems in need of a solution, but honestly this level of drama just eludes me. Today more people than ever before enjoy a standard of living formerly unknown to kings, not to mention instant worldwide communication, travel, and the ability to explore and enjoy the best of all cultures. Infectious disease, war on the grand scale, famine, and the dirt-floor level of poverty are within sight of being defeated. Maybe some people just need to up their Prozac, or hang around with a better class of people not defined by black turtlenecks and Kafka. Buy a DOG!

  10. Bubblecar says

    True enough. I’m an artist quietly working in my own studio and I pay no attention to what’s going on in the academic “art world” – few artists do these days, even those who bother exhibiting in traditional galleries.

    The internet provides a vast arena for artwork, not just via the art-upload websites but through the simple medium of Google Image Search, Wikimedia Commons and many other routes that can bring your work to the attention of a global audience.

    Artists like myself who are not interested in money or establishment prestige have no reason to take instructions from those seeking to limit and control what artists may explore.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      Yea, when you have no interest in money or prestige and you use Google to distribute your work (randomly and with zero compensation – why the fuck would anybody do that?) I can imagine that you don’t bother paying attention to the “art world.” Why would you? You aren’t a part of it and apparently have no intention of ever becoming so.

      • Bubblecar says

        “(randomly and with zero compensation – why the fuck would anybody do that?)”

        Well, to reach an audience who might appreciate the work. Or is that too sinister a motive?

        • I am a photographer who considers himself an artist.(Not necessarily a good artist, just an artist.) Photography today teeters between those people who are skilled at ‘representational’ works but who have nothing interesting or useful to say (and may not even realize that that is important) and those who are energetic but unskilled and see that as a license in itself because the ‘idea is what is important.’
          A stroll through any art school gallery will show multiple examples of both.
          I don’t participate in shows or competitions and don’t attempt to sell work.

        • Trollificus says

          I run into people like you at exhibits and art fairs, Bubble, and their work is, while not uniformly delightful, always interesting and worthy of respect. Much more so than the stuff that gets bought for millions. Keep it up.

          ps) I’m sure you’re aware that your position vis a vis “the art world” has the added benefit of minimizing interactions with people like Nakatomi Plaza above. A result to be much appreciated!

      • X. Citoyen says

        Nakatomi Plaza,

        Why should an artist aspire to become part of the academic and commercial art world? I ask because your comment implies that a lack of desire for compensation and validation in the eyes of peers somehow disqualifies someone from being an artist.

      • Defenstrator says

        Deviant Art is essentially the largest art gallery in the world. The people on it are most definitely part of the art world, and that gallery is where they show their genuine talents. The fact that they are not part of a group of narrow minded art tribalists does not mean they are not artists.

      • peanut gallery says

        You don’t have to have a reason to make art if you enjoy doing it. Why not share it for free if it costs you nothing to do so? Why should he have to bow to the gatekeepers on when or how his work gets to the public? The internet is democratizing in this way.

    • “Artists like myself who are not interested in money or establishment prestige”

      Bubblecar, surely you realize that the artists who are not wealthy dilettantes have to support themselves with their work and hardly have the luxury of being “not interested” in money.

      • Bubblecar says

        You don’t seem to realise that only a small percentage of professional fine artists make enough money from their work to support themselves.

        So it doesn’t really make sense to make that a condition of being a professional artist, and few artists do.

        • Bubblecar, that’s just my point. In the first half of the 20th century many real artists railed against the moneyed bohemian amateurs who gave up collecting art to produce art themselves. Now there are so many “artists” the real ones can’t support themselves.

          • Bubblecar says

            I think you’re being a bit naive. Real artists are just artists, either trained in fine art to what their peers regard as a professional standard, or trained and employed in commercial art, or just talented hobbyists – they are all artists.

            Those trained in fine art often support themselves by teaching art, or they have other jobs or like me, other sources of income. A few do make enough money from their work to support themselves but the important point is that in fine art, making money isn’t really the point. The point is to satisfy your creative urges and explore whatever it is you have to explore to the best of your abilities.

        • Tome708 says

          Art, like philosophy, should only be a hobby except for a very few gifted.

    • D-Rex says

      From what Jordan Peterson has said, true artists are compelled to create, its in their DNA so to speak. And by artists I mean not just painters and sculpters.

  11. This piece was painful and embarrassing to read. At best, one can attribute it to the growing pains of an understaffed, shoestring- budget magazine with no editor onboard who has any familiarity with contemporary art. At worst, it shows a depressing lack of understanding of the transcendent possibilities of the kind of art that’s being attacked here. (And of course no Quillette article would be complete without references to some scary Marxists, which the writer happily provides. “Marxist, Marxist!” “Where?” “Over there!”)

    Art isn’t all (or arguably even mostly) about technique. You can have all the technical talent in the world and not have anything interesting or original or memorable to say. When this happens, you might be painting, drawing, sculpting, doing installations and video, or whatever. But you won’t be engaged in art.

    My guess is that many of the graduates of these rising good old-fashioned ruler-on-the-knuckles drawing and painting schools the writer is loudly praising and claims are quickly becoming all the rage, while more likely to have the sort of skills required of the animation and graphics industries — and unlike 99.5 percent of all art school grads will actually be making a living from these skills (good for them!) — will be producing nothing which by any reasonable estimation could be called art. At best, they might be producing works of exquisite craft and technique –- that is, skillfully plying a trade. Nothing wrong with that. But most won’t be artists. They’ll be craftsmen.

    I’m also hardly preaching the virtues of enrollment at the kind of accredited art college where indoctrination in indecipherable quirk and impenetrable theory is standard fare. The useless and dysfunctional human detritus that typically flourish and emerge from these places –- the unhappy and confused children of liberal white privilege — probably deserved every beat-down they received in junior high, and even more richly deserve the apathy and rejection that predictably greet their product after their degrees are finally conferred and they are loosed into the world to be forever subsidized on their disappointed daddies’ dimes.

    But at least these preening twits might have the good sense to pick up on the lingering odor of kitsch wafting up from their screens while reading this article.

    Real artists don’t need art schools. But they also don’t need to engage in the kind of archaic and sentimental -– what the writer calls “objective” and “representational” — forms that he wants to exhume and then freshly install in our museums and galleries.

    • Bubblecar says

      I think you’re being overly harsh. The writer is celebrating the demise of an art establishment that was too narrowly focused, and pointing out that its concerns are now being swamped by an explosion of work reflecting many more approaches to creating art.

      Your distinction between “real art” and “technically good stuff that nonetheless isn’t art” repeats the rather dated and obscurantist practice of using the word “art” to mean “art that I think is good’, while dismissing the rest as non-art.

      That kind of recursive semantics really just just evades a real debate about why some art is worthy and some art is not, which is best centred on specific examples.

      • Most of the comments were entirely self-serving and a projection if ever there was one; Marxists? Where? Not ‘over there’ – the aforementioned who asked the question.

        Marxist is a prop of disdain to reassure people who haven’t ‘made it’ that their failures are of the worthiest, most virtuous kind because they wouldn’t degrade themselves to work for money. Not like the rest of us (craven individuals with no real virtue or values). Snobbery, but with the excesses of communism carefully airbrushed and manicured to make its new incarnation acceptable. It isn’t; he isn’t.

      • Tome708 says

        radical centrist appreciates only work done in the medium of menopausal urine. Anything else is hack work

    • Michael says

      Your sneering at the article followed by a hodgepodge of poorly expressed ideas says it all

    • X. Citoyen says

      If I didn’t have to subsidize your art, I’d be more than happy to let you stare up Anthea Hamilton’s giant arse all day long.

      Unfortunately, classical kitsch lovers all over the West have to pay your rent and more: We also have to tolerate our cityscapes being defaced with the mental ejaculate of degenerate minds. So I see this trend as a welcome one that I hope continues.

      • X. Citoyen

        Well, then, apparently at least we have one very strong area of agreement: Governments should not be in the business of subsidizing art. (Large-scale public art might be an occasional, hopefully rare, exception.)

    • Cassandra says

      So art is what you say it is. Exactly that, not too abstract, not too representational……just………what you say ( although you haven’t actually offered a definition).

      Heigh Ho.

      • I’m sure it won’t be the last time he’s confronted by a Cassandra!! And deservedly so.

    • Defenstrator says

      Thank goodness we have pretentious people around to explain what is and is not art. Since the whole term “art” is inherently subjective I would have thought it was quite difficult. But apparently all you you have to do is self righteously make declarations, and say other people are wrong if they disagree with you.

      I find most craftsmen do make art. And what is more, it is better art than you find in most modern gallery’s. You may disagree, but you’re not right. I decide what is meaningful to me, not you.

    • Ansellia says

      Embarrassing to read. I’ll second that. There are too many undeserving attacks. The impression created is of an author who is institutionalised and resentful of original thought. I don’t see how abstract art played an active role in the cold war and the picture painted of a Jewish conspiracy is the same godawful SJW ideology which Quillette articles usually set out to counter.

      I don’t buy the supposed opposition between cerebral and the kitsch/sentimental in art. The author seems unwilling or unable to draw a distinction between commercial and fine art. In my view “slide into irrelevance” is a slide into journalese.

    • Martin28 says

      @ A New Radical Centrism
      What a lot of rubbish. Who decides whether someone has something “original or memorable to say?” A small priesthood of art critics and curators who hold influential positions and a similar ideology that is required for membership in this elite. This judgement is hopelessly corrupted. In reality, these folks are gatekeepers who have few original thoughts. They praise originality for originality’s sake, as long as it undermines the status quo.
      The same goes for who defines what a “real artist” is. The people who make these distinctions are not interested in original ideas, they are interested in protecting their own sinecure. And folks like you want to advertise how highly defined and intellectual you are, because all of your self-esteem, and probably an enormous economic investment, is wrapped up in that.

    • Trollificus says

      Haaahaha!! Ah, fancy elitism, projection, assertions presented as argument, snark…exactly the kind of ex cathedra pronouncement a good artist will ignore.

      Are you a professor? An art teacher of some kind? That’s the only kind of person I can imagine having so much invested in rock-hard definitions of art and ironclad divisions between artists and non-artists. Someone who has a dog in the fight, or a paycheck.

      I don’t think you’re aware of just how transparent such masturbatory ego-gratification and self-anointed in-crowd signalling really are these days.

      (A: pretty damn transparent)

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Radical Centrism

      What a pretentious comment. So you don’t consider cave paintings art, or Ming porcelain, or Rembrandt?

      Avant garde was a relevant concept when art was still evolving in the 19th and 20th centuries, and people were still coming up with new forms of beauty to share with the world. But around about the mid 20th century all the really new ideas were essentially used up and “avant garde” art now is no longer original. Not to say that some of it can’t also still be beautiful or moving, just as other older forms of more representational art can be beautiful and moving.

    • Well-stated and spot on. This opinion piece is a hot mess of assertions, most of which are somehow entangled in the mire of current political miscourse. Its hard to know where to start commenting on any of it because it is so confused and confusing to read.

      However, illustrators and craftspeople will always find threads of employment in the mainstream economy that, as you point out, have nothing to do with art and everything to do with craft.

      The adoration of Norman Rockwell is puzzling. While the representationalism of his stylish and opinionated illustrations is impeccable, their sentimentality is even more laughable today than when he painted them. Pollock, OTOH, remains a sight to behold and experience.

      Illustration mill schools aren’t teaching art anymore because no one there knows anything about it. Modern Art and everything after has always required a degree of study and background information that exclusively visual art doesn’t.

  12. Monty Python had a good take on this. A recent article in The Times:

    For most people, the offer of an exhibition of their work at the Victoria and Albert Museum would be an honour.

    The museum in London, which has had a run of acclaimed shows, including those dedicated to Pink Floyd and David Bowie, thought it was on to a winner when it approached Monty Python last year. The comedians, who shaped British humour with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and their satirical film Life of Brian, were impressed at first with the suggestion they were style idols, but enthusiasm faded as they clashed with curators over the exhibition title.

    The collapse of the show has been revealed by Eric Idle in his memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, in which he describes his irritation at the pretentiousness of the exercise. He recalls that the surviving members of the troupe — John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin — suggested to the museum that the title be Monty Python: The Same Old Bollocks. “That title was very Python,” Idle wrote. “In-your-face aggressive modesty.”

    The museum turned it down, prompting the team to suggest Monty Python Exposed. The V&A demurred again and came back with From Dali to Dead Parrots, which the Pythons hated and which Idle took as a sign that the establishment was looking down on them. “It became clear they were doing an exhibition on surrealism and the so-called roots of our work,” Idle continued. “Pretentious nonsense. We’re nothing to do with Dali or Duchamp. For me, Python has always been about comedy. That is the art. If you take us seriously, you miss the joke, even though we were always deadly serious about being funny.”

    The final straw was the V&A insisted on having the final say.

    “I was never prouder of Python than when we all said no,” Idle wrote. “The museum couldn’t believe it.”

    The V&A suggested there was also a financial element to the row. “Despite a constructive dialogue with the Pythons, unfortunately it wasn’t possible to agree a creative partnership that effectively combined the Python’s ideas with the V&A’s collections, extensive exhibition expertise and financial model,” it said.

    Earlier in his memoir, Idle explains that the Pythons snuck a joke at the expense of one of Life of Brian’sfinancial backers into the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Bernard Delfont, chief executive of distributor EMI, nearly scuppered the film by backing out at the last minute, and Idle sings: “I told them, Bernie I said, they’ll never make their money back.” The Pythons had sued and received a substantial settlement.

    • georgopolis says

      Great comment. Thanks for that.
      I actually chuckle at the thought of John Cleese both literally and figuratively towering over a pretentious curator trying to artsplain him that the fat man exploding in the restaurant is a metaphor for our overindulgent society.

  13. Nakatomi Plaza says

    But isn’t “avant-garde” an adjective rather than a particular movement? I’ve never seen the term used to denote anybody or anything specifically, only the condition of being unusual, radical, experimental, and such. Something entirely representational could be avant-garde against a backdrop where such a thing would seem radical. Likewise, the term was so popular during the Modern period because art was changing so rapidly and appearing different or radical began to feel like an end unto itself. The term seems especially dated today anyway, like something an old man or a hack would say. It seems really sloppy to use the term the way it’s used here.

    Then again, gross generalities and poorly-backed claims are all this place is really good for.

  14. Dazza says

    Here here. But Quillette has its agenda. You know that, we can’t expect to read an article on here that doesn’t bend at the required angle, and then invite the usual opinionated and unconstructive comments.
    I like to think that Norman was really a fan of Jackson and was just having a stab at irony.
    I’ve never been a fan of pretentious twaddle, but when I first saw a painting by Wassily Kandinsky I was transfixed. Who cares if art falls into the
    avant-garde bracket, if it makes an impression on you and appeals to you in some way that you can’t always describe, and if that is its only function, then it’s good art.
    I’m not sure what the article is trying to say about art, other than using the subject of art to have a bash at the usual things Quillette articles always have a bash at. But then I knew that before I read it.
    I used a fork to eat my soup and found that all I could get was crispy croutons, luckily they turned out to be best bits of the soup.

    • Perhaps you never saw Barry Humphries’s take on avant garde – in his case Dadaism – where he pretended to vomit into a brown paper bag on a suburban train and at the next stop get out a fork and eat from the bag (it was tinned vegetable soup). That man nailed the issues of ludicrous pretense and unimaginable snobbery.

    • Trollificus says

      One mans’ pretentious twaddle is another mans’ half-shark in formaldehyde.

      Let’s just define, for the purposes of the article, “avant garde” as “what gets bought up by billionaires who are unconcerned with art” and go from there, eh? You know, “works” that require a twenty-page essay to explain WHY it’s actually art, thought it looks and smells like an actual pile of actual shit. Works that purport to portray some ugliness the artist finds in society, an ugliness which is not often found by most people in life but is present in all of his work? That whole “I know it when I see it” thing.

      THEN the article makes perfectly good sense.

  15. AC Harper says

    “…this had led to bitter infighting and vicious power-struggles within the entrenched community as the various special interest groups fought from their corners.”

    What makes us human…

  16. Kristina says

    I recommend the author visit the Meow Wolf installation in Santa Fe. It is a large-scale interactive art installation with many avant-garde elements and influences. Tens of thousands of people have experienced the installation, and the success has led to plans for installations in other cities. Perhaps if you look further afield from the traditional locations of avant-garde art, you will finding what you are looking for.

  17. Stanley Ketchel says

    Best book ever about the pretensions of avant-garde critics — Of course, with society being as mixed up and confused as a stadium full of cats, it is pretty hard to figure out what is really avante-garde. It is really hard to be the most outrageous person around when there is no normal.

  18. Joseph Six Pack says

    Thank you for making me laugh on an otherwise gray and depressing day. I agree with those observations about avant garde art. Now that I have found my mood affiliation and confirmational biases I am able to wrap up a troubling year more at peace.

  19. TheSnark says

    I’m curious how the galleries and their wealthy customers, fit into this. The galleries were at the forefront of promoting the various avante-guarde artists, and they only did it because they could sell the stuff to the clients (unlike many artists, the galleries do need to make money from the art). Without the gallery “scene”, those artists and the whole movement would have gone nowhere.

    So were the clients merely useful, rich idiots who were duped into buying this stuff, maybe to be cool, or maybe as an investment? Or did they really appreciate it and enjoy looking at it in their Manhattan penthouses?

  20. Andy Patton says

    I’m not sure that the example of Odd Nerdrum helps your point. He studied with Josef Beuys In Dusseldorf—Beuys of course was obviously a member of the avant-garde and Dusseldorf the elite school for avant-garde artists at the time. Nerdrum designated his own work (and that of certain allies) as kitsch, though he was much more careful in delineating what he meant by this than this essay does.

  21. “A white female avant-gardist painter was excoriated for painting a canvas of a black boy who had been killed by police.”

    The author betrays their lack of research and biases. This is not a valid argument.

    Margaret Bowland, a white artist, portrays black girls.
    Will Cotton, a male artist, portrays nude women slathered in ice cream or whipped cream.

    Both of these artists have been accepted by the mainstream art world, and they are just the first two I thought of off the top of my head. It’s just not true that portraying someone of a different race within one’s own work is automatically deemed offensive – this is a laughably simplistic way of looking at the issue.

    Dana Schutz’s painting was controversial because it gravely mishandled an extremely emotional image for a community, stripping it of it’s meaning and displaying it in a context that commercialized it and turned it into entertainment. It wasn’t just “she’s white so she can’t paint that”, as the author so simplistically asserts. Margaret Bowland’s fame alone disproves the authors point – if it was about her being white, Bowland would have faced the same cultural wrath. Instead, Bowland was celebrated and Schutz condemned. Why? It was how Schutz handled the image.

    I also would be remiss without addressing this:

    “Perhaps the greatest representational painter of the century, the extraordinary Odd Nerdrum, has re-opened the discussion of the place of sentiment in art, claiming that he is a “kitsch-painter” not an artist, pointing out the long-lived false dichotomy between avant-garde and kitsch.”

    I have to retype that… “Perhaps the greatest representational painter of the century, the extraordinary Odd Nerdrum” – I literally laughed out loud. Nerdrum is a fine painter and I’ve enjoyed his work, but to call him the greatest of the century only further turns this entire essay into a joke. What about Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown, Anselm Kiefer, He Duoling, Neo Rauch, Yayoi Kusama? Or the other hundred names we could tack onto this list? And of all the artists in the world, the author selects *Odd Nerdrum* as “the greatest representational painter of the century”?

    The author betrays their lack of exposure to the other options and schools of thought in the art world.

    • X. Citoyen says

      You claim the author’s report of the Dana Schutz incident is laughably simplistic, and then offer a laughably ideological justification that amounts to the same thing. The Wikipedia page on Schutz records the criticisms made at the time. A sample from Hannah Black:

      … it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun, though the practice has been normalized for a long time. Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist — those non-Black artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful nature of white violence should first of all stop treating Black pain as raw material. The subject matter is not Schutz’s; white free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.

      Schutz’s fault was being a white artist painting “black pain.” Does it get any clearer than “the subject matter is not Schutz’s”?

      • X. Citoyen:
        And yet, you quote one critics opinion of Schutz’s work, and extrapolate that this must be what ALL criticism of Schutz is rooted in. That, my friend, is lazy.

        Do you remember Piss Christ? The outrage around Schutz is comparable to the outrage that surrounded that photo. Christians felt it was profoundly disrespectful treatment of a symbol important to them.

        Some critics have an opinion similar to the single one you quoted, and yet many others have the more “nuanced” view (if you that’s what you call common sense!) that lightheartedly portraying the brutal murder of a real innocent man and putting it up for sale is a wee bit offensive.

        And you have failed to address my point about Bowland. She is a white woman, her work addresses black suffering in part, and yet she hasn’t faced the same backlash. Because she’s not portraying something deeply personal in such an offensive manner.

        • X. Citoyen says


          You started out criticizing the author’s take on the Schutz affair as laughably simplistic. I pointed to the Wiki on this, which catalogues much of the criticism, and quoted Hannah Black, a black woman, supporting the author’s take. Now you’re claiming that I’m lazy for not citing everyone involved, even though you’ve cited no one to support your own view—aside, that is, from your anonymous self.

          But you’ve committed a worse sin. You’ve dismissed the view of a black woman as lacking in nuance—though you earlier called her view laughably simplistic when the author stated it. All the author and I have done is disagree with Hannah Black in principle. You’ve not only dismissed her feelings about the painting, you’ve suggested your own view is the more representative one. Now that’s quite a claim. Perhaps you’d like to explain why your view is more representative than the black woman’s?

          • Once again, you fail to address my point about Bowland. Your inability to talk about it is telling, because it really does disprove your point.

            And you misunderstood (or deliberately misrepresent for your own sake) what I am saying. You and the author claimed that Schutz is being disparaged because she is a white woman who dares to comment on black matters. You quote a random critic on wikipedia to support your view.

            I challenged your view that many of us found the painting offensive for much more nuanced reasons. Such as – the handling of the painting, presentation of it, the context in which it was exhibited, and the associated commercial interests of it, were what many (including myself) found deeply offensive.

            To put up a picture of the murder of an innocent child to further one’s career and hopefully make a sale, to exploit a black hate crime for one’s own profit.

            Unfortunately, you and the author are so wrapped up in condemning anything that smells faintly of the left, you’re not giving that perspective due consideration.

            Are there *some* people who believe as the person quoted on Wikipedia does? Yes.
            Are there *some* people who will condemn a white person portraying black people at all? Yes – there are also flat earthers and christian polygamists and all sorts of extreme people in the world.

            But you are arguing that *most* people who were offended, were offended for that reason. And that is where I feel you’re out of touch with the conversation, only seeing the extreme fringes of it, as opposed to what the majority found offensive.

            It was an easy, simple shot for the author (which, yes) betrayed either laziness or a refusal to engage in the argument in good faith, and the same can be said for you.

            And once again – IF your point is true, that *all* people offended by Schutz’s painting are upset because “white people aren’t allowed to paint black people”, THEN Bowland would be equally excoriated publicly. But she hasn’t been, she isn’t, and her work is in major collections around the world.

            So why is Bowland allowed to, and Schutz not? It’s in their choice and handling of the subject matter. If you can’t address that point, your argument is illogical.

          • X. Citoyen says

            Once again, you fail to address my point about Bowland. Your inability to talk about it is telling, because it really does disprove your point.

            I didn’t fail to address Bowland because it’s irrelevant whataboutism. (Technically, it’s called affirming the consequent, but I suspect this might be beyond you.)

            And you misunderstood (or deliberately misrepresent for your own sake) what I am saying. You and the author claimed that Schutz is being disparaged because she is a white woman who dares to comment on black matters. You quote a random critic on wikipedia to support your view.

            You said the author’s interpretation was “laughably simplistic.” That was me quoting you. In case you’re not familiar with this convention, I quoted you when I enclosed your words in quotation marks.

            As for random critics, you’ve quoted no one to support your view.

            I challenged your view that many of us found the painting offensive for much more nuanced reasons. Such as – the handling of the painting, presentation of it, the context in which it was exhibited, and the associated commercial interests of it, were what many (including myself) found deeply offensive.

            Again, who’s this many/us you keep referring to and what role did you and your unnamed nuancers have in this drama? I didn’t see anyone named “Wm” quoted in anywhere, and how in the world could any of us be blamed for not knowing a nuanced view that never spoke up in public? Are we all supposed to read your mind? I invited you to cite sources for this view already, and you remain silent, as if your personal thoughts are somehow public knowledge.

            Unfortunately, you and the author are so wrapped up in condemning anything that smells faintly of the left, you’re not giving that perspective due consideration.

            Now you can read my mind. Attributing bad motives is a great ploy because it justifies dismissing me without the thorny problem of dealing with anything I said—or, more to the point, owning up to the dumb things you’ve said.

            Are there *some* people who believe as the person quoted on Wikipedia does? Yes. Are there *some* people who will condemn a white person portraying black people at all? Yes – there are also flat earthers and christian polygamists and all sorts of extreme people in the world.

            Then you admit that the author was right and that if anyone is laughably simplistic it’s Hannah Black, one of those “extreme people” (your words).

            But you are arguing that *most* people who were offended, were offended for that reason. And that is where I feel you’re out of touch with the conversation, only seeing the extreme fringes of it, as opposed to what the majority found offensive.

            I didn’t say “most people” anywhere. I quoted one prominent anti-Schutz protestor saying exactly what the author said. You provided no one and nothing to support your interpretation. As far as I can tell, this nuanced argument exists only in your mind. It wasn’t made at the time. And you’ve had ample opportunity to show otherwise.

        • Michael Poindexter says

          You have it wrong about Piss Christ and Schultz’s work. Piss Christ was designed to be offensive to Christians and was roundly criticized for that offense. Schultz’s work was designed to be respectful and meant to criticize her own race. The black racists exploited the notoriety of the painting to advertise their racist propaganda.

          I can’t say that I defend Schultz or criticize her racist attackers. I love to watch the left eat their own.

  22. Max Schubert says

    There is a lot to unpack in this article – the author is right that a healthy critique of the avant-garde and its goals are likely not adequately instilled as part of the curriculum at many schools, but the best, top-tier schools, of which there are not many, do in fact give a great overview of the artistic ideologies of early 20th century through present day. The choice of what and how to create is most certainly not as ideological as he claims.

    There IS a push and pull between a kind of post-modern, Relational Aesthetics (encompassing institutional critique, identity politics, socially charged content) and the trajectory of art prior to it through present day (what the author terms, far too broadly and probably inaccurately, the avant-garde).

    But here is the bottom line about what makes ‘avant-garde’ art so displeasing to so many yet completely essential: experimental, difficult or irritating ideas and forms become the standard for later art, and their fruits account for the CONTINUATION of art. Another still life or crucifixion does not.

    Like literature, film, and novels, most of this work will fall short or simply suck, but without it, we would still be reading poems that sound like William Wordsworth and watching ‘War of the Worlds’ instead of ‘2001 – a space odyssey’.

    So for what the author bemoans as avant-garde – Just as with pure science and other forms of non-artistic, “whats-the-point” experimentation, its not for everybody, or for most people, but its successes, however rare, will become part of what we call life, eventually. Its pursuit is essential.

    • MoreTemperate says

      I blame Marcel Duchamp and the advent of conceptual art, which far from preparing the ground for a continuation of art, in fact has led us to a dead end. If it is the concept or idea behind a work that makes it meaningful (and hence a worthwhile experience for the viewer), the question that has to be answered is this: Why does Tracey Emin’s unmade bed count as art whereas my unmade bed does not? Why is Carl Andre’s heap of bricks a valuable work of art, whereas my heap of bricks is worth no more than the bricks themselves? If everything can be art – even a urinal or a lump of fat – as long as there is a concept (and a brand name!) attached to it, then ultimately nothing is art. This is why so many people feel alienated or even cheated by much of what is currently championed as art.
      Fortunately, much of it will not survive the test of time and works without any intrinsic value will eventually be discarded, if only because the conservation costs will far outstrip the rewards.

    • Indie Wifey says

      Yep. It is about consumptive choice. the freedom for everyone to apply, support or decline whatever is created. How else can comparative ranges exist then to support competition for best possible output? Though subjective, the historical tendencies support this. Masterpiece or schlock, old/original perceptions morph with time but with – interestingly – surprising consistency.
      The pigeonholing of output thanks to today’s censorial ID-ownership mandates does also just that. Radically limits the universe of expression/output, which in turn denies all full-spectra sources for consumers/students, an ever-dwindling fountainhead.

      • Indie Wifey says

        Radical denigration of histories and all its markers ie today’s SJW cultural inversions is as ignorant as any destructive wave ever was. Erasure leaves me on super cautionary standby

    • Trollificus says

      @Max Schubert:
      Point taken. And yet…

      It seems that many, many, many of the “failures” of the experimental process by which you say art is advanced, also sell for many millions of dollars. And when these works clearly require less expertise, craft or actual work than the much-derided landscapes and portraits (however imaginative they may be) that the ‘art world” deems sentimental or kistchy and unworthy of monetary reward..well, some of us dumb ol’ common sense types sense a sort of injustice (if the use of the word won’t trigger another smug lecture).

      I guess having a self-anointed priesthood of interpreters of High Art busying themselves with well-compensated polysyllabic defenses of said “art” helps its purveyors to be satisfied with the dollars of governments, drug lords, tech billionaires, money launderers, oligarchs and international vulgarians. The fact of us unenlightened normies laughing at them is thus of small import.

      MY meager funds will go unapologeticaly to people who have skills and craftsmanship that I cannot duplicate, that I am sometimes in awe of. The last time I thought I got a deal on a Duchamp, I happened to be putting in another restroom, so I got lucky there.

  23. As Mark Twain once said of himself, I suspect the author’s assertions of the demise of the avant-garde to be exaggerated. The passing of the avant-garde depends on what one thinks of as constituting the essential nature of the avant-garde.

    The avant-garde has always operated under the delusion that it was in opposition to capitalism but in reality the avant-garde’s propagandizing of ideas of liberation and purity are ideas which are symptomatic of capitalism. The avant-garde with all its talk of “originality” and “the new” has always spoken the language of capitalism. Capitalism thrives in the dead accidental universe where nature becomes so much raw material to be managed or used as we see fit. The very notion that reality is an ideological or theoretical phenomenon reflects the same dead meaningless universe.

    The avant-garde poisoned itself the moment it thought it could generate some new and improved reality, the moment it bought into theories and ideologies of liberation and purity (the greatest of modern artists – Kandinsky, Klee, Pollack etc. – never bought into this). It’s not a coincidence that the literary High Priests of the avant-garde, despite all their claims of purity, were often self-proclaimed Marxists.

    The avant-garde art consumated its nihilistic trajectory of liberation and purity into pure self-referential ecstasy . . . but the avant-garde’s sensibility didn’t disappear. The self-referential sanctity of the individual work of art reemerged as the self-referential sanctimonious individual self-creator. Clement Greenburg’s solipsistic assertion that all great art is about art is now iterated to mean each individual human now is his or her own little self-created work of art. The hysteria of identity politics flows from this kind of understanding.

    Ideologists and theorists speak of liberation and purity Art has to do with lived reality, messy impure lived reality. Learning classical skills of representation is all well and good and may portend a healthy return to experience. But those skills in the service of some progressive egalitarian fantasy, like all other capitalist fantasies of escape, is simply the avant-garde in its latest vulgar iteration. The poison may have spread throughout the whole body, but the spirit of the avant-garde lives on.

    • Fickle Pickle says

      It could be said that the latest nihilistic vulgar iteration of the avant-garde is “reality”-TV and that as its inevitable consequence the leading vector of that all consuming nihilism now resides in the White House.

  24. Leah the Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon. says

    For something completely different re the vast topic of art and culture check out these websites.
    The first artist was born in 1862 and died in 1944.
    Ken Wilber features an image from her on the cover of some of his recent books

    The second is still very much alive. He is closely associated with Ken Wilber. One of Alex’s books is titled The Mission Of Art

    Ken Wilber’s book The Religion of Tomorrow is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the topic of religion – past, present and future.

  25. Charlie says

    What is being ignored is the decline of skill and vast amounts of money chasing mediocrity. For what ever reasons, some parts of the World at certain times produces great artistic skills, Classical Greece, Tang and Ming Dynasties of china being examples. Due to decline in civilisation the skill is lost. N Italy went through a Renaissance from the late 14th century reaching a peak in the early 16th Century with Rafael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian, etc. Two major aspects was the discovery of linear perspective by Brunelleschi and an artist who in about 1450 said all those must study anatomy, including dissection as part of their training. Talented youngsters were apprentice a the age of about 14 years and were trained for about 7 years. Only a few talented people after years of training grasp linear perspective and anatomically correct life drawing.

    If one studies the drawings of Rafael and the perspective of Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel, they achieve a degree of skill which are probably unsurpassable.

    From WW1, the technical training of artists has declined; there are no apprenticeships to masters and no dissection at medical school. However,the wealth of the world has increased but the number of great works is finite and probably due to two world wars has declined. Dealers need to make money and academics need to be employed at art schools. Consequently, teenagers are taken on by universities who would not have been taken on as apprentices by the great artists and dealers, who have only been influential since the late 19th century, persuade the new rich to spend money on art with little technical merit in order to achieve social acceptance.

    Since post WW1, the story is of vast amounts of money chasing an inadequate supply of talent be they artist and/or art teacher and keeping large numbers employed in the art world- art dealers, auctioneers, university academics, critics, art journalists, security experts, insurance experts, etc, etc. How many artists could approach the life drawing skills of Rafael

    Very few artists can draw/paint hands , especially when they are held in gestures and hence it is good and quick test of technical skill.

    or capture the landscape like Constable.

    Arguments over what is good art are usually undertaken to hide the lack of technical skill. Funnily enough the Bolsheviks after 1917 maintained high technical standards . One of the few portraits post 1918 who has approached Rafael’s standards was that of a partisan leader painted by a Soviet artists in WW2. Today, many of the mist technically accomplished artists are Russian trained.

  26. Indie Wifey says

    The only thing worse than Avant Garde’s self possessiveness is today’s self righteous pigeonholing of creative and intellectual expression, especially when posturing as anything but censorship, be it self-inflicted or imposed as judgement on others.

    To have to be of that which anyone portrays or executes collapses all universes of knowledge and exploration into the narrowest possible confines of first person reactivism

  27. Martin28 says

    Anybody with half a brain understands that avant garde art has produced tremendous masterpieces over the last century plus, especially in the first half of the 20th Century. Some of this art will last for centuries, much of it will be forgotten. Even greater masterpieces have been created of representational art that have already lasted far longer than most avant garde art will last.
    The great avant garde art was truly free-thinking and highly skilled. The avant garde has become thoroughly corrupt as it became institutionalized. It has long been upheld by the academic industry ($2 trillion in the US alone), and the foundations (nearly a trillion in assets in the US alone). These create the suckerfish of museums, galleries, art critics and theorists, publications, the “art world” that seeks access to all of these things, the small number of successful artists themselves, and the less successful artists who adhere themselves to this world (there are many ways to make a living). It is a world of fine dining, nice hotels, galas, and rich and semi-rich people.
    The whole thing is a giant racket that not only requires a certain beliefs in what is “art,” but also the latest progressive political beliefs to be a member in good standing. This means there is no true free thinking in the avant garde anymore—and how could you tell anyway? Part of the problem is ideology, but a larger part is basic human avarice, status-seeking, conformity, and moral superiority—all traits that the avant garde was created to break down.
    I celebrate these decentralized forces described in this article that are breaking down the corrupt avant garde and undermining its cherished beliefs. But as long as it is supported by enormous institutions, it will not die or become truly irrelevant. It is very relevant if you want to make a living in the art world.

  28. Lawrence Stanley says

    This is a view of contemporary art and “avant garde” (whatever that means) that is at least 50 years out of date. Nelson Rockefeller as a cultural gatekeeper? It never happened. Larry Gagosian and Charles Saatchi? They never controlled the discourse of anything. They are entrepreneurs selling works by artist-brands to the rich and famous — and neither politics nor the so-called “avant-garde” has anything to do with it. (Hint: they are promoting artists not for their politics, but because that’s what where wealthy people want to spend their money.) Moreover, there is more figurative art being shown in the art world than ever. Been to any New York galleries lately?

    The one thing the article does seem to get right is that there are more opportunities for artists to sell their work today than there were 20-30 years ago, when gallery space was limited and if you weren’t paid attention to by art critics, you had no chance of gaining a public. That doesn’t make conceptual art “irrelevant,” whatever that means. And it certainly doesn’t make the art promoted by Larry Gagosian and other major art entrepreneurs irrelevant. They are still selling work and raking in cash.

  29. david of Kirkland says

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, become art critics and teachers. Art is so long as their are creators and observers.

  30. Martin Springer says

    Norbert Elias is not Frankfurt School and never was!

  31. Claire's Landing Strip says

    The author is correct, if not completely overdramatic and off base about the demise of the avant-garde.

    The avant-garde and high white Euro-centric art culture was plenty a-flourishing in the art world (see also: movies, literature, poetry, music) until 2015. It had always been locked in a fight with Nazis and grandmas everywhere who prefer Thomas Kinkade to thinking or taste, but it dominated poetry, visual art and literature and was well represented in music and movies.

    It was the same SJW movement that overturned everything that solidified its demise. Avant-garde writing relies on a distance — a disembodied “I” and that “I” is the “I” of Western Culture and white supremacy. It happens to be MY favorite art, but I can’t deny that, in the same way people say there is a culture of whiteness, this disembodiment was not disembodied at all — but very rooted in a particular culture — one that is able to detach from its identity, due to its ubiquity.

    Good or bad? Certainly limiting, and it’s ravaged the ambitions of all people (particularly white males) in the “art world,” which — I can assure you — is still there — orchestrating the most baldly egregious self-affirmative action program known to humans, presses and art houses falling all over themselves to diversify their cataloges, archives, viewings, etc. before the SJW groups get a look at all the pale faces. Same with any and all art/lit departments at colleges and universities. Try and be white and get hired in one of the arts now.

    It’s true, they were underrepresented, though — and that needed correction. And it’s true — most of the canon is absolute arbitrary dogshit. But it’s too bad that experimental or innovative art is caught in the crossfire. Some can adapt — as many people of color and those from other countries and cultures outside of Europe and the US are (and many always have been) working in innovative/experimental art and going beyond sentiment and identity — but it’s almost always there, as this is one of the major selling points for becoming a popular entity in the new art world.

    White guys are pretty pissed, tho, so this is why this shit ends up in Quillette. I’m hoping the pendulum swings back the other way. I hate to see the literal equivalent of greeding-card sap being promoted as art, which should be challenging and experimental. The rest is fucking drivel for the masses.

    • Michael Poindexter says

      So you prefer wall paper designs sold with a political propaganda jingle to scholarly researched and skillfully executed art work? Got it.

  32. D. J. Deken says

    Most of us ARE the masses, sunshine.

    Fortunately I like my drivel with a healthy serving of hubris, so thanks for that.

    • Trollificus says

      But DJ, CLaire’s Landing Strip has laid it all out for you! Don’t you see how “it all fits together”??

  33. The real problem is not really about representation and avant guarde, but with art that considers depth and pleasure against the ironic, supercilious, Pop derived attitude (thought the real Pop artists was so much better) that hopelessly talentless art impresarios, though brilliant in business, (Koons, Hirst?) have replaced talent with.

  34. And the SWJ version of a Pop attitude is not only not any more interesting than the business model kind, but also locked in an inherent tautology that borders on the pathetic. Either you care and show it in your representation or you don’t and you can then be flippant, but cannot express both at once.

  35. I never needed an authority to tell me I liked Pollack, Fra Angelico, Grant Wood and Rivera, was indifferent to Picasso and Rockwell and quite repulsed by Andrew Wyeth. The issue is not what the avant-garde commands but rather their assumption of authority and the “art world’s” brainless capitulation in return for the thrill of sitting with the cool kids. Movements, however pure and noble-minded at their inception always devolve into tribal power plays. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  36. Richard Terrell says

    There seems to be an acceptance of the notion that abstract or non-objective art lacks sentiment or emotion that people can identify with or be moved by. That sentiment in art requires recognizable imagery. This is clearly not the case. A lot of very ordinary people come into my studio and by far the painting that gets the most commentary, curiosity, is a very abstract piece. I work representationally (landscape) and in through more abstract/non-representational approaches, but I’m dealing with the same ideas and perceptions either way. I remember a woman who came to an exhibition and the first thing she said was: “I have to tell you, I don’t like abstract art!” So I just said welcome and thanks for coming, and have a look around. Later she said to me: “I don’t understand: I don’t like abstract art, but I like THAT.” Pointing to the most abstract, non-objective piece in the show. And then she bought it. I guess what I’m seeing in this discussion is a false dichotomy that is more of a thing created by pretentious and ideological art critics than most artists themselves. I read something about Willem de Kooning years ago, a story indicating that he really liked the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

  37. Your Welcome... says

    Why is this and so many other topics have to be framed as zero-sum, winner take all game. While I understand the avant-garde not wanting to lose their tight knit control and the financial gains by such a play, all things change. The educated protectors of avant-garde art and its subsidiaries surely know this but are reluctant to change with reality because it does not profit them.
    But if art is a personal, emotional (not sentimental) experience then who can dictate what a person responds to? While this may be bourgeois thinking to the lords of avant-garde ,I think there is room for everyone. Perhaps with just a little less jingle in the pockets of those who are slowly but inevitably losing control…

  38. Tim Jee says

    Odd Nerdrum……greatest representational painter of the century? You must be joking. Nerdrum is right though, his work is kitsch and a poor imitation of Rembrandt. Truly bloody awful.

  39. Alphonse Credenza says

    Delighted to see skill and talent reaffirmed. I recall painters from the Yale program who were incapable of drawing, disdainful of perspective and focused entirely on what they call “the real.” The scions of the DeKooning and that coterie of unskilled, incompetent, fraudulent so-called artists who thought they had the whole world fooled.

    The artist — I mean with a capital “A” — whether in the fine arts, music, theater, literature, the opera — sees Beauty and Truth. Because it is so hard to glimpse, Artists are truly few. )But everyone educated by indulgent parents wants to think of himself as a genius) The Artist finds a way to express discovered Beauty through the medium of his choice. Those who see only ugliness — which they call “real” — are blind to Beauty. They don’t get it, so they have to persuade others to consider their trash as genius. The de(con)structionists paved the way by asserting completely without basis that there is no truth, and that language is whatever one chooses to assign to it, regardless of the speaker’s intent and the listener’s understanding. They have pulled to wool over the eyes of millions!

    But, as I have said many times, it is all over for the post-modernists. The utter bankruptcy of their movement is clear to more people with each day. Their nihilism, their patent meaninglessness, their extreme self-referentiality and their manifest resentments are now intolerable, because they have also been intolerable to ordinary people. We must work to asphyxiate their ideas now that they are dying and replace them with our superior ideas. Look to the past for the great expositors and rediscover the abundant life and nourishment for the Soul that Art with a capital “A” demonstrates to the world!

  40. Tini Tus says

    Wishful thinking that the avant-garde would be in decline. Art can’t even exist without avant-garde. That’s where it breathes from and advances. The rest alone is petty skills and commerce. I see such hypocritical articles popping up all over the place, disguised propaganda and speculation under “intellectual” opinion. Just how many examples do you have to give to make a point in one sentence: Teresa Oaxaca, Z. S. Liang, Pamela Wilson, Stephen DaLuz, Andrea Kowch, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Mario Robinson, Randalf Dilla…. This pretty much reads like advertisement to me!!!

  41. Michael Poindexter says

    There is nothing more sentimental than the political propaganda known as advant-rgade art.

  42. V. interesting article, its opinions mostly backed by facts–new schools, new tools. Anyway, note how the pejorative “sentiment” was used hypocritically by that hoary “avant garde”. One person’s sentiment is another person’s honest emotions and authenticity.

    Norman Rockwell is put up as the poster child for sentiment in many of the comments. What about Michelangelo and all the representational artists that existed before 1950?

    Anyway, what is the latest moralizing about identity politics (“I’m more intersectional than you!”) but the expression of another sentiment? It’s merely the sentiment that is in fashion. The sentiment is self-righteousness–one of the most glorious feelings possible! Try it, share it with your friends! But Christian fundamentalists knew all about it before you did–sorry. It’s better than crack. And because it is in fashion, it is absolute. If an art school student didn’t find Quillette or IMAGE journal or something like that, they wouldn’t know there was an alternative.

    Artists of the world, arise! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

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