Art, Top Stories

Conservatives Need to Start Taking Art Seriously

Conservatives, crack open some champagne and celebrate. A remarkable renewal of traditional painting and sculpture has taken place in the American art scene over the past 10 years. At last, a cultural movement has emerged that builds upon time-honored practices instead of deconstructing them. In cities all over the country, new atelier schools are teaching classic methods of sculpting, drawing and painting, giving students solid foundations in techniques dating to classical Greece. The art they produce is exquisitely made, and also unmistakably of this time.

This flourishing community of 21st-century representational painters and sculptors is deeply concerned with making—in the simplest possible formulation—“stuff that looks like stuff”: imaginative but realist paintings that point their audience toward traditional subjects and ideas, but with refreshingly novel conceptions. These artists are using the Western idioms of art-making praised by America’s founding fathers themselves—George Washington, John Adams, James Wilson and Thomas Paine. Washington collected paintings of the sublime American landscape before such paintings were considered credible art. Adams was enthusiastic about historical paintings. He also found delight in art that was edifying, even moralizing—a taste shared by both Wilson and Paine.

I hasten to add that the conservative art I am speaking of here isn’t bland Norman Rockwell-style Americana. Sex, violence and horror are sometimes the vehicles of narratives that reinforce conservative values. Bible stories of rape, slaughter and death—which inspired many of the great Renaissance painters whose work fills the traditional artistic canon—testify to God’s power to shape human destiny. The story of the crucifixion, in particular, is hardly a cheery tale, but it carries the heart of the Christian message of self-sacrifice and redemption.

During the late 20th century, conservative culture writers spent much of their time as a sort of opposition party, (rightly) criticizing the use of government funding to subsidize lousy public art, and calling out faddish avant-garde artists for poor taste. And this tradition continues to this day, Bruce Cole’s 2018 book, Art from the Swamp, for instance, focused on the disastrous failures of National Endowment for the Arts funding for bad and ugly public-art projects — a huge cedar sculpture that caused allergic reactions in the building where it was installed; a giant rusting steel wall that blocked a courtyard; the shooting of a dog as performance art. It is good to expose such miscarriages. But perhaps Cole might also have been able to propose, say, a new method of selecting federally subsidized art that satisfies more of us; or of encouraging private funding of memorials and other publicly displayed projects.

Iconoclasm is easy — even ISIS was good at it. What’s more difficult, and constructive, is to explain what art we like, and to address questions such as: Is there even such a thing as “conservative” art that doesn’t descend into sentimentalism or kitsch? And, to be fair, a few commentators truly have tried to offer the sort of ideas I am encouraging—such as Andrew Klavan, whose 2014 book, The Crisis in the Arts, argues for a conservative embrace of digital media as a means to end-run leftist control of the art world’s commanding heights. Fine Art Connoisseur and American Art Collector tend to favor traditional painters and sculptors who should appeal to conservatives. And The New Criterion publishes solid, worthwhile conservative commentary on all aspects of culture. But these are sparsely situated islands within a wider media sea.

“Absolute Trust — Sleeping Beauty,” by Arantzazu Martinez

Because many conservative journals have given up on the subject of art entirely, one is tempted to ask what conservatives are seeking to actually conserve. Are conservative interests purely fiscal and political? Do we care about high culture? If we do — and of course we do — why have we gone silent on the issue?

Many of the best new representational painters use allegory to share an ethical message, as with New York-based painter Adam Miller’s Twilight in Arcadia, presented at the top of this article. It is an unusual scene. Three hunters, a woman and two men armed with rifles, are intent on capturing their prey. Dressed in contemporary clothes, they are out of place in an idyllic woodland glade. Already at their mercy, a captured male faun lies prone beneath them and is held down by his hair in the grip of one of the men. In the background, unseen by the hunters, a female faun is restrained from running to her lover by two horned males, who know the danger is too great.

The huntress leads the party on to more targets, gesturing to the left of the canvas. Pure white geese and ducks scatter in the wind, frightened by the violence. The pastoral beauty of the pleasant landscape is broken. The dying faun pushes flowers into the barrel of a gun.

Faunus, the oldest of the Roman gods, was worshipped for centuries as representative of the energy of life that brought fertility to the world. The forest whispered his voice, and the land provided flowers, food, and shelter to mankind. He is the ancient life-force of the world, this atavistic god attacked by the destructive new forces of modernity.

To the artists and philosophers of the Renaissance, Arcadia was the unspoiled world, the Eden where primordial mankind (represented by the fauns in the painting) lived in a state of grace with God and nature—before the burden of knowledge of good and evil was inflicted upon us by Adam and Eve’s neglect. There, humans were noble savages, unspoiled by sin. The postmodern hunters threaten our longed-for return to that state of grace and attack the ideals of that ancient condition of harmony between God and man.

Although Miller’s exceptional technical work is traditional in style, the image could not be mistaken for a painting of any period of history except our own. It is absolutely 21st-Century, drawing influences from the imagery of science fiction and fantasy movies. We do not know Miller’s political persuasions, but his painting opens a discussion of ideas that are of tremendous importance and interest to conservative thinkers.

* * *

Traveler 2, by Steven DaLuz

There was a wonderful meme doing the rounds of the internet a couple of years ago, informing us that “when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort, he replied: ‘Then what are we fighting for?’” Alas, Churchill didn’t actually say any such thing, but it rang true, and millions liked and shared it, which suggests to me that rank-and-file conservatives recognize the preservation of our cultural heritage (and its expansion through inspiration provided by past masters) as a core motivator alongside the usual political fare.

The Christmas Tree that Keeps on Giving, by Teresa Elliott

If you’re a reader who has no specialized knowledge of the modern art scene, I invite you to examine some of the images that accompany this article and explore some of the many artists who exemplify the trends I am discussing here. (More can be found at The Representational Art Conference and the Art Renewal Center). If you are a writer, editor or publisher, I invite you to explore this subject in your own publications.

There is some urgency in this project. The cultural momentum that carried avant-gardism through the last century reached its apex a while ago, and the pendulum is now making a slow movement away from radicalism. There is a window of opportunity to create something new. This will be no revival of the Enlightenment or the Renaissance, since revivals never produce a repetition of their sources but always create new hybrids. Artists already are doing this of their own accord. With the support of enlightened philanthropists, curators, gallerists, collectors, academics and journalists, they can lead a remarkable new era in art that breaks new ground while paying homage to the Western tradition.

The first third of Sabin Howard’s World War One Memorial frieze


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.

Featured image: Twilight in Arcadia, by Adam Miller 




  1. Saw file says

    Define “art”?
    Many conservatives see Art in practicably to function.
    Architecture is a good example, as well as machines.
    Bastardizing a cliche, ‘ if it looks good, it probably is’.

    • Bims says

      If artifice is something artificial created by humans, then art is artifice which reflects fundamental Truth about the world and the human experience

      • David of Kirkland says

        So what is a painting, play or song about being “called to Heaven”? Another fundamental Truth? Most art is fiction.

      • dirk says

        Are you a fundamentalist, Bims, why? can’t art be something closeby, realistic, simple and casual, such as Rasenstueck (some weeds and grasses without any meaning or deep thoughts) by Albrecht Duerer?? Much better than those flowers put in a rifle by a faun!

  2. “I hasten to add that the conservative art I am speaking of here isn’t bland Norman Rockwell-style Americana. Sex, violence and horror are sometimes the vehicles of narratives that reinforce conservative values”

    I’m not sure what “conservative values” art is supposed to conserve. And art being “representative” doesn’t necessarily affirm anything in particular.

    What we’ve forgotten in the modern world is that great art for millenia was not necessarily about creating recognizable images, not about aesthetics, and certainly not about self expression. Up until modern Western European, all art was about knowledge. Artistis and poets created images and stories of how the world worked and our place in it. Art had to do with articulating a relationship to forces greater than ourselves, articulating a relationship to nature.

    Artists began to lose their traditional function when modern science became our common way of generating knowledge. Yet from the Romantics through the Abstract Expressionists artist are still trying to express some kind of relationship to nature (“I am nature” claimed Jackson Pollock).

    Art goes off the rails when artists from Warhol on insist there is nothing to be known, there is no such thing as nature. This is what critic Arthur Danto, more or less approvingly, pronounced as The End of Art. Art would no longer embody knowledge other than knowledge of the futility, cruelty and unfairness of existence.

    It seems to me great art may or may not be representative, it may or may not be conservative. But it is always about experience. Great art is always empirical.

    • Great art begins with having something great to say. It tells a great (not necessarily “good”, but meaningful) story or analogizes a profound truth.

      Having pursued abstraction to its logical conclusion, and dragged the rest of society on a century-long scenic drive of nihilism, I’m thrilled that artists are rediscovering representational forms. But the salient question is, “What great truth are you representing”?

      100 years of cultural flagellation has left Western artists with no great stories to tell. What myths can you paint when you’ve deconstructed all of them into props of the patriarchy? What universal truth can you analogize when you’re convinced there are none? What transcendental attributes can a materialist’s art connect with?

      Until the West rediscovers something meaningful to say, its art will remain silent, and second rate.

      • bdvillanueva

        “What universal truth can you analogize when you’re convinced there are none?”

        Good question and I would agree that an artist who’s convince there are no transcendent truths has nothing to say. This is why Arthur Danto pronounced The End of Art.

        However, I believe it is an artists obligation to get beyond what Saul Bellow called “the detritus of modern ideas”. And pay no attention to the pronouncements priests like Arthur Danto. Clearing away the rubbish and just describe what you see.

        Easier said than done because we’ve been convinced garbage is nourishment.

      • “What great truth are you representing?”

        Don’t ask simplistic questions unless you want simplistic answers. There’s plenty of excellent contemporary work around, as this article demonstrates, and many more unmentioned if you bother to go looking for them, painters of passion, drama and astute observation.

        • Conor

          “Don’t ask simplistic questions unless you want simplistic answers”

          I agree if your suggesting that art which seems to be a self conscious attempt to answer some simple question – such as, “how can I represent conservative values?” – is probably a simplistic mediocre art.

          However, I think it fair to say that the profoundity of great art is precisely it’s simplicity, which is to say it’s clarity or unity. This may manifest itself in an incredibly complicated way – say, for example, Tiepolo’s ceiling of the Wurzburg Palace or in what appears to be the chaos of a Jackson Pollock. What make’s Tiepolo or Jackson Pollock great is not the complexity of the ultimate form but the single minded vision of unity of apparently chaotic forces.

          So greart art does represent certain “great truths” not the least of which is a human capacity for a kind of transcendence.

  3. Bland Norman Rockwell style Americana? That tells us more about the author’s snobbery than what Conservatives should be serious about.

    I also disagree with the author’s description of the first painting, not to mention its interpretation. And, speaking of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the other paintings would make good covers for SF or Fantasy novels.

    • Morgan Foster says


      The first painting is a reference to the sort of left-wing snobbery typified by Barak Obamas’ slur of “cling to guns or religion”.

      Mr. Pearce is being disingenuous when he says:

      “We do not know Miller’s political persuasions, but his painting opens a discussion of ideas that are of tremendous importance and interest to conservative thinkers.”

      I think we do know the artist’s political persuasions, and so does Mr. Pearce.

      Is the author trolling Quillette to see how many apparently conservative commenters rise to the bait and say how much they like these examples of tripe?

      • yandoodan says

        Morgan Foster: Very true.

        What the paintings in this article share with the modernist school is didacticism (except for Traveler 2, which looks like a book cover). Honestly, if I cared about an artist’s opinion I’d buy that non-fiction book they’ve written about it. The reason they haven’t written the book is that no one would buy it. The reason no one would buy it is that their opinions are hackneyed cliches.

        For an excellent collection of dull and ugly didactic art, browse Kenan Malik’s otherwise brilliant website,

        If you are a good artist you can produce pieces that transcend the dullness of daily life, bring us to new places, good or bad. How it’s executed is irrelevant.

      • Morgan Forster you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. I know the artist personally. Do your homework and stop making ignorant pronouncements.

    • Mazzuchelli says

      Exactly. Does everyone involved in the art world feel it necessary to trash tradition? Show me something better.

  4. This is just embarrassing. The second defense of kitsch by Mr. Pearce to appear in Quillette within a year, ending with the simultaneously laughable but depressing declaration that “great art is always empirical.”

    If art hadn’t long ago roundly rejected the “values” that Mr. Pearce champions (like slavish devotion to academic technique and “classical themes”), the West would have never made it as far as Manet. We would have never had Cezanne, Picasso, Klee, or Rothko.

    My advice to Quillette: Stick to what you know. Or at least pay someone to write about art whose views wouldn’t have been considered hopelessly archaic even a hundred years ago.

    • Katherine says

      Radical Centrist –

      I’m a retired American who spends most of the year living in Italy. One of the reasons I live in Italy is to enjoy the great museums filled with art from the Renaissance. Also, my degree (which proved to be useless of course) is in art history.

      I too was embarrassed by the author’s piece a few months ago, and am embarrassed by this one as well. Like the author, I love representational art, but the kind of representational art the author admires is plainly kitsch. It’s not really art. It’s an imitation of art, or rather an imitation of ideals that ran their course a long time ago.

      Politically I’m conservative. In fact, in most ways I’m conservative. But what the author is advocating is not “conservative” art, it is dead art. It has nothing to do with our age. There’s a reason that art moves forward – it has to reflect and anticipate where we are and where we’ll be. What the author is presenting us is a corpse, and not even a very interesting one.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”… the West would have never made it as far as Manet. We would have never had Cezanne, Picasso, Klee, or Rothko.”

      You falsely assume that there is a whig history of art, and that somehow Cezanne, Picasso, Klee and Rothko represent progress. They don’t. They represent the fact that any group of plausible charlattans can convince people of the value of anything if they have glib enib enough boosters in the art community.
      That is not to say that all the work of such artists is meretricious rubbish. But art is like any other commodity in the market place. It’s value is not intrinsic but depends upon the amount people are prepared to pay for it.

      • @ Peter from Oz

        By your mercantile logic, Pollock, Klimpt, Lichtenstein, de Koonig, Gauguin, Rothko, Pollock, Picasso, and Modigliani — all modernists — are nine of the ten most important artists of all time because they’ve had paintings that have sold for more money than any other artists (except da Vinci).

        I like all these artists (including da Vinci), but they’re not necessarily the “greatest of all time” (even if ranking artists were something worth doing).

        The true value of art is not determined by the highest bidder at an auction house.

        • Peter from Oz says

          A new radical centrist:

          You misunderstand my point. It is not so much a question of monetary value but of prestige. The market of which I speak is the one of ideas. A lot of people who manage to convince others that they are experts in art praise a lot of worthless tat and make it the ”art” that we are supposed to admire.
          The people who buy and sell the paintings of course also gain a lot if people create an economic market for such works.
          I am not complaining about this. i think the whole thing is wonderful. I like the idea that people are free to create and destroy markets of all sorts. The modern artists and their enablers have created value. But I do object to the idea that somehow that is because there is an intrinsic worthiness to their work.

        • dirk says

          Who the hell are those Klimpt and de Koonig? Never heard of!

        • Farris says


          I don’t believe anyone is questioning the value either intrinsic or monetary of the Modernists. However the Post Modernists is a different story. I once viewed a display where a man framed a wall, sheet rocked and dry walled it and then shot a hole in that same wall. This combination of carpentry and vandalism is not art. It is totally lacking in aesthetic value. Any creativity required of this creation exists on the lowest of mundane levels. What was creative was that I turned over good money to view it.
          People often assume that conservatives avoid and disregard abstract art. Such is not the case. Generally conservatives prefer to witness high levels of creativity and vision in art. Conservatives reject the premise that something is art just because it is labeled as such, hopefully progressives do likewise.

        • David of Kirkland says

          So what is the “true value of art”? Money represents value.
          When others pay “too much” for something, some will claim it’s not worth it. But of course it’s just not worth it to them, which is entirely different than it having no worth.

      • dirk says

        Peter: this is about the most nonsensical I’ve read in the last 20 years! Amount of people prepared to pay?! Real art is never recognised or valued by majorities, only by minorities, and mostly by those without money. Of course, once valued ,praised and accepted by those minorities, art can get a price in money equivalents (for van Gogh, and many others, this took quite some time), and become a worthwhile asset for certain arsholes or magnates, but that’s another story altogether then.

        • Mike van Lammeren says

          dirk: If this is the most nonsensical article you have read in the last 20 years, then you must not read much.

          • dirk says

            In fact, Mike, I read a lot, and spend an average of 4 hours daily reading. My girlfriend never reads, she has no books at all and thinks reading is a waste of time (except the folders with the ads for cheap meat, fruits, or flowers). But I read selectively, yes, if I see a title about this or that or again something else, I decide to read it or not. But the essays of Quillette? yes, con gusto, but only about half of them. And this essay on art?? yes, art interests me a lot, but I think, European readers have other ideas about art as US readers, where, I fear, it is more, the value of art is what the market prices are. This, of course, is about the opposite as it is in Europe, where we have our van Gogh who never sold a single picture, and now sells for 10s of millions per piece..

      • Lightning Rose says

        You have to wonder about the “progress” of art. From the evocation of beauty of Classical music we’ve “progressed” to syncopated rants and screeches accompanied by crashes and sounds of ripping sheet metal. The state of our brains lately? How ’bout comparing the Sistine Chapel ceiling to Picasso’s stuff, which looks like a bad acid trip compounded by a head injury. As for the painting that heads this article, glad you explained it to me, because all I could say was, “What the ACTUAL fuck?!”

      • Craig Willms says

        I try not to be close minded about art (and music) but we like what we like, often at first sight. I agree with you in that these artists you cite do not inspire anything but a ‘meh’ from me. Add Pollock – I’m sorry, I see little talent, and certainly nothing that warrants breathless praise.

      • Indigo Red says

        No, it wouldn’t. With or without any particular artist pr art movement, the world would be the same good or bad as you want to see it.

    • Maximilian Schubert says

      Radical Centrist – couldnt agree more. Quillette really needs to stay away from art all together. I am willing to believe the paintings shown in this article can be appreciated by most viewers on many levels, but their cheesedick subject matter and, i think, unaware kitschiness is not one of them. People can say what they want but the “conservative” qualities here are really just technique based, conserving technical prowess in painting, if even that. Really, really bad stuff. Lets all read some contemporary Wordsworth-influenced poets or skip the Sopranos and just watch How I Met Your Mother. This is how the schlock feels to someone who looks at a lot of art and has for a long time.

      Quillette please stop trying to close our minds on art and tell us why academic art of the past and its second-rate contemporary imitations is awesome. Please.

  5. Super Smart Fence Sitting Dude says

    The second defense of kitsch by Mr. Pearce to appear in Quillette within a year, ending with the simultaneously laughable but depressing declaration that “great art is always empirical.”

    Behold, the galaxy brain reading comprehension of the radical centrist.


    Actually I don’t mind coming across these odd, eccentric articles in Quillette. Are there really “conservative” modern art collectors anymore? What paintings would they want? “Trump winning the Presidency”? or the “Fall of Baghdad 2003”. Would these look good in the living room?
    Actually there has always been plenty of quite realistic art around. For supporters of the death penalty I would suggest one of Warhol’s “Electric Chair” series, available in several colors. As Andy said – these were easy to sell, the buyers being most concerned that the color matched the sofa it was going to be put above.

    • Anonymous says

      How about a conservative art-lover loving any kind of art that is simply NOT political propaganda – yet inspires some kind of admiration due to its skill, originality or vision ?
      That ought to be a low bar to jump over – yet most contemporary art fails MISERABLY when measured by this criteria.

    • Heike says

      See? The withering contempt for The Other shines brightly in this comment of barely-disguised disgust. The neo-conservatives were the ones who lied us into Iraq. Here’s video evidence of Robert S. Mueller III (yes, the same one!) lying to Congress. He gave the impression that the FBI, the trusted organization that would never lie, approved of the invasion as absolutely necessary. Because Iraq was going to give WMD to Al-Qaeda, despite Saddam utterly hating Islamists and Al-Qaeda utterly hating nationalists like Saddam.

      The Bush administration’s central justification for the Iraq war was the belief that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could transfer them to militants. No such weapons were found after the invasion.

      Iraq giving WMDs to Al Qaeda would be as absurd as the Jews giving Zyklon-B to Hitler.

    • dirk says

      Or Dempsey winning a boxing match from Firpo, painted by George Bellows. Was that art??

  7. dmm says

    The author, like all special interests, tries to persuade that his is a general interest, thus deserving public support. But it is not and does not. All subsidies are theft from everyone else.

  8. western thought says

    This is, hands down, the worst article I’ve read in Quillette. If the publication desires an opinion on art, find an author who knows something about the subject. Clearly this “professor” slept through the class on American art history since the 1940´s. The entirety of abstract expressionism, minimalism, performance art, and conceptual art are inherent to the canon of artistic modernism and modern expression as a whole (not to mention American culture). These branches are, in many ways, the pinnacle of liberty and individualism expressed through a visual language. If Mr. Pearce desires representational form (thoroughly explored since the middle ages), then perhaps he should indulge in the post modern nonsense that has injected itself into haute couture since the 1980’s. There, one can find a multitude of examples of representation tethered to identity politics, radical and unfounded feminist ideology, and far left political thinking. Perhaps this would suit his palette to a greater degree than the jarring individualism that has come to be synonymous with the apex of western creative expression. If he feels that his conservativism is conspicuously uncomfortable in modern art venues, its because his thinking is so very 90´s…..the 1890’s.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”The entirety of abstract expressionism, minimalism, performance art, and conceptual art are inherent to the canon of artistic modernism and modern expression as a whole”
      A wonderfully meaningless bit of rubbish, dressed up as a legitimate comment.
      The entirety of something can’t be inherent in anything, let alone to the canon of something.

  9. gary@erko says

    Is it art that doesn’t require an essay to explain its reason to exist?

    • apropo, since it’s not made for illiterates. somebody finds your work and exploits it into the commercial art world. someone who doesn’t have a clue about the dynamics of the art world has to have an opinion on ‘modern art’. why? nobody asked for their opinion. a genuine high intellectual dialog on this topic would start with a construction of a context for this manga in oils crap. then, a discussion on aesthetics itself and whether there is one truth in art or several biological sensibilities and personalities seeing only what they can see. you want a figure for this kind of art? it’s to the visual what time magazine style is to literature. or, better, like the old boston herald: “easier to read”.

  10. This article brought out all the rubes who think they are superior because they pretend that the scribblings of communist perverts or pubes taped to a wall are the height of artistic merit. Modern and postmodern art is hideous trash shoved into hideous buildings subsidised by tax payers.

  11. the gardner says

    All the paintings provided here look like they are striving too hard to be kitsch.
    Was “Obama on a Commode” also an example of this new representational art?

  12. most high conservatives i know are narcissists, like most high liberals, and think that art should be paintings and photos and poems about great men. they don’t know how to see or understand the language of making things, just understanding the manipulation of things to their own advantage. art is for artists — that’s the reason for art at all — that someone invented a painting to form his own understanding and identity. any other use for art is just decorative. decorative is a trophy wife, something which looks good framing a great man running for board of water commissioner.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Tell any damn fool parvenu that something hideous is “high” art, and he’ll pay you $25,000 or more to hang it on the whitewashed wall of his Hamptons McMansion. Without fail. The people smart enough to fleece these turkeys have my admiration!

      • so? it’s not like they’re going to give that money to me. it’s just the art game, and you’re either playing in galleries or not. you don’t have to sell to the fool — why would you want to, and for so little money if you were selling at all? you either paint for other artists and for yourself, or you make ‘paintings’ to sell. why is that any different from the automobile market, with its ‘looks-like’ cheap cars and luxury cars, and then in contrast the hand-build one of a kind car? how many of your parvenus would drive a hand-made car which didn’t have a standard luxury name icon? your comment is only about the consumer, not about the artist.

    • Jack-o says


      blockquote> art is for artists — that’s the reason for art at all



      Well said.

      “Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s,” wrote Philip Larkin, “and everybody else can fuck off.”

  13. dirk says

    The painters seem influenced by the prerafaelites, though here and now practiced in the kitsch variety. Same symbolism, realism in style and arcadian scenery. And with some moral, spiritual, Blake-like message. BTW, do I see there a pintail ? (we have a similar one in Europe, but other species), and why those black and white feet of the canadian goose? That, I don’t think is realism, also some symbolism ? hidden for us simple minded?

  14. Vivian Darkbloom says

    Pretty naïve article. In truth, it’s a kind of art world lotto: “Okay, everyone. You all have to make weird stuff which isn’t really much fun to do. Of course, it’s way more fun to paint real stuff. And you’re ABSOLUTELY free to go work as illustrators or to sell your sad little representative paintings at flea markets. But we have to keep things mysterious in order to baffle the super-wealthy buyers. We must keep them in a state of total uncertainty. If art were about making stuff that people liked to look at, the game would be over. However … HOWEVER, we are going to draw two or three names … at random … and let a tiny, tiny few painters paint realistic stuff. As long as it’s weird. All the critics will treat these paintings as mysteriously precise reactions to the mysterious trends in art. But listen … LISTEN … if we don’t draw your name, please do not make the mistake this guy is making in the Quillette article of thinking that some pendulum is swinging back to … back to … well, to what could it swing back? Do yourself a favor and don’t be fooled into thinking that the game has changed.”

  15. Craig Willms says

    I am an artist… I am center/right in my politics, but the two things have nothing to do with each other. I don’t know what conservative art is.

    I do agree with the author about the dismal record of the National Endowment of the Arts. From the 70’s on much of the so-called sponsored art was pure garbage. Literally. Junk welded together and plunked down in a public place was more often than not an eye sore. To know that some ‘artist’ was paid with tax payer dollars was the backhand to complete the slap in the face.

    • WILLIAM DAIS says

      I am also an artist and a libertarian/conservative. Art can be political and didactic, but it doesn’t have to be. But no matter the impetus for its creation, to be labeled as “art” rather than decoration or craft, the work should provide the viewer a numinous experience…evoke an emotional response. The latitude for expression is great, as is, coincidentally, the complexity of our limbic functions.

  16. Vim says

    Publishing this article was a strange lapse in the judgment of the editors. I recently discovered Quillette and have been so impressed by its content that I’ve passionately recommended it to a few friends. I can only hope that none of them read this. If it had been published a week ago, I would have been convinced it was an April Fools joke.

    I recently made a trip through the northeast, stopping along the way to take the wonderful art in the Hirschorn, Barnes, MoMa, Met, Guugenheim, and the Boston. It was a survey of art from the ancient Greeks through the most contemporary, all of it worthwhile. The author seems to have wanted art to stop in the 1800s. He probably would have wanted music to stop with Brahms, too.

    I sort of feel sorry for him. Based on the cringe-worthy and kitschy art accompanying the article, it’s almost as though he’s suffering from some kind of aesthetic impairment.

    • A. Karhumaa says

      Well, I actually had to scroll back to the top of article to see whether the date really was April 9 or April 1…

  17. Asenath Waite says

    The progression of visual art is over, so we might as well go back to just making the best types of art to have come out of that long progression. Same for music.

  18. Thomas Barnidge says

    Frank Geary is an architect who comes up with some very original designs; they are also quite ugly designs. The same problem can be found in the art world. While the concept of good/bad art is mostly subjective (but not completely), the modern semi- artists ignore the concept completely. So they produce stuff that is impressive to their peers for its originality, while everyone else is looking for a bard bag.

  19. Maximilian Schubert says

    Its a disaster. The crap shown here is conservative in art terms like alchemy is conservative in science terms. Barely makes sense, but its irrelevance is crystal clear.

    I worry that Quillette can’t get a great article on art because the politics of art are so doctrinaire that great authors would get shunned for having written for it. Obviously sad, but I think real.

    Also so many misunderstandings and mischaracterizations here I can’t even begin.

    There is much art in the world that is really only for friends and family of the artists. Let not pretend its part of any continuation or contribution to the discipline.

  20. dirk says

    What about that enigmatic steer of Teresa Elliott? Inspired ( but given a new meaning) by Paulus Potter? Is it a painting or photographical concoction? Does it matter? How to appreciate this kind of art? I really wouldn’t know! A matter of age?

  21. dirk says

    And, good advice to Quillette, better take David Hockney as subject of another article on modern American art, I agree, not very new and apart , but, at least, much more substance!

      • dirk says

        If you would call de Kooning a Dutchman, then, OK, Hockney is a Brit !

        • dirk says

          @Benita: thought about this night, does one need to be an American to produce American art? And is there something like American art? Flemish yes, Japanese and Chinese also, but modern Belgian or Italian? Not, I fear. BTW, yes, I think abstarct is not something typical American, even Rothko was a Russian, de Kooning and Mondriaan also got their art schooling in Europe. But the things above, alas, I wonder whether that can be called art. Craftmanship in their hyperrealism yes, certainly, but that’s it, even the moral or messages (or the naming) of those fauns and cattle/machine concoctions are pretty childish, superficial, too easy. Sorry boys!

  22. Morgan Foster says

    @Coffee Klatch

    “This is an epic troll”

    Agree that this is a troll. I don’t agree that he’s a dunce. He’s a comedian.

    • Coffee Klatch says

      Actually, on reading this for a second time, the term “troll,” — a postmodern concept in itself because of the “awareness” of the text (action) — would not be appropriate. There appears to be an earnest attempt to sway the reader, but the tactical delineation is “appeal” vs. “trick.” I honestly cannot say which one is happening here.

      The author’s biography suggests the former, but the essay, itself, suggests the latter. I feel the only people particularly passionate about defending representational art, besides my Aunt Marge and Thomas Kinkade fans everywhere, have political motivations. I’ve been to plenty edgy art galleries where the majority of the art is representational, but laundered through the modern and postmodern lenses I mentioned above. While there is a strong defense of abstract or nonrepresentational art, there’s no movement that seeks to destroy representational art — (though mass-produced representational art is another story).

      It’s obvious that the works here are modern/postmodern art. They don’t pass the Aunt Marge test. Aunt Marge wants to know why the fuck that machine is next to that cow and you have three seconds of attention span to explain it to her before she starts playing Anne Murray and making a banana cake.

  23. John Magee says

    Talent, imagination, craftsmanship, admiration of great art and artists from the past, and self discipline make a great artist. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of realist artists quietly pursuing their profitable careers today because wealthy people like their work. Few, if any of them, will ever be recognized by the liberal dominated art establishment because the people who dominate and control the art world in our society today are more concerned about certain political agendas than true artistic diversity and talent. We owe the lack of artistic movements today to political correctness and the censorship it demands.

  24. To all the whiners in here, were you expecting a scientifically defendable paper complete with citations? This is art, for god’s sake. We are SUPPOSED to disagree.

    “How can it be bullshit to state an opinion?” – High Fidelity

  25. codadmin says

    The ‘modern’ art of the fascist left is best viewed as an acid attack on western standards of beauty.

    yes, there’s good art and bad art, but leftist art is the only art in the history of humanity that deliberately wants to be as ugly and as soulless as possible. That exists not to lift up, but to pull into the gutter.

    Think about that, and ask yourself what it says about these people?

  26. David of Kirkland says

    What makes art valuable? What makes it good or great? What’s the biggest ramification/change that occurred as the result of the creation of some work of art?
    I enjoy music, comedy, movies, plays and books. Some great ideas are expressed in art, though it’s unclear that they only or originally were expressed that way. Art remains a form of entertainment, sometimes a mind puzzle, at least to me. I grant that I miss much of the satisfaction that some get when viewing art of various forms, but it still seems like the benefit to lovers of art is that satisfaction, that energy, that feeling (none of which seem particularly significant).

    • codadmin says

      “What makes art valuable? What makes it good or great?”

      Art is a craft, so the prerequisite to great art is great craftsmanship.

      Can you show me a badly crafted bit of art, in whatever medium you can think of, that said anything meaningful?

      • dirk says

        Craftmanship is not the soul of art, it’s a condition, a needed technique to perform. Rembrandt was not so much famous for how he painted, but mainly how he saw things and situations. It was always a new , original way, copied lateron by others, but never improved. But again, new and original also is not enough, it’s also the quality of the mental construction, so to say.

        • codadmin says

          Rembrant was a master craftsmen.

          Craft can be seen as the wings of art. Without it, an artist is perpetually stuck on the ground level. Without his craftsmanship, his vision wouldn’t have meant anything, because he couldn’t have pulled it off.

  27. Gary Weiner says

    You may want to check out REMODERN AMERICA by Richard Bledsoe. It’s an attempt to recapture modern art from the postmodernists.

  28. Alex Russell says

    Art is in the eye of the beholder.

    I think someone famous said that. Well, the comments for this article certainly confirm that art is a very subjective subject. What is art? I’ve read books on the subject, but it all boils down to “what you think art is”.

    There is very crappy public art, and very good public art where I live. I rather not have my tax dollars spent on what I think is ‘crappy’, but it seems some people have a different idea of what art is from me, and in a pluralistic democracy I’m just going to have to live with some crappy art.

    I do not care for most modern abstract art. It does not move me. At the same time, I find some artist’s work, while technically very impressive, still leaves me cold due to a machine like quality. Robert Bateman springs to mind. The title work for this article is very impressive bit of craft, but (on a computer screen any ways) it seems a bit dry and lifeless. The floating woman and the cow plus machine seemed more “artful” to me.

    Any article that makes you think is a good article for Quillette. I for one do not want to censor the flow of articles.

  29. The wonderful thing about art is that regardless of what’s written about it, regardless of how it’s classified or defined, regardless of it’s provenance or purpose, it becomes, in the eyes and mind of the viewer, something other. Some kind of alchemy takes place.

    I found the article a bit confusing, but I found the images beautiful, and I would like to thank Quillette for so often placing beautiful and/or thought-provoking images at the top of articles.

  30. There’s a few things about modern art that has caused the angst that not just conservatives feel but also the great unwashed masses feel about it also.

    Cartel behaviour

    The art market is a cabal of a few galleries , museums, auction houses and investors. Capture that market and untold riches await for the ‘artist’ or his dealer. If you can’t get there, then you as an artist might sell a few works a year or simply give up feeling you have wasted your time.
    Government bureaucracy

    Government departments funding the arts do so, not on the value of the work but on what is proposed . And what is proposed is either a gimmick or weakly political. If this happens there is a tendency to shy away from ‘traditional’ painting and sculpture as that takes time so you end up with poorly thought out, badly made work. In the end it looks cheap and is easily forgotten about until that ‘artist’ puts it on their CV for the next funding round.

    Art schools

    University art schools are terrible. They do not focus on teaching skills, technique and history. Instead they focus on making art stars who will magically stumble into the cartel of the art world or be able to swim in the government bureaucracy.

    My experience is that art lecturers, art teachers and art ‘theorists’ are a bit thick and really couldn’t get a different degree even if they tried. Teaching art making techniques is actually really easy, demonstrate , practice, repeat. But if the teachers don’t know or think creativity is form of magic then nothing gets taught.

    The result of these three influences is that artists end up marketed by tedious identity politics , whether its a gimmick, sexuality, victim status or lame ill thought out angry politics.

    Conservatives and their opposing number forget to do what everyone else does when talking about art. They don’t talk about the work in front of them, instead they talk about the vague shifting politics or which position they should or could take.

  31. clf says

    A noble effort. Maybe the best way to write about art, music, motion pictures, and culture in general is to take one or two examples and analyze them based on form too, rather than just content. He could mention texture, hard-edge vs. impressionist or expressionist style, idealized or realist or even photorealist, dark or light values, tints, tones, greys, shades, or primary colors, and so forth. This way, it helps people climb down from overly wrought and emotional reactions.

    The author could say what he likes or doesn’t like about it and let everyone else make up their own mind.

  32. Blue Lobster says

    I can’t say as I know much about art or have particularly good taste – though I know what I like – or that I’m particularly conservative, but among the images depicted in the body of the article I was drawn to precisely none. Indeed, on the contrary to the opinion of the author, I found that what I saw seemed to epitomize kitsch in a manner remarkably similar to the exact definition of the word according to the Oxford Dictionaries: “Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.”

  33. Being risk-adverse does not an art movement make. It’s that simple. If you cannot take risks you cannot have an art movement. Art, by definition, is an exploration of the beyond. If you cannot explore the beyond you cannot create art, and when your ideology is based on eliminating the beyond, you are unequipped to engage. You cannot expect to eliminate the very core (an exploration of the beyond) of art and have an art movement. That is the definition of insanity.

  34. Ariel says

    Any artist identifying as conservative inevitably faces discrimination from the apostles of tolerance, regardless of quality. Unless their work is subsidized by a wealthy patron.

    • Maximilian says

      There are plenty of artists who are conservative compared with the politics of the politically doctrinaire art milieux, but their art is as radical as the next artist, or possibly far more. Look at Bret Easton Ellis recent comments on the Mueller report, then recall American Psycho.

  35. The quality of commentary on this article is abysmal. A mixture of “down with that sort of thing” ignorant pontificating; gross generalisation, regurgitated, third-hand, 40-year-old clap-trap. The artists mentioned in this article are misinterpreted and dismissed by people who are clearly unfamiliar with their work and unashamed to critique what they are barely acquainted with. The result is a shit-fest of pomposity and ignorance. Shame on you! Go do your homework! Name a living painter or sculptor under fifty that you actually admire! There is great art being produced today, but most of you don’t seem to care and probably wouldn’t find it even if you went looking.

  36. Owntown Dart Scene says

    Art was great while it lasted, but it’s sadly over now. And it will not do to just have it stuffed and pretend it still lives. That’s kitsch, because we cannot be rid of our knowingness, the fruit of that Forbidden Tree.

    It’s a different kind of sorry I feel for those still caught in the Art racket as it stands, and eager to defend its cynical products, if not practices. It’s just a system for accrediting “aura”s in Walter Benjamin’s sense. All in order to keep manufacturing that ideal commodity with no use value that would never depreciate.

      • Avid Reader says

        Rubbish. Melanie Hava and Mark Lobert are alive and well and making beautiful, evocative, lively and vibrant art about the beauty, vastness and infinite variety of the Australian landscape. I’d have their work on every surface if I had the money.

  37. Heike says

    So it got a reaction from you? It was good art then.

    The only one talking about Nazis and degenerate art here is YOU.

  38. dirk says

    What I remember from elementary and high school: there is always some boy or girl in a class that, for some reason, is incredibly good at realistic drawing (without being taught by anybody), and are admired by all the others and the teachers for that. Some few of them go to an academic or art school, most just leave it and stop altogether with drawing at 13 or 14 yrs old, why?
    And just only some of those that finish the academy, can make a living of their art and talents. Also, I wonder whether their talent is improved or spoiled in the academy, many (maybe all) of the famous painters became so by developing themselves without or even against the academy. Something you don’t see happening in engineering, science or biology studies. But in literature, yes, also!

  39. LoneStarAvenger says

    I think one of the things that lead to the “down fall” of art was the Post-Modernist platform of, there are infinite interpretations of anything. What Post-modernism failed to address was the other side of the coin. While there may be infinite interpretations, there exists a finite number of VALID interpretations. As CA above noted, art really did “go off the rails” when artist began questioning everything and that “there is nothing to be known, there is no such thing as nature.” Once artist began to question the nature of reality in their art work, well that opened the Pandora’s Box of Abstraction. (Not that I’m saying Abstract art is inherently bad)
    Once artist fully embraced Abstract art and “fell down the rabbit hole” as it were, they left the viewing public behind. When the public began to ask, “Is this really Art?” they were met with the arrogant attitude of, “well you just don’t get it, it’s above you.” Which I feel has lead to the mistrust and, frankly, resentment of artist by the general public.
    What this has done is contributed to an attitude of “The Emperor’s New Cloths” mentality. The public, tired of having the Avant Garde and art critics look down their collective noses at them, began embracing Modern Art without questioning it when if they did they would realize that some of it is crap (and actually IS crap in some cases).

  40. dirk says

    @ Benita: What I accidentally came across on arcadias yesterday, in “Landscape and Memory”, of Simon Schama: -…there have always been two kinds of arcadia…place of bucolic leisure,.. and one of primitive panic-. Exactly what Adam Miller put together in the above eyecatcher. In the same book, many majestic american landscape paintings, in a representational, precise style, of Georg Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt and others. Most of these born in Europe, or going there for artistic schooling. Bingham even loosing his typical direct style on a German Academia. Food for serious conservatists!

  41. MjM says

    “A remarkable renewal of traditional painting and sculpture has taken place in the American art scene over the past 10 years.” The author was amiss in not including classical poetry, no less an art form, that is also enjoying a renewal. It would be well worth your time to visit their website:

    Their Mission Statement: “The Society’s mission is to preserve humankind’s artistic traditions; to reestablish poetry as one of the most widely appreciated forms of literature, communication, and entertainment; to increase appreciation of centuries of rhyming or metered poetry; to support poets who apply classical techniques in modern poetry through publication and performance opportunities and awards; and to aid in language arts education that imbues high moral fiber and good character.”

  42. Charlie says

    Great art is produced when great technical skill meets great creative vision: since the WW1 it has lacked both. To produce the vision of the Sistine Chapel requires the skill and vision of Michelangelo.

    In about 1450 AD an artist stated all those wishing to study art should attend the anatomy courses of medics and undertake dissection. Art students stopped attending dissection classes around WW1 so the standard of figure drawing declined , though life drawing was taught and the by 1980s this skill had largely died out. If on looks at the drawings undertaken by Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael one will rarely see any better

  43. 370H55V says

    I’m glad I’ve lived to see a retreat from the days of “Piss Christ”, “Mirth and Girth”, and the controversial painting of the Virgin Mary decorated with elephant dung.

    I also remember the ugliness of Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” on display at the federal courthouse plaza in Foley Square, Manhattan. It couldn’t have been all that bad though, since it once provided me with a secluded and convenient spot to relieve myself when that matter became urgent on a Sunday morning when the surrounding area was all locked tight.

  44. The author’s interpretation of the main illustration is hopelessly dorky. Firstly, the two caricatured armed hunters are actually wielding BB-guns —or possibly slightly-more-dangerous pellet rifles rather than genuinely lethal firearms. (Their guide —and maybe muse’s— weapon can’t be so easily identified.) And the captive faun gives no sign gives no sign of being at death’s door. The dog, however, is superb.

    • dirk says

      That’s what stroke me too, the Faun obviously is not hit by a rifle, no blood or anything, and looks healthy, but, of course, taken (symbolically?) by his hair, why?? Another thing, the painter did not do any effort to make the horns of the fauns look a natural thing growing from the heads, it’s just as if they are glued or printed on the hair, why again? And that large white wing, just in the air, what can that be?

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  46. WILLIAM DAIS says

    Wow, the acrimony on display here, provoked from a writer giving his opinion on what constitutes notable art, is incredible! So, the reviewer considers neo-pre-Raphaelite paintings to be beautiful and noteworthy. How about just for a second the Take Offense Culture takes a breath instead, and accepts that everyone is entitled to their own notions of significant art. There’s room in the art world for everyone. Why not lighten up?

    • dirk says

      On Quillette platform, William, it is good manners to come with critical notes on misbehaviour and trends going the wrong way (mostly in the left, SJW and PC corner), thus, I think, comments on kitschy trends in the art world should not be the exception, maybe even, the artists read this thread, and can do their advantages with it. Room for everyone is opposite to quality and high standards.

      • Avid Reader says


        “Room for everyone is opposite to quality and high standards?” Really? To say that William does not have good manners because he is not displaying critical notes on what YOU define as misbehaviour sounds exactly like PC-corner SJW tactics to me.

        @William, welcome to the forum, and post your opinion as you will, because at Quillette “free thought lives” and no one else has the right to tell you what you can and can’t post (although civility is appreciated).

        • dirk says

          Did I say William had no good manners? The manners thing was of all people that comment on Quilette, the habit and right to say what you think, positive or negative (mostly the last, especially by men, women are often more positive). Also here, many commenters ask themselves (as I do) whether the type of paintings as presented can be called art (and not just craftmanship in illustrating).

          Art, says Joe above, is hard to define, but you know it’s art as soon as you see it. Not always of course, but in this case??

          But nobody will oppose freedom to post. Freedom to publish and print exists often in the free west, but whether done so, is in the head of the beholder/editor. Selectivity and totalitarianism reigns there, and has to.

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  48. we are not all alike. some people hear more than see, and some touch more vividly than they hear. An ‘art’, then, would be whatever opens someone to their senses. an artist is most aware of his senses as he makes the piece. he, in fact, invents ‘sense into form’ and creates into the world. not everyone wants someone’s bastard, in that sense. Art is defined by artists, and/or, the art critic and historian, and/or the gallery selling ‘art’. that’s the reality of art and/or the art world. Either/or, it’s still the artist who knows what his art actually is for.

  49. dirk says

    This I would call humanism to the core, art is what a special individual thinks it is. Read Harari about it, and note his picture of the urinal of some artist, in Homo Deus. Indeed, Homo is Deus now, but not since long, and, I fear, not for long any more.

  50. deanjberlinerblau says

    How about we stop framing art as political altogether.

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