The Promotion of Art Without Meaning


Via sci-fi writer Sarah Hoyt on Instapundit, I came across a post by Richard Bledsoe that touches on a theme that has poked through my observations of art, culture, and politics over the years:

Once you realize the arrogant ruling class believes tearing down the traditions and standards of Western civilization will cement their grasp on unaccountable power, the promotion of Emin as the pinnacle of artistic achievement becomes understandable. Hyping soulless, unskilled art has a toxic, weakening effect on society as a whole. Conceptual art is a tool of oppression.

Bledsoe goes on with a reposting of an earlier essay of his, which finds some of the strategy laid out in George Orwell’s 1984. Bledsoe:

The scourge of postmodern relativism as a cultural force is no accident. It’s a top-down driven campaign,  the result of a cabal of well-connected interests trying to remove any kind of objective standards that could lend perspective and inflict consequences for the lies, manipulations, and abuses practiced as they try to maintain control over the rest of us. Anyone allowed to move into this privileged New Class has to adhere to these deceitful practices. As Orwell wrote, “To arrest progress and freeze history at a chosen moment…this time, by conscious strategy, the High would be able to maintain their position permanently….The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists and professional politicians…”

The topic always brings to mind a scene in Tim Robbins’s star-studded 1999 movie Cradle Will Rock.  The movie is set in the 1930s, and toward the end, Nelson Rockefeller, played by John Cusack, is at a costume ball with some of his fellow aristocrats; they’re discussing the troublesome nature of the arts, and one (who owns newspapers) suggests:

Newpaper Magnate: Nelson will fund a new wave of art — a traveling exhibit throughout Europe highlighting American artists.

Gray Mathers: Non-political.

Nelson Rockefeller: Yes! Abstract — colors and form, not politics.

Magnate: My papers will hail it as the next new thing.  We’ll canonize the artists, make them rich. Ha! Ha! Ha! And soon enough, all artists will be doing the next new thing.

Mathers: You think? There’s something about artists that always gets socially concerned.

Rockefeller: That’s true.

Magnate: Well, they won’t get paid for it.

Rockefeller: They won’t be seen; they’ll have no influence.

Mathers: Rather than starve, they’ll adapt.  It’s survival.

Magnate: And artists are whores, like the rest of us.

Of course, the cast is full of leftists and the movie assumes the righteousness of progressive causes, so it comes up short of the full conclusion — namely, that the same strategy can be (and has been) pursued with politics.  Promote certain superficial beliefs (such as the primacy of skin color, orientation, and gender), emphasize the simpler emotions, and assert intentions (pursued with simplistic policies), and you’ll never face scrutiny as to whether your causes actually bring about the desired ends.  The people most able to compete with the ruling class through talent and to discern and communicate the elite’s flaws and deceit will not only have no forum, but will be made the target for hatred.