Even after more than two decades of researching and teaching art history at the university level, I remain perplexed by our culture’s sincere expression of love for art.
Granted, the idea of art in our contemporary lexicon differs dramatically from the more traditional concept of art as the fine arts. Art is now much more ambiguous in everyday as well as academic language; Eminem and Mary Cassatt share the same stage.
When I see near daily evidence of America’s sworn love for art I cannot help but question this new definition. The fallout is not pretty; there is little substantive knowledge about art history, even in the art world.
Instead, art is academically defined as subjective, its meaning personal. The rationalization may feel good but it is cheerfully deceptive: We all know what we like, so why must we articulate whyand how? Never mind if we cannot identify who, what, when andwhere!
In December 2006, Vanity Fair introduced its first-ever Art Issue. Ingrid Sischy, the former editor of Interview magazine, summarizes what now defines art (bold added):
In the past decade, the art world has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry… Art magazine subscriptions are up. Art colleges have lines at the door. Galleries are almost as crowded as the subway in Tokyo… Commodification of art is…not a new subject. What might be unprecedented… is the number of people who want in on it. (Vanity Fair, Dec. 2006, p. 304-6)
And yet in spite of this huge explosion of interest in Contemporary Art –which is market-driven, fanatically insular, and overwhelmingly disconnected from the past –most Americans rely on works of fiction and Hollywood for fine or visual arts education.
To discuss how this happened is taboo, but the answer is simple: By co-opting the Modernist notion of art for art’s sake and redefining it for a Postmodern world, the art establishment dumbed down the concept of art so drastically that now anyone can define art as a matter of convenience, personal preference or individual interpretation, regardless of historical context.
This lie that art is whatever we want it to be is now an established ‘truth’ that most people believe, however innocently. The ramifications are seismic.
Most art experts comfortably teach from the absurd position that there isn’t even a body of major works that together define an art history. Stephen F. Eisenman, a professor of Art History at Northwestern University, explains this accepted academic practice to the New York Times in an article addressing art survey textbooks (bold added):
“The main problem, I think, is that there’s no longer a general beliefthat there exists a single canon for art that should be taught to all students.” (Randy Kennedy, “Revising Art History’s Big Book” NYT, March 7, 2006)
The irony is that the long-held view of art as objective and quantifiable is now counterculture.
The Accessible Art Historian defiantly challenges the idea that anything and everything is art, and stands on the premise that art does not exist in a vacuum.
Art is the product of thinking, feeling artists whose works are specific to time, place and manner: Art is not accidental.
Art was and is made by humans who were and are created by God in His own image.
Isn’t such a history worthy of our investigation?