12 January 2006

Charlie Finch on the new religion, Art

My friend ES sent me the link to this article on Artnet yesterday, concerning the quasi-religious aspects of contemporary art. Truth be told, I am pretty out of the loop in terms of the contemporary art scene. I have caught up with art history about as far as the '60s and after that things get pretty blurry (perhaps, then Donald Kuspit's forthcoming book, A Critical History of 20th-Century Art will fill a void, who knows). Anyway, Charlie Finch's article is interesting and worth a scan, which doesn't take more than a few moments.

The more important question, however, is is art a substitute religion? As someone aligned with a full-fledged mainstream, tax-exempt religion, I hardly think so, or at least, it is not a substitute religion any more than a host of other substitutes, like politics or money or popular culture.

I suppose this is the logical result of a conceptual shift in terms of what art is that happenedhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif around the turn of the last century. Art and aesthetics were seen as a path to the transcendent apart from any other mediating body. Or at least that's what Kuspit seems to be suggesting (see above link). There are certainly people, who exhausted of the scientific positivism and materialism of the nineteenth century sought refuge in the subjectivities and vagaries of art. But that doesn't really account for the apparent religious response to art today. Not altogether, anyway.

I guess your response to this situation depends on whether or not you think it is a problem and if so, what the solution might be. On different days I feel differently about it, ranging from deep concern to benign unconcern to total indifference. If you do think that there is a problem, then the only solution to offer is to propose that art be put in the employ of interests outside itself. Art would have to be commissioned and useful, e.g. portrait commissions, religious pictures, etc. Abstract art would probably become solely the province of corporations seeking non-objective, and therefore not objectionable, wall decorations.

Honestly, this is an impossible alternative. Art will remain, as far as I can tell, insular and self-reflexive for the time being. Although, there will always be dissenters.

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