I am an artist, and when I heard my friend say that Arthur Danto was one of the most influential voices regarding art and the supposed “art world”, I had to admit, I had no idea who Arthur Danto was. That may seem innocent enough, and not unlikely. The isolated social structures and elites in art seem proud of their obscurity and one must be an acolyte of this or that movement or circle to know the local pecking orders. I rarely read magazines on any point in the political spectrum, so that I was unaware of the art critic for the Nation isn’t that telling in any direction either. I didn’t feel especially ashamed that I didn’t know who Arthur Danto is. What puzzled me, what I found worth consideration, was after asking around to various artists I know and with whom I correspond, I found very few knew who Danto was, and no artist who did know mentioned any influence from this scholar. No artist I spoke with had followed the advice of Arthur Danto in regard to technique or subject, or complexity. Nor did they espouse his Hegelian philosophical standards. They did not seek to apply his philosophies to their work. They did not refute them or deny them, they were indifferent.
This could be a symptom of poor variety in my sampling. Though to excuse this I will mention the artists I asked, casually, were not all realists, they were artists from various movements and creeds in the arts. Seeing this lack of knowledge concerning the most influential voice I wondered what exactly was meant by influential. This word comes up often when discussing the arts, and I even asked about “influence”, as if cued, and didn’t notice it seems meaningless in this context.
What does it mean to be an influential voice in the arts? Let me remove “voice”, it sounds contrived and somewhat Biblical, or prophetic. I wouldn’t want the added, subliminal, sentiment of some magical power in speech added to this subject. So let me rephrase: What does it mean to be influential in the arts?
Let me here give over a quote from The Nation, a brief biography of Arthur Danto to see if any sign of influence is related:
Arthur C. Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1924, and grew up in Detroit. After spending two years in the Army, Danto studied art and history at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) and then at Columbia University.
From 1949 to 1950, Danto studied in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship, and in 1951 returned to teach at Columbia, where he is currently Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy.
Since 1984, he has been art critic for The Nation, and in addition to his many books on philosophical subjects, he has published several collections of art criticism, including Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism; Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992); Playing With the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe (University of California, 1995); and, most recently, The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000). He lives in New York City.
It isn’t the most recent biography, but it serves the general purpose of explaining, briefly, who Arthur Danto is. He is a scholar and a philosopher of art. This may seem venerable at first glance but I think can only be said to “look good on paper” and adds up to very little action or influence. This biography seems, like most biographical snippets, a marketing device used to legitimize an unknown person.
I read some of Danto’s writings, by no means all, but enough to lead me to believe, that his thinking on art is deeply flawed and teeters on faulty premises. At times his writing seems so formulaic and contrived that I almost felt embarrassment for him. If not actually embarrassed, I will admit sympathetic discomfort in someone who could so extravagantly and enthusiastically make mountains out of mole hills. I cringed to read the things he writes. These mole hills he tries to emphasize with florid descriptions. Regarding Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece”:
“Ono sits impassively on the stage, like a beautiful resigned martyr, while the audience is invited to come and cut away a piece of her clothing. One by one, they mount the stage, as we see in a video at the Japan Society, and cut off part of what she is wearing. One of the cutters is a man, who cuts the shoulder straps on her undergarment. The artist raises her hands to protect her breasts but does nothing to stop the action. Ideally the cutting continues until she is stripped bare. I find it a very violent piece, reminding me somehow of Stanley Milgram’s experiment in psychology, in which people are encouraged to administer electric shocks to the subjects (who pretend to be in agony). The audience has overcome, a bit too gleefully, the gap between art and life-it is after all a flesh-and-blood woman they are stripping piecemeal with shears. It reveals something scary about us that we are prepared to participate in a work like that.”
Reading this I find I am gritting my teeth and squinting due to the heavy handedness and silliness that proceeds from the first line. Let me rephrase the “masterpiece” as he terms it in the common speech:
Ono sits on the stage. The audience is invited to come up and cut away her clothing, piece by piece. They do so; aware that she is willing to be nude (or semi-nude) in public, in fact she has set up situation that allows her to be so. Cut piece doesn't have many alternatives. If no one participated in this artsy and righteous strip tease, it would have simply been "sitting on the stage piece."
A message is meant to be contrived, because of the cutting, and the message is supposed to hint at something dark to legitimize this silly piece. Silly people often suppose dark is deep. Some guy takes the implied dare and is the first to cut away a piece of undergarment. How scandalous (if one is 13 but annoying to anyone older). It is nothing at all like Milgram’s experiments, which are really creepy and disturbing- the subjects of the experiment were unaware of the experiment and were led to believe they were torturing someone, and pressured by authorities to do so. The Ono piece is cooperative silliness. It is only similar to Milgram’s experiments in that the subjects, the audience, are duped into thinking that they are participating in a situation which in fact they are not. The similarity is someone is deceived, and pressured into doing something. As opposed to the Milgram experiment which was dire, the Ono performance was pointless and decieving the audience they were participants in a cultural wonderment. All deceptions are not equal. It is not as Danto suggests above like they are pressured to perform the forbidden act of cutting away garments and stripping a woman. The cutting away of garments is completely understood to be voluntary and okay. I believe certain strip shows have a similar premise, where “tear off” lengths of costume are lightly held by the audience and the dancer dances away from the pieces of her costume until she is naked. Only the shears are missing, but the strip tease is not meant to legitimize itself with “dark is deep” and a guy with scissors in a strip club seems a bad idea. A bad idea that should be brought up here. The strip club is actually dark and deep and possibly dangerous (notice the bouncers, drunks and not uncommon fist fights) and they are trying to induce the opposite- a good time. It seems to suggest that Yoko Ono and her audience are play acting at something interesting and failing to create anything actually interesting.
Danto’s language is curious. Attempts to lead one to think along certain lines like: “until she is stripped bare” makes him untrustworthy. The same phrase could easily have been stated “they cut her clothes off until she is nude”. This phrase doesn’t have the same sentiment as “stripped bare” –utter vulnerability (or is it udder vulnerability?) But then it is one of the possibilities though not as apparently cooperative. Even if Ono wants to relate the idea that she is stripped bare and one knows this, whether or not it has worked is not a given. In fact that she has performed this piece more than once, and conceived of the piece it is hard to imagine she feels vulnerable and laid bare. And what is more is why is laying oneself bare (or being naked in public) "like a martyr", of interest in art- or anywhere else? Contrived martyrdom on stage is not very convincing or interesting, and is not at all what is advertised. There is no martyrdom. The audience has to agree to act and think like fools and accept silly premises they would reject in other settings. And that is not the point of the piece, as might be argued. No one learns anything from this, nor do they benefit in any way. What it more is the "martyr" imagery is specialized to those who have no knowledge of the history of martyrs. Ono wasn't Jeanne D'Arc on that stage. At one point she even seems somewhat peevish one participant is taking too long and upstaging her. The audience feels the same and starts to heckle the man. Kind of juvenile and silly. It reminds me of the girls in freshmen photography classes who invariabley photograph themselves nude, and then explain that these vain nude photos have deep feminist messages in them. Often, I have found, as these girls get older they laugh these pictures off as just wanting people to see them naked. Fair enough, that is honest and even exected, the false and righteous message is what is troubling.
Danto goes on to describe another piece of Ono’s work called “Fly” where a fly walks on a nude woman’s body, and an annoying soundtrack can be heard in the background. “The soundtrack is uncanny, and we do not know if it is the voice of the fly, the suppressed voice of the woman, or the weeping voice of an outside witness to what feels like- what is- a sexual violation.” Well, maybe, but I doubt it. Danto backs this assertion by mentioning Ono’s credentials as a musician. Why we need to know this is unclear as the piece, unless one is willing to stretch unreasonably and start making up their own themes, is a fly crawling on a nude woman with an annoying soundtrack. The soundtrack sounded like someone futzing around with a violin, or a kazoo. The whole thing is, as one might expect, as interestig as watching a fly walking around on some person. It is in fact less interesting then a fly crawling on someone witnessed in person people often swat at flies, and freak out when bugs are on them. What could be considered an "action scene" for this type of interesting art. One need not follow some repetitious and peculiarly scandalous theme of “sexual violation”. Just the mention of “sexual violation” as a theme makes some especially weak minded persons shudder in awe. But it seems strange that this theme of “sexual violation” is indulged and promoted, in case someone forgot about rape. And though sexual violation is a shocking and terrible thing, it doesn’t give power or force to supposed art pieces claiming it as a subject. It seems a little too much like desire for attention. What is worse is it is exploitive and profits (not necessarily financially) from sexual violation. As a means of communicating ideas of “sexual violation" as is claimed, “Fly” fails. As a piece of art anything that implies “sexual violation” fails. Sexual violation is not a standalone issue. It involves history and personal histories. Sexual violation is not an ideal but has particular, personal results. This is why it is horrific. One of its more terrible and tell tale aspects is silence not howling. This silence is consuming and painful, not dramatic and symbolic. An example of a work of art with something like a theme of sexual violation is Sir John Everett Millais “Order of Release.” I would suggest anyone look this painting up. Its narrative is about sexual violation and manipulation regarding the release of a prisoner to his wife. She has had to trade for his freedom. I won’t offer any poetic descriptions of the painting. You can see for yourself. It is also worth mentioning, I read another critical essay about "Fly" that described this piece as a conceptual "absurdist" work, and this essay described another piece as sexual violation instead. This "choose-your-own" movement or issue strikes me as very suspicious. If experts and scholars are fumbling in the dark and describing the emperor's new clothes as completely different outfits, say bermuda shorts vs ski gear, how can they possibly be accepted as experts. It seems important to try to connect silly things to very serious things even when no relationship exists. That the critics and essayists on this work are inconsistant, unsure, and yet "sell" it just the same is telling. That they have a set body of possible, controversial, or cutting edge lables (all meaningless) to work with is disappointing.
Let’s look still further at Danto’s phrase “the gap between art and life.” He borrowed this phrase from Robert Rauschenberg: “Painting relates to both art and life, I try to act in the gap between the two.” Danto explains, “’Overcoming the gap between art and life' had at once the ring of a metaphysical battle cry-like closing the gap between body and mind-and a political slogan promising to abolish privilege. For Rauschenberg, however, it more or less meant giving himself license to make art out of anything: 'A pair of socks is no less suitable to make a painting than wood, nails, turpentine, oil, and fabric.'" Now it may be that Danto is a so blindly fanatical for art in all of its manifestations (or any claiment to the title) he cannot see things clearly or soberly. And you can forgive him on this basis. I, however, do not believe this is so, and think his acceptance of this nonsense, while claiming himself a professor of Philosophy, is unforgivably sloppy. Here is why: painting does not fill in a gap between art and life. Art and life are not separate things. Art is an experience in life. There is no gap. Paint is a material used to induce the experience of art when configured in certain ways (not in all ways), and painting is the act of configuring and applying the paint. This is done by living persons. Painting does not fill in a gap between art and life, as it is an activity within life, that is, it is part of life also, if one chooses to do it, and it can induce the experience of art, which is also a part of life, as can other triggers, such as music, or dance. These are also part of life. Paintings have a relationship to art at times in that one can trigger the other. But neither is separated by a gap from life. “Art” and “life” here mean nothing. They are meant to be magic words which can be used to say nothing but sound like something is being said. "What is Life?" "What is Art?" Two questions many people cannot answer and so leave untouched and unexamined due to an assumed difficulty in answering. One need not arrive at a definitive answer to either question to see through the silliness of the idea of a gap between art and life. To maintain this idea of separate entities, Art and Life, one must dive backward through time to some very superstitious thinking, and elevate these venerable words to divine status akin to “God”.
It does sound like closing the gap between body and mind, and is just as silly. As Borges wrote “you are your body and you are your mind and the two are difficult if not impossible to separate”, or as Bertrand Russell observed, a perfectly healthy, intelligent man becomes an idiot when iodine deficient. Body and Soul, Body and Mind, Art and Life, are poorly categorized when taken as divine beings.
Though very fine for Rauschenberg and it reads as brave, giving oneself license to make art out of anything has some obstacles that are not simply brushed aside by will and license. First, art is not induced by just anything. Though one may try anything they want and may achieve success with many as yet unknown things and combinations, any thing will not induce an experience of art. The things used to make paintings, such as paint, oil, wood, turpentine, etc. are not lawful heavenly bestowals, but evolved and changed to efficiently suit certain purposes. All kinds of materials were used, and many were rejected because they were not very useful. One painter used his own earwax to make a paint, few others have followed done likewise. Many painters found agreement in some general materials such as the above mentioned materials. They gave themselves license to use these materials. They did not find that the usefulness or novelty had been extinguished when Rauschenberg made his comments, and many still haven’t found a satisfactory extent to the potential of these materials. Now let’s get back to Rauschenberg’s sloppy statement which Danto has borrowed. Like the gap between art and life, Rauschenberg has a problem with categories. A pair of socks is a description of the way materials are put to use. Socks are made of cloth, say cotton or nylon. What makes them socks is if this cloth is used to cover the feet to warm them and separate the bare foot from the shoe. A footlike form is also helpful in "sockiness" or is it "sockitude?" This use can be changed, and one could paint on cloth that could also be used as, say, an artist canvas, or cloth used to smear paint, or even cloth placed in a setting. Notice “socks” can be magically transformed into “puppets” with the simple application of buttons. The problem as yet is, cloth formed for use as foot coverings, has very limited use as artist supplies. This is not because of some rigid doctrine, but simple common sense. Flat planes are often used in painting because they are easy to access at least a full half in one expanse, and then easily apply well tried and ever useful techniques such as perspective. These techniques have not been used in every possible manner and have much left in them to explore. The simplicity of the flat quadrangle or circle removes unwanted complexities in materials that would, if present, need to be surmounted to induce the state of art. Socks seem less suitable for an experience of art through painting, but seem just fine if you want to paint on or with socks. With the latter idea I have yet to see socks and paint combined to induce art. Maybe it is possible in some manner, but seems an excessive effort, and has yet to happen. Socks haven’t really caught on as good painting materials, because they aren’t - especially when used to make art. I will confess, I have on several occasions applied paint to old socks, but this is because I was using them as a piant rag.
Danto does something interesting after discussing Rauschenburg which will take us away from Danto and back into influence. In his book Unnatural Wonders, Danto wrote “The essays that compose this volume were written in the space between art and life, which has been my intellectual habit since the 1960’s, as philosopher and as art critic.” He claims for himself the artist’s declared position between art and life (Danto introduced the subject to implicate himself with it). He suggests it as his intellectual habit. This shifts him away from being a simple critic or philosopher but adds him to the roster of heavenly beings between Life and Art. He espouses nonsense for the sake of vanity. He is attaching himself to a cult object to reinforce his influence.
Enough about Danto. I placed his ideas under scrutiny for a reason that I hope is clear. The most influential voice in art offers some unstable and hollow ideas. If these ideas are influential it should be alarming. It should be alarming because these ideas have passed with little resistance or examination, and because influence in art would seem to be an external issue to art. Influence with art has to do with who controls what activities are termed art, and thereby can define markets, masters, and geniuses. It would seem influence in art is a nefarious situation.
The problem of influence isn’t just suspicion that one is being asked to admire the emperor’s new clothes. The problem arises, as with a religion, where emphasis lies. Which persons or actions are important and influencing or influenced, if at all? Let’s take Christianity as a case in point. If influence were exerted in which direction would it go? Do the prelates influence the laity? Does the laity influence the prelates? Do either of these influence Jesus Christ? Does Jesus Christ influence either the prelates or the laity? There are examples in history of the laity influencing the practices and beliefs of the clergy, and likewise there are written works of the clergy complaining about their elite status and actual faith as opposed to the laity. There are examples of conflict between local priests and monks claiming their influence should supersede the influence of the other. Popes have altered the supposed words of Christ and God, as have scribes. The priests have been found to be criminals and have suffered the outrage of their flocks. Looking at this from outside the ranks, it seems that “influence” in any direction are localized instances of social pressure, and self interest, dressed in the garments of a creed. Christian doctrine, writings, and even Jesus, need not be present for the pressure of influence to occur, and these seemingly important bases are commonly ignored. Influence has little to do with what is advertised, namely, Christianity.
This religious example is very close to the situation in the arts. Very close is incorrect, it is the same. The “art world” and the offices, movements, orders, and parties which are presented in social forums and venues are the tail end of the Reformation. I will discuss this more shortly.
To consider influence as described with art we should consider the desires of the actors. There are different groups with different desires each tugging an edge of the same garment. Primary among these would, it seems to me, be the artists, but we should perhaps start with the experts, then collectors, and merchants, and following these would be the ignorant masses, upon whom a great deal is inflicted. Let’s discuss experts first and then go on to artists last.
What do each of these groups desire and what ways can the others shape the behavior and perceptions back and forth?
Let’s take scholars first, as I first introduced a scholar, maybe this is the best place to start. I think it would be naïve and ridiculous to proceed from the idea that the scholar is coming from a position of love of art, or philanthropy. The scholar can be considered synonymous with the expert. To describe their desires and motives, it must first be understood that art is, again, unimportant in any terms one might consider art who, say, simply desired to experience art. Their purpose and actions involve authority, hierarchy, deception, and obfuscation. Their interest is prestige and authority as an expert. This involves such things as disregarding facts and science, as these threaten to undermine the magic charms, and rickety reasoning of the expert. Examples of this can be seen in the documentary “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock” by filmmaker Henry Moses. This film gives the story of a 73 year old former trucker, Teri Horton, and her attempts to authenticate and sell a Jackson Pollock she purchased in a thrift store for $5.00. Even after the discovery of Jackson Pollock’s finger prints on the canvas, and paint consistent with the paint on his well preserved studio floor found in microscopic speckles in the painting, experts refused to acknowledge authenticity. An expert formerly affiliated with the MOMA in New York City, replied, that though science is interesting it doesn’t prove anything. A painting is not factually a painting attributed to an artist until it is, and I am paraphrasing, given authentication as a bestowal. Until experts allow it, a work is not art. What this indicates is that fact is irrelevant according to the expert. The “art world” is here assumed as not an art world but an entirely different cosmos where physical laws, and fact have tiny importance, or even more laughable, do not apply at all. This special cosmos has rulers and priests known as experts.
This is not laughed away, though it is ridiculous. It is a very ancient and superstitious cult. Attendant to this superstitious mime of another special cosmos where the rules of the expert apply, are “mouthes”, incantations, ritual gestures, and speaking in tongues.
The “art world” as charted by the expert demonstrates an interesting shift in value. Value in the ranges of the experts is based in art business: art as stocks, and investments. Prestige has a high place as well but is derivative of financial matters and does not stand alone as a value. The expert takes the position of declaring what is valuable. Their bestowals can include the designation “important” or that work is executed by a “Master”. How one becomes a master or what constitutes importance is largely nonsense, gibberish, and magic words. Vague terms, and very poor attempts at poetry are used and are the easy clues used to discern the hocus pocus. These terms tend to imply that only sensitives and prophets can understand them. Declarations on the “Use of…” this that or the other quality like color or texture, as well as claims of jokes (which are invariably humorless) that are hidden and subtle, place the non-expert in a contemptible position. A position that could lead to scorn if they attempt to dismiss the nonsense they are given.
In regard to the expert it must be kept in mind their demand is to accept fantasies, and boogey men. It is a power play, and an overt power play. Bertrand Russell once wrote “Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than pleasure.” A step further than this, a step to even greater demonstration of power, is to cow the victim into admitting they like what they do not, and even volunteering to suffer it, contrary to sense or pleasure. If one sits and watches an art expert at work (whether dealer, or curator, or teacher) they give over a hard sell. A hard sell with deep scorn and derision, name calling, mockery, and brow beating. They attempt wit, but it usually fails, people will laugh, but the nervous laugh following release from direct stress. Under stress people will accept a great deal of nonsense.
For example in regard to the word “Master” the meaning is not one would accept in regard to any other profession or endeavor, as the word is meant in the “art world”. If one is a master of something, the general meaning and understanding gives over the idea that the master has a thorough knowledge of something with which they work. This is not what is meant by “Master” in the “Art world” of experts. “Master” among experts is something like a saint, but also a magician. It is the erection of a personality cult to a “Master” in the arts. Picasso describes this, situation mentioning how it is not the artist’s work that matters, but who the artist is. In other words, the work is a magical souvenir from an art deity. As you will be aware, name value is paramount, regardless of the work in the “art world”. This is because it is a magic charm, a sliver of the true cross, the index finger of John the Baptist, or any other bogus trinket sold to the gullible or greedy (the greedy will sell it later at a profit to another gull.) Master is a synonym for Saint, God, or Angel. Experts include inflated histories and legend to the “Master” when missionizing them or when attempting to derive authority from them.
In any other walk of life, anywhere outside the art world, this would be considered stupid, which is the great triumph of the expert. They can flaunt their overtly silly powers, the ridiculous fantasies, in front of their victims, and know the victims will defend then and support them, when reason is introduced. The purpose is to make a joke of people, control a crowd, for others to see and admire, and fear. To induce futility to opposition is another purpose.
The expert is not an expert of art. Of those I have spoken to I have been consistently surprised at how little expertise they have. Often they can tell anecdotes about the artists with whom they have casually acquainted themselves. This sometimes consists of a story about the artist’s rude behavior (as if this is admirable or meant to evoke some affection for eccentricity). Always trivia is offered. On occasion dates are used to scare, or names of obscure patrons are offered up. But any information that is not superficial is unknown. The trick is to include dates, names, foreign terms, or authorities to intimidate and beguile. The same areas of weakness demonstrated in high school history exams are exploited by the expert. The expert preys on ignorance, flattery and bullying.
Their influence cannot be said to extend to the arts. Their interests are not the arts, but are instead prestige and power. Art is a convenient, easy and malleable garment in which they can dress their power hunger, but it is not the hunger itself. I know of few artists who worry or adhere to the demands and advice of experts, and those who do tend to be very small groups, who as artists have no great sweep of influence, and often leave art aside as a hobby. This is because a necessary aspect of expert rivalries is supplanting the next guy. The transitory loyalties given by artists to experts are based in obscurity and fashion trends and vice versa. Fashions change quickly, and the artist who was “influential” standing on the train of the expert is quickly thrown off in favor of better pickings. This becomes tiresome except to the most deeply invested. Often this rung of the art world is based in totalitarian attempts, that on a large scale fail miserabley. Orwell describes some aspects of totalitarianism that fit the attempts of the expert very well:
"From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revelation of prominent historical figures. This kind of thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth."
The art experts success in respect to power is inflicted only on a small group that consider themselves elect, and are of little concern to the rest of mankind.
I think “experts” as an influence can be dismissed in regard to art. They are not concerned or involved with the arts. They do not produce or know art, nor do they especially like it. They do not negatively affect art either. They do however know bureaucracy and “organizations” that claim power over arts. But this is an attempt to install authority where none is necessary. Their reach and prestige is very limited and falls short of actual influence. In what may be an ungenerous personal opinion, I think experts are a generally unenergetic and unimaginative group, whose pretentions tend to counteract their effective tactics.
With some acquaintance of the expert and their lack of influence, we can go onto another group, the collector. I recall reading, I think two years ago, an article in The Guardian about the 100 most influential people in the arts. The top spots were taken by business men, experts and dealers. This is mysterious, and misrepresents, in the way of propaganda, art and the arts. What this was a description of economics. Who has the most money in the arts is not the same thing as influence in the arts. What is more is with the power of advertising and expensive galas, the issue becomes even more clouded. These are diversions, and possibly entertaining and glamorous, but have little influence. These events are for collectors, and buyers, as are lists such as the 100 most influential people in the arts. These are ads.
The business of trading what the expert has certified, falls to the collector and the dealer. Collectors have some interesting motives, especially the top collectors, and they do hold influence. They, like the expert, desire power, but their main occupations and work is not exclusively tied to arts. In a Roman sense of civic duty many collectors find it important to maintain and keep collections which are donated to the public, or open to the public, also having the benefit that the collections holds their name, and subordinate the names of the artists within the collection. This almost implies some part in the production of the work, but is a vanity. As with the Romans this is very prestigious and is a testament to their wealth and power. The Steve Wynn collection, for example, is a collection of names showing how rich is the collector who owns those names. It is aristocratic. Teri Horton’s difficulties in authenticating and selling her Pollock are not based on concerns of the painting. They are because she is a lower social class. Pollock’s paintings are not the possession of the lower social classes. If they were they would diminish the value. The purpose in owning a Pollock is to own something that proclaims prestige, and elitism. When the rabble gets their hands on it, what is it worth?
Prestige is not the only motive, and sometimes not the strongest motive. Sometimes it is only a temporary motive. Resale is also a strong motive. Collectors from all over the globe have been known to purchase works by artists they do not know, and whose work they will never see. It is stock. After maturing for a year or two these stocks are sold for twice the purchase price. Proper advertising for these business deals involve the above galas, magazine articles, etc, etc.
Sometimes collections can become very specialized and collectors will collect the rare and extravagant, with no plans to sell. Other times they may collect all things regarding a single subject. I mention this because, as with the expert, this has little to do with art. These are concerns regarding ownership and sale of valuables.
This is not to say there aren’t some collectors of art who love art. It is to say, that when it comes to collecting, love of art plays a small role. Also it is saying that collectors do not influence art.
Objections to this have been raised in discussions, by pointing out art markets are an undeniable part of art and the art world. I would continue to reject this in regard to the subject of influence in art. I would point out that art existed prior to the current state of economics and the art world, or art markets. What is more is the art markets and world are incredibly unstable, and competitive, so do not exist as anything like actual structures or ordered systems but are a convenient general description of the opportunism and greed surrounding art, whatever form it takes. Though they may influence each other, collectors and experts do not influence art. This becomes very clear when you ask the simple question: What is art? They tend to have few answers, and when answers are provided they are usually silly.
People who buy art are not necessarily collectors. An art buyer is just this, someone who buys art. Too many motives exist for the art buyer to be tackled. They are not influential to art. It hasn’t been my experience that art buyers put much effort or thought into being an influence (unlike the expert and collector). I haven’t heard anything to this effect either. There don't seem to be movements started by art buyers to promote their candidates or products as they have none. The art buyer seems to be self gratifying, and benign.
The Art Dealer is a troublesome issue, both in regard to influence and in attempting to generally describe who and what they are. Dealers are not a single entity, or movement. They range from elite dealers to simple salesman. As the simple salesman it is not uncommon that failing at art dealing these salesman turn to real estate. There is no real difference in their selling tactics, and the two things are related in a way as many lower wrung art dealers concern themselves with home décor. The elite, inner rings of dealers are something like car dealers who know how to throw a good party. These two things are also related. Knowing how to indulge people and appeal to vanity is very important. Their influence (top to bottom) is surprising. When successful, these people are not stupid. While experts and collectors deal in their private realms and arenas of concern, the dealer is closer to the public. Whether elite or common they perform the same function. While experts attempt to assemble doctrines as rival popes, and collectors interact like princes, the dealer is the missionary and parish priest. They know their flocks and how to speak with their flocks. They know the hopes and fears (as small as that may be regarding art) of their flocks. Often they act like museum docents and will recite contrived histories (often packaged by art publishing houses) as if they were speaking casually. Strangely, like the local priest, the flock will follow the dealer’s doctrines and interpretations believing they are the doctrines of the Pope, never knowing the difference between the words and concerns of the expert and that of the dealer. The higher wrung dealer may eventually find himself as an expert or consultant (just as medieval bishops were elevated as political offices from the secular realms), but the lower wrung dealers don’t need to elevate themselves to be influential. Though the expert may content themselves with wrangling over occult art doctrines and philosophies, the average dealer actually creates the common language and conceptions of art among the general public. The public who watches television, reads local papers, attends local events, etc. repeat and follow the conceptions and creeds of the dealer. Often dealers need only mention New York, or a famous name to press their ideas, and silence doubt. Invariably these dealers tie themselves, as much as possible, to local or regional civic institutions. Appearing on boards, committees, and councils, they acquire influence over what will be presented to the public. What the public has learned and what they believe is art is largely due to the art dealer. It might be assumed that the art educator has something to do with this and so they do, but they also know art under the beliefs of the dealer, not the expert. The dealer’s speech is a common, easily understood and accepted set of rules and flatteries. Even if one has been educated in art, their art education is subordinate, as may be imagined to their desire to teach philanthropically. Both teachers and dealers refer to “getting things out there” and making art as though these ideas are important if only symbolic. There is a superstitious belief, a folk belief in the magic and goodness of art. This supposed philanthropy, and optimism, is a simple device they can be used to profit. Often dealers will, while hinting at aristocratic hopes and classiness, give over a claim of community and artophilia. All they do, it is claimed, is done for love of art, and the artist, and only in a remote and secondary way is business involved. A newspaper headline I came across offered: “le commerce d’art: Passion, more than money, is at core for gallery owners”. The Frenchisms are annoying but not directly the fault of the dealers interviewed. It also restated the idea more thoroughly, “"A passion for art, a close relationship with their “suppliers” and the love of going to work every day are why most gallery owners are in business. And it’s not an ordinary business: Their interest is more about the art than making money and more about working together than being competitive." This is, of course, silliness and marketing, and it is not unusual. The idea is perpetuated that the art dealer is doing everyone a favor. By extension art institutions, and committees peopled with dealers and marketers, stress they are also there to do everyone a favor, though the nature of this favor and the evidence of the favor are unclear.
There is a form of influence that the dealers exert which have reverberations and is visible. It can be observable. In this they are more potent than the expert, or the collector. The dealer, like the expert and collector, are not interested in art. Some would argue that interest in art is unnecessary, and in personal conversation with dealers they have gone further and declared interest in art a stumbling block. One dealer informed me that artists starve because they get in their own way, where a dealer who is not tied to the work can acquire it cheap and sell it at a good price because they have no personal interest in the thing. Sentimentality is detrimental in sales. Perhaps this is true, and one might be tempted to credit them for their honesty, unlike the snake oil experts, and aristocratic collectors. But that credit may be premature.
The art dealer is a salesman, and deals with product. It is unclear if art is a product, but it doesn’t matter whether it is or not sales can still occur. Often when paintings are sold as simply paintings, anonymous and uncertified, they are deemed of little worth. Instead, following reason given by Picasso, the thing, the painting, the product is irrelevant. It is who made the product that makes it important. This then makes art a service. A somewhat mystical service, but a service. It isn’t quite like the average service one might expect from a trained professional. It is like the services performed in a carnival side show, and the dealer is the carnival barker. You know you are going in to the side shows and freak shows to see something fake, or something scandalous. In either case, the subject of the side show is placed in a setting; a set might get the idea across more clearly. A fictional environment is created to accommodate the nonsense narrative and mystique the barker is weaving. This is influential. Artists attempt to adhere to the fictions of the barking dealer. They will change their work, alter their demeanor, and espouse contrived and hollow ideas.
The seeds for this are implanted early. As I previously mentioned the art dealer is the source of art education. The simple reason from the perspective of the dealer is education allows them to prepare futures adherents. All the terms and ideas of the dealer are repeated in the schools. I recall field trips in elementary and high school to art galleries. We were informed of the graces of the gallery. What is more, the teachers in art classes prepare art students for submission to art galleries, by setting up their own internal galleries and shows.
This educational element is especially disturbing. I would like to quote Bertrand Russell on this point: “The power of education in forming character and opinion is very great and very generally recognized. The genuine beliefs, though not usually the professed precepts, of parents and teachers are almost unconsciously acquired by most children; and even if they depart from these beliefs in later life, something of them remains deeply implanted, ready to emerge in a time of stress or crisis. Education is, as a rule, the strongest force on the side of what exists against fundamental change: threatened institutions, while they are still powerful, possess themselves of the educational machine, and instill a respect for their own excellence into the malleable minds of the young. Reformers retort by trying to oust their opponents from their position of vantage. The children themselves are not considered by either party; they are merely so much material, to be recruited into one army or the other. If the children themselves were considered, education would aim at making them belong to this party or that, but enabling them to choose intelligently between parties; it would aim at making them able to think, not making them think what their teachers think.”
Russell’s reformers and their retorts do not exist in educational systems with regard to art. I recall challenging the ideal of the gallery in a high school art class and the teacher informed me: with thinking like mine I would end up “living by the river.” This may turn out to be the case, but this does not preclude knowledge of art. Observing students it is not hard to see they often alter their thoughts and opinions based on the favor of teachers. I recently took a pre-test version of the SAT test. On taking the test and checking my score I was surprised to find how many of my answers were wrong in the reading comprehension section. Going over those answers, I analyzed them to see where I went wrong and compared them to the correct answers. In every case the answer I chose was logically correct (or as close as possible with what was offered.) I knew a lady who worked creating the tests for one of the testing companies that make the test prep for the SAT. I asked her what went wrong with my test, and proposed the idea that it seemed it didn’t matter what the correct answer was in terms of logic, but rather correct in terms of what the tester wanted to see. She informed me my idea was exactly right. The students need to navigate through the classes and their teachers, and give the answers teachers want to hear, or else they will not succeed in their college classes. This submissive conditioning monopolizes art education.
It is interesting where I live the more successful galleries and gallery owners are also tied to cultural and art educational committees. These committees and institutions continually stress their position as educators. I was informed by a disillusioned member of one of these committees that the “cultural” and “educational” aspects had to do with business interests in town and nothing to do with art, or “culture”. It was meant to educate, and train people to heed marketing calls.
The terms and ideas of art given as education are the same terms and ideas to be found as the premise of gallery sales. My mother, who is also an artist, recalls when schools introduced these and excluded all other possible ideas of art in the 1950’s. In the current situation 50 years of childhood indoctrination are in place.
Contemporary artists (in the temporal sense not any movement) have been trained to pander and respond to the desires and standards of merchants. I do not mean to suggest that merchants are evil, or sneering should be their due. I mean to suggest the interests of the merchant are not the interests of art and should not guide expectation or the behavior of artists. Nor should the desires of merchants be the standard of art generally taught. Education is influential. It does not produce art, it clouds, blinds, and redirects. It offers unfounded and mysterious ideas. Some ideas are that artists are oppressed, art is created by magicians, people have to go learn secret art languages to understand art, art is filled with messages, art is expression, art is emotion, art is therapy, every idea is sacrosanct, and many other stirring, mystical notion - superstitious notions. None of these hold water, but are good for fables to induce sales. Each idea has a valuable, market tested, notion from freedom fighting and heroism, to magic relics and snake oil. Again the carnival barker, but as if the carnival barker was also the mayor and head of the school board.
What is alarming is some very insightful and smart people will parrot the dealer party line with great sincerity. Tolstoy, in What is Art notes a similar idea, and I didn’t agree with his theory of art, but I do think he was onto something about the susceptibility of even very smart people to the halo effect of art. Art has had a very strange history, and has a reputation as “the extraordinary experience.” Art, regardless of party lines, has a subterranean tradition that hints at the uncanny. People desire this uncanny, indistinct, thought. In some cases, people accept something as art without scrutiny that they would otherwise reject as hocus pocus. I heard an interview with what sounded like a very clear thinking and thoughtful lady. She was the interviewer, and was interviewing the author of a controversial book about standards in fiction. To validate a counterpoint she mentioned that Jackson Pollock has given us a new way to see. This struck me as very strange, because it was meant to be understood- a given or accepted idea that was unassailable. What exactly does “new way to see” mean? I’ve seen this phrase elsewhere, especially in hagiographies about artists. It is a sales statement, a vaguery with mystical sentiment, but meaningless. There is no new way to see. Maybe x-ray photos or infrared imaging are newish ways to see, but on examination no, no they aren’t, they just use machines to translate data to be accessible to our old way of seeing. “New” is the key word. Just like New and Improved dish soap.
As an example of the extent of this influence, and doctrinal connections handed down to the unsuspecting I would like to point out a simple but telling example. It is very common that books, including college text books, having anything to do with philosophy, politics, psychology, or other subject implying intellectual sophistication have cover illustrations taken from a piece of 20th century modern art. There is no reason for this, and at times the philosophy, politics and psychology is contradictory to the views of the artists who adorn the covers. This is irrelevant as the artist is just there as a signal to the gullible. New improved art is intellectually superior to old art, and any book showing the new art must be equally new and profound. Books that do not fit, and must be seen as quaint are usually covered by a painted portrait, Renaissance scene, or statuary. It is unclear why a 20th century painter who is not a modern artist (in any sense derivative of the art movement) does not adorn the cover of a science, or philosophy book. It is not subject matter, as many modernists took on ancient themes. It is the signal style used as a marketing device that fools the consumer to think they are smart, deep, profound, and sophisticated. The connection between intelligence, depth, profundity, or sophistication are unclear, but are touted as the advertising line of dealers for this art. Many of the artists whose work are validated in the 20th century as Modern, post modern etc, and who adorn book covers are watered down derivatives of Hegel (1770-1831), so not as fresh or immediately important as they may appear. The artists work is placed on the cover for the same reason the “NEW” and “NOW” stamps are emblazoned on cereal boxes.
The influence of the art dealer is very real- in a negative way.
The artist is a complex issue and their influence is questionable. This may seem strange as it might be supposed the artist is extremely influential in regard to art. But the issue is clouded. As mentioned above, with the art dealer, definitions and ideas of art have been distorted. Artists are products of the educational system. Artists are not clearly identified. Who is an artist and who is not has become vague. Some artists have been trained to deny or evade the claim, humbly. How art became a princely position one would humbly deny is mysterious. It may be within the last two centuries with the “birth of the Artist” as something other than a person who does a thing but as a social icon. Whenever it was the lofty position is now denied by many who are reluctant to claim it. Equally many who claim the title should not. The position has become so muddled that it is even claimed everyone is an artist. This is in contrast to the exalted artist and could probably be termed the “vulgar artist”. There are artists but only to the elect who can understand the cant of their work. Imitations of science, politics, and religion abound with the artist supposedly acting the role of the scientist, politician, or prophet. There is a more touchy feely and less elite group who take a very Protestant turn in thinking of art. Art is a direct revelation between the individual and art (or God), and no man can dictate art to another, but we are all infused with a soul or rather the ability to make art. And due to the mere fact that an ensouled person has made it, all art is divine- regardless of its form, thoroughness or how effective it may be. It should not be thought that Protestantism frees one of elitism. Elitism and snobbery are constants in the arts (which should inform you that something is fishy.)
This idea of art is actually Protestant, and the ideas are derived from the Reformation. Art has become a religious issue, but in secular clothes. The terminology and the rationale were used in the Reformation. The clearest example that comes to mind is Conceptual art, which follows the lines of Iconoclasm. Conceptual art is based in an ineffable idea or concept. The “idea” should not be considered in a psychological sense, but a magical sense, or very roughly on Plato’s theory of ideas. The Concept or idea is Eternal and cannot exist in a state of becoming. That is, it doesn’t exist in time. After this initial theft of a philosophical concept, it then becomes entirely superstitious and an argument regarding whether god can inhabit stone. The ideas are given automatic importance simply because they are ideas. And these potent, important, eternal ideas cannot be truly described with material objects. The inventors of conceptual art, such as Duchamp, were involved with “anti-art” movements, and later carried the idea forward by attempting to dismantle traditional ideas of art as worthless. The Iconoclasts had similar ideas regarding God as ineffable and eternal, unable to be portrayed in materials. They also sought to destroy traditional icons (they followed the Biblical commandment regarding graven images.) The Iconoclasts destroyed icons, and this can also be said of conceptual artists. When conceptual artists argue their points they use the argumentation of the Reformation substituting “Idea” for God. They, like the Protestants in the Reformation oppose an old church. This old church of art does not exist, but the restrictions and failings of the Catholic Church are somehow applied to art, though the Church is not mentioned explicitly. The church is replaced by classes, educational levels, or other fools. Conceptual art and Dadaism have a tradition of scorn, jokes, and sneering. Jacques Barzun mentioned the problems with this situation:
“Nowadays anything put up for seeing or hearing is only meant to be taken casually. If it holds your eye and focuses your wits for even a minute, it justifies itself and there’s an end of it…
What I am bringing up for scrutiny is that if modern man’s most sophisticated relation to art is to be casual and humorous, is to resemble the attitude of the vacationer at the fairgrounds, then the conception of Art as an all important institution, as a supreme activity of man is quite destroyed. One cannot have it both ways-art as a sense-tickler and a joke is not the same art that geniuses and critics have asked us to cherish and support. Nor is it the same art that revolutionists call for in aid of the Revolution.”
That museums and important shows include art unable to convey ineffable ideas, sometimes “absurdist” presentations or jokes, undermines the purpose behind museums. Artists tearing down art, or claiming it is impossible is contradictory.
To be fair, though I don’t sincerely think the things are related, signs of distortion and self doubt infest the so-called Realists. (I say “so called” because they are not exactly Realists in a technical sense, as Realism was a late 19th century movement and has little in common with paintings or artwork that looks like something real, or recognizable.) The self doubt has become so ingrained that assurances of past saints and genealogies, art blood lines, are used to verify ones status as an artist. As if attempting to show aristocratic lineage, Realists often trace their techniques and training back to the Great Masters. It is difficult for me to look to badly on this practice as it is somewhat acknowledged in some Realists who are more and more insisting on an Age of Reason within the arts. These artists would prefer to keep the techniques without the aristocratic tones, and leave the saints and bloodlines behind. In my opinion this seems very good in that what was good from the past can be maintained, without inhibiting or passing reactionary judgments on new inventions. It may have an undesirable effect for some, but one I think is good. It would diminish the snobbery and aristocracy in the arts relying only on results and thorough scrutiny on the part of artists. This said, the aristocratic, reactionary, tendencies among realists is prevalent.
This is just a small section of a confusing dilemma. Other “artists” and types could be brought in and we would be no closer to discovering what an artist is, exactly, and then what is their influence.
We can state, fairly clearly, that the influence of the artist is minimal to such things as the art world. But the art world, and its citizens, as I have hopefully shown, are not concerned with art, and the dealer only in so far as they can obscure and hide art to make anything they term art saleable. We can also state, with artists denying their actions, and non artists claiming abilities they do not possess, that without identity, personal identity or surety of their own endeavors, an artist can have little influence even on art.
There is another problem to consider with the artist, and it deals with the direct meeting with the dealer. It has become a standard belief that artists are mad, and foolishly some artists have adhered to this silly steroetype. But the stereotype is a market invention. As are ideas that artists should starve for their labors, artists are unable to function without agents, artists are mystics, etc. This creates a general image of the artist as a fool, or an idiot savant- a genius and a fool in useful ways. This is contrivance, but artists assist this degrading nonsense. They do so because it is traditional to do so, but also out of desperation. The starving artist is a real situation, though there is plenty of money in the markets that trade art. The artist has no force on this market, and this is due to laziness established in the past and made tradition at present. The dealer exploits this, but the artist performs it. The situation is described in the inquisitors speech to Jesus in the Brothers Kramazov:
"Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.' They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. "
And this is exactly what happens. Artists gladly turn over all freedom, choice and controlover to "art executives" and merchants, without seriously considering the idea that they should feed themselves, or take control of their own works. They accept the situation, somewhat gladly, and indulge in their claims of madness and fallibility. This may say something about the characters who call themselves artists, and it may equally tell a great deal about who exploits them.
It would seem that an artist should be ultimately influential to art. They are derived from art, especially skilled in this thing, and decide what parts they will relay and what parts they will enlarge to pass along. This might be assumed. But more and more, artists accept stereotypical roles, styles, and directions from non artists. They dismiss history, accept social pressures, they are destructively passive and cowardly (whether this is due to conditioning or not is open to discussion.)
Artists may be overmatched. They are certainly out numbered. The thing, presumably, that occupies the artist’s time and energies is the furtherance of art. The social, political, and economic chess games involved with the “art world”, the decoy given to mass audiences in lieu of art, is a secondary or tertiary concern. To those who profit from art in various ways (such as those cases listed above) their “art world” can be a full time job. Part of their prosperity is based in victimizing artists, and exploiting the weaknesses and inability involved with the attempt to serve two masters: art and the art world. This exploitation, all of their professional energies can be used to undermine and dismantle art. Again the Inquisitor in the Bothers Karamazov describes a like situation with the church, and how it had to destroy the words and freedoms given by Jesus, in Jesus name.
I hate to admit, artists have very little influence on art. This suggests something important. If those who do influence art, the dealers, do so in a negative way (they obscure art from knowledge and knowledge of art is necessary for art to continue) and those who would be artists are not even sure if they are artists so cannot be said to add anything to art, then we can say knowledge of art is diminishing, maybe even gone. Knowledge of art, and experience of art, is of primary importance to its propagation. If no one knows what art is, no one knows if they have or have not experienced it, aside from being present when something someone has reverently termed “art” is passed under their nose. Then it has to be admitted art is lost. The destructive influence has succeeded. It is important and a good sign that the negative influence must be continually inflicted on the hapless. This means some impulse is not easily snuffed out.
I should probably mention there are conspicuous, even propagandist, claims that there is more art now than has ever been before. This may seem to deny what I am offering here. But this suggestion of prosperity is easily handled. It falls to pieces when the question “What is art?” is posed because no one seems to know, or will even discuss the idea (as if it were taboo), especially those claiming to be artists. When they do their definitions or ideas are alarmingly uniform, and more alarmingly dismissed in light of science. In fact the definitions are usually a century or more old when many aspects of the functions of the brain were not yet discovered. The concepts of what art may be are antique, and long since demonstrated as faulty. But even without this question the claims fail when one asks for clarity on what makes an artist, and why would certain things be called art, as opposed to others. How do we know this army of artists and all their products are art at all and not, as it seems, just some stuff that was made? All we can really say about the claim is that many people find it important to say they are artists, and it is important for some interested parties to advertise the health of art, even if they cannot back up this advertisement. Beyond this the claim of health is dubious.
There are things to consider. If the most influential force in art is destructive and this destruction is enacted through obfuscation, the likelihood of a cure seems doubtful. So much of art has been buried and removed from experience it seems difficult to rebuild what has been lost and it often seems doubtful whether it can be restored, or furthered at all. No one knows what or how to pick up the baton. Dealers though destructive, are not destructive in an active and cunning way against art, or the generating factors of art, even if they were at one time. The art dealer is also a victim of their own procedures. They behave in a traditional role of carnival barker, but could not innovate this barking, and do not know the base upon which it is built. They are in the same straits as the artist who does not know what they do or why, and cannot press forward. We are destructive or impotent traditionally, not through individual circumstance, or discovery. Likewise we are defensive traditionally- bickering over subjects that are long dead.
I once proposed a hypothetical situation I would like to bring up again. Let’s consider the first artist. We don’t need to connect this person with any age or movement specifically; we just have to place them as the inventor. When this first artist created their first artwork they cannot have had in mind the idea “I want to make a piece of art”, because no such thing existed, and they could not be attempting to remake or re-induce this “art”. The first artist was doing something else. Art was a side effect. This isn’t just hypothetical. Much of the history of art, even stretching into the 20th century (outside cosmopolitan and sophisticated centers) was the result of a separate endeavor. Artists created things to make doors, or thresholds, “holes” in the cosmos, vehicles in which to ride and visit death, rebuild the dead, etc. They did not set about making art, they set about going somewhere or manifesting what was magical. If it worked it was called art. Nothing was made to fit in a standard of art. Like magic charms certain spells and techniques were found to be effective such as paintings, songs, statuary, etc. but the intent was not to make art. If the first artist was not attempting to make art, but did so, why would we assume the second artist attempting to make art would succeed? Would it be unreasonable to think that the second artist, removed from the generating intention of the first artist, would only imitate some qualities of the first artists work, and create a diminished thing? To carry it further, would the 70th generation artist bear any spark of the motivating factor of the first if they are only attempting to imitate the product of the first artist? It would seem to me the chance of making art would grow more remote the more one tried. To create art, it seems one must be doing something else aside from making art. It seems that art would be a side effect or vehicle.
Let’s take the vehicle idea and look at it like this: If the first artist had made a boat to sail to a destination we can understand the process. The artist would have to experiment, and invent to build the thing that would allow him to get across the water. Instead of joining the artist in his adventure, the following “artists” would rebuild the boat, simply for the prestige and wonder of having a boat. Having a boat may be fine, but if you don’t know how or why to use it, it is silly. What’s more: the following artists try to sail the boat on land without altering it, without a destination. They just want the boat, and they expect the boat has magical properties. They remake boats without reason or cause. This isn’t a silly model. This situation has occurred. It is called imitative magic, thanks to Frasier, and has myriad faces.
The next artist would perhaps like to travel over land somewhere or go to the moon more quickly and to some end. They would then create art as a side effect of their other endeavor. They would not be the second artist. They would be another first artist. Art doesn’t have a lineage, and every artist is a first artist, though the experience of art has been well known and wide spread.
Influence in art outside the reach of artists does not stand alone as a malady. There is something that has allowed this to occur. The potential for commerce, even commodification, has been in place for a very long time, and yet have been ineffective. All of the “corruptions” in the arts are borrowings from old manners, ideas, or practices and applied to art now because they can be. Some situation in art has gradually weakened and allowed other matters to intrude, where previously it was held sacrosanct, and was untouched. This can be traced fairly far back into western history, and seems to have relationships to courts as opposed to the peasantry. Welsh court bards complained of the corruption of the poetic laws, and the lowering of standards among the lesser peasant bards, for example. Plato gives distinction to art as something already at odds. He mentions “techne”, and forms of craftsmanship involved with creating likeness, but he avoids “art”, and its related concepts which were termed “extraordinary experience” and connected with the divine and magic. Plato suggests art is dangerous because of its ability to create illusions and alter emotions. With Plato there was a conflict the intellectual propriety maintaining control of one’s sense, and the “arrheton”. Plato dismissed art as illusion and suggested his Republic could do without. This shows that art was still powerful and known, if held in counterpoint to a more controlled and what was assumed a practical set of ideas. Greek religious rites and festivals were “arts” that were healthy and vibrant concurrently with skepticism and attempts at science. Even now, with art’s religio-magical history, it isn’t in conflict with science and reason, or religion.
Some component has been slipping away, where before it seemed somewhat unassailable. If you accept what I have claimed above, that art is negatively influenced by dealers, and an “art world”, and you may be tempted to believe that the component has something to do with money. And in some simple ways it does. In a complex way it does not. Dealers should be susceptible to art as well they should be under its influence. Plato did not deny the power of art, he did not prefer it, but he also noted you could tell a people by their music. Dealers should not sit outside its influence, nor should experts, collectors, or other indifferent persons. The situation of a most influential should never have come up. Dealers should not, even through education, have the ability to blind.
Art was a rarity, and people would travel distances to experience art. It was not everywhere, and aspects of art prevent it from being everywhere (I won’t get into that here). People are born unaware of art, but its rumor was enough to kindle fame and excitement when art was remote. If art is missing now, it should be easy enough to excite people to seek it out, as it is, by its nature, incredible, exciting, and interesting.