The Death of Art


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While in London, my wife and I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (one of the most underrated museums in the world).  At my wife’s behest, we made straight for an exhibit displaying the history of world jewelry.  The earliest jewelry had been crafted in 1500 BCE.  As we moved down the timeline, the jewelry became more and more sophisticated, following newly-developed rules – until we reached the 1960s.  At that point, the jewelry began to regress in complexity and craftsmanship, to the point that when we reached modern jewelry, it looked substantially like the jewelry from 1500 BCE.

The same has held true in painting.  Take a look at the difference between Da Vinci and Caravaggio and it’s easy to see the progression.  Follow the line forward and the art becomes more and more realistic.  With the invention of the camera, realism in art became secondary to emotion; artists responded by embracing the passionate imagism of Renoir and Monet.  But with the rules beginning to come apart at the seams, it was a short road from Monet to Jackson Pollock, and from Pollock to the nonsense you see on museum walls that look identical to finger-painting on your fridge.

Craftsmanship is no longer a mark of value.  It’s the “sense of the thing” that matters these days.  How difficult would it be for Hollywood to hire a few grammar-checkers on its scripts?  Yet how many movies have you seen where someone screws up third-grade rules like when to use “me” and “I”?  Why are teenagers and forty-year-olds reading the same books?  Because literature has bifurcated into rule-breaking impressionism like Dom DeLillo or Salman Rushdie and clear storytelling with cliché-ridden language like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (literary critic Harold Bloom rightly slammed King as “an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis”).  And the temptation for adults is to treat Rowling or King like real literature, since they’re spending so much time reading it.  Do adults really want to admit browsing through the bookshelf right next to Encyclopedia Brown or Danielle Steele?

The evocative and the provocative have replaced the polished and the skillful.  And eventually, evocative and provocative are no longer interesting.  In a world with no rules, there are no rules to break.  Everything becomes “art.”  And when everything is art, nothing is art.  It’s drek.

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  • crackerjack

    A strange and disturbing article. Tagging art that supposedly does not play by the rules with the German noun "dre(c)k" (filth), conjures up haunting memories of Germany's 1937 "Degenerated Art Exibition" and the "Degenerated Music" campaign that drove the modern out of Germany into the free societys of the West. Soviet art suffered a similar fate.

    The notion that art must follow assumed rules and beau ideal is a sign of narrow mindedness and always the trademark of totalitarian society.

    • Eric G

      I feel compelled to clarify Mr. Shapiro did not say art must follow assumed rules. He said one who breaks them must know the rules first and then know when to break them.

      • trickyblain

        Easy to say in hindsight that Beethoven or Mozart or Monet "knew" to break the rules. Fact is, however, there were contempory, long-forgotten Shapiro-types who slammed them for "rule violations."

        • tagalog

          Too many notes.

      • crackerjack

        The problem with Mr Shapiro is his assumption that art which does not follow his personal fancy is filth. The narrow minded always tend to hide behind something, be it God, "values" or "rules".

        • Advocatus

          Yes. On the other hand, though, you don't want to be so open-minded that your brain falls out. I don't entirely agree with Shapiro, but I believe the point he's trying to make is that just because you call your doodles and singsongs "art" doesn't make it so.

          Critics of Shapiro here cite Beethoven, Mozart, Monet et al as representatives of high art. By doing so, they've made Shapiro's point, seeing as they don't bring up some talentless old sods no one has ever heard of.

    • Guest

      What about the rule of 3rds? The breakdown of the image to aesthetically pleasing proportions that place important objects where they eye will naturally and most easily find them.
      How about the rules of colors and lines that direct the eye to that which the artist wishes to emphasize most?
      Or the "triangular" rule of composition that requires 3 objects in a triangular pattern so they referrence and play off each other directing which is object is to be dominant and which are submissive to it ?

      Did you even know these rules existed? Do you understand why they do?
      These rules were developed based on observations on how the human eye sees and scans an object, to provide the best means for the artist to convey his messeage to his viewer.
      Without these rules anyone can throw paint on a canvass and call themselves artists-many already do.

  • Amused

    Shapiro …..you're loosing your marbles pal . What in the hell are you talking about ? Crackerjack has a point as to what you're pathetically attempting . You're out of ideas bunky ……do they pay you to write stuff like this ????

    • Golden

      I have read a number of your comments, troll. It seems that you have the same problem as the arts and entertainment community Mr Shapiro refers to. Are you also unaware of the rules of English grammar and punctuation?

      One question mark is enough. Multiple question marks betrays a clownish attempt at emphasis or a juvenile attempt at "hipness". Either way, it does not reflect favorably on you. But that is the least of your shortcomings. Your prose is stiff and lacks clarity. That obscures the ideas you are trying to communicate.

      There is a idea somewhere in that mess that you are trying to communicate? If not, then you should probably do as your father likely told you to do at some point in your childhood.

      Shut up when the adults are talking.

      • Amused

        GFY Golden ….hows that for grammer. Do it now .

        • Stephen_Brady

          Childish. Are you in the second grade?

          • Western Canadian

            Yes, he is. Rather odd, since he is 37 years old.

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    Ben, there’s nothing more amusingly stupid than somebody who has a prolix and condescendingly negative view about EVERYTHING. So you studied rap and the benefits and drawbacks of off-rhyming where? At yeshiva? At law school? And when did you perfect your thesis on Sesame Street leftism? Did the dazzling haircut come with that? No wonder they hate you at The Four Seasons.

    • Advocatus

      "there's nothing more amusingly stupid than somebody who has a prolix and condescendingly negative view about EVERYTHING."

      Flippo my old friend, doesn't that describe you to a T? In post after post you do nothing but sneer and condescend without offering a single substantive argument about any discussion under consideration. So here's a great chance for you now to man up and muster some meaningful argument about the state of contemporary art.

      • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

        Not against a kid who can barely even name one rapper. I don’t HAVE to defend art. All I have to do is MAKE art and LIVE art. This has to be one of the most anemic attempted broadsides at modern music that this brokedick organization has even attempted. Who are you anyway? Are you Tristan Vick? Or are you Ben Shapiro sniveling behind some dummy account? Imagine YOU telling someone to man up.

        • Advocatus

          Tristan Vick? What you Googled "Advocatus" and his name came up? Fine bit of deductive reasong there, Sherlock. Nor am I Ben Shapiro, whom I have not heard of much before. But enough of me. Let's speak about you:

          "All I have to do is MAKE art and LIVE art."

          That kind of boast might have befitted a literary dandy like Oscar Wilde but hardly a preening ponce such as yourself.

          And pray tell, wherein exactly lies your art, which is apparently of such a sublime kind that it defies explanation? Does your art consist of using the Caps Lock to highlight certain words?

          I disagree with Shapiro about Eminem, but your comment, as usual, was as perceptive and pertinent as a hapless twit's attempt at frat party wisdom.

          Give "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe a look-see and try again.

          • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

            I was ruling out that you were actually anybody. My art is attached to the link on my name. As you disagree with Shapiro as well, I cannot even see why you are addressing me in the first place, other than to fling rusty tu quoques.

          • Advocatus

            Here's what I see as a psychological shortcoming on your part. Your post to Shapiro went as follows:

            "So you studied rap and the benefits and drawbacks of off-rhyming where? At yeshiva? At law school? And when did you perfect your thesis on Sesame Street leftism? Did the dazzling haircut come with that? No wonder they hate you at The Four Seasons."

            Now if you decide to grow up one day, you may find something interesting to say.

            Your music is derivative. I'll take Eminem. But I've got you figured out: you've never gone, mentally or artistically, beyond the stage of putdowns in freestyle battle rap.

          • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

            My music. Correct. My music. I have some music. Secondly, yes, I derived it. Albert Einstein derived the Theory of Relativity from ideas he read at the patent office. Toy. All music is derivative. I am surprised you imply that Eminem's music is not. Are you in a position to tell a person which mental or artistic position they should stage in? I don't see how.

          • Advocatus

            I appreciate your honesty. Good start.

    • Howard

      Ben Shapiro is hated at The Four Seasons? Isn't that the diner where the artistically insipid meet with the intellectually bankrupt to tell each other how wonderful they are? The catering truck where brown nosers and butt kissers gather to engage in their respective pass times?

      Love your new exhibit in SoHo. Your a genius. I really get it. Lets do lunch sometime.Fish for a cocktail party/exhibit invitation. Exchange fake smooches. Move to the next. Repeat.

      • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

        Well, that’s my point. If an impresario can’t fit in with other impresarios, something’s wrong under the hood.

      • Questions

        You're just jealous. Class Struggle and Culture War — each is a rationalization of mass envy of the successful.

        • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

          If that is true then why do Neoconservative Jews struggle so hard to be recognized as a genuine social political class of experts?

          • Questions

            Neoconservaives struggle, but lack the numbers to constitute "masses." For that, there are evangelicals. Remember, the impetus for Sarah Palin's placement on the 2008 GOP ticket came from a Weekly Standard ship cruise the year before.

  • Questions

    Think of Sondheim v. Townshend as an example of the division of labor. Each contributes a major piece to the whole picture of art. Regardless of who is "right," each perspective is necessary to free expression done right. As for Townshend, the day I give up my old Who albums and singles is the day they're pried from my dead, cold hands.

  • digdigby

    That degenerate rapper Emily Dickinson is Queen of the Off Rhyme. If you want 'perfect rhyme' I would suggest Robert Service "The Shooting of Dan McGrew". I LOVE it (especially when the great Margaret Rutherford recited it in her role as Miss Marple in Murder Most Foul) but I'd hardly call it 'Art' capital 'A'.

    • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

      Not to mention the Neocons off rhymed a whole decade of US politics to a dirge.

      • Advocatus

        How is that pertinent to the discussion again? I know, old boy, not to worry. You just can't help it. So carry on if that's what eases your chronic anal retentiveness.

        • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

          How are you pertinent to the discussion? Shapiro is contending that off-rhymes are unable to produce high lyric, only garbage. So, I reply that his ilk cannot produce high politic, only Likud. Where do you fit in?

          • Advocatus

            The wonders of a one-track mind, Flippo. Now head off and rap something super-smart about Ariel Sharon.

      • digdigby

        Huh??? 'You digress' would be putting it mildly. It verges on 'psychiatric problem'.

      • Stephen_Brady

        Flippie, you've really got a problem with Jews, don't you?

        • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

          If they are racist jerks and corrupt pigs courting our oil lobby, yes. I most certainly do.

          • Western Canadian

            And if they are not racist jerks and corrupt pigs, you stil hate them.

          • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

            No, that statement is false.

    • tagalog

      Emily Dickinson is a degenerate rapper? Learn something new every day…

      I guess I'll never see Because I Could Not Stop For Death in quite the same way again…

  • Amused

    You're joking , right Jane ? A sarcasm perhaps ? …otherwise you're so full of shhiit it's coming out of your ears Jane .

  • Amused

    Sooooo many ignorant suckers , soooo little time . If you dimbulbs can't pick up on Shapiro ….then give it up !

  • tagalog

    "Why rules matters"

    Yes, Ben.

  • trickyblain

    I'm glad every innovator in every field in the history of the planet didn't think like Ben.

  • Amused

    Look man , there is Science ,and there is "Conservative Science " …….two different animals …..yup .

    • tagalog

      "Conservative Science." Is that like "Jewish Science?"

      • Amused

        sorry it went over your head tagalog .you dont warrant a second chance …..figure it out for yourself .

    • Stephen_Brady

      Yes, there is "conservative science". But you cannot deny that there is "liberal science". The two are joined at the hip by one factor … they both serve political ideology, and not the advancement of science.

  • Nakba1948

    This sort of artistic chauvinism has been rehashed time and again throughout history. The rebuttal is always the same: "Who are you to say what true art is or isn't?" And how many artists now recognized as transformational were regarded as hacks in their own time? And since some mental defective accuses me of being a "Nazi" on an almost daily basis here, let me just issue this gentle reminder: http://www.greatesttheft.com/lessonplan.php?id=1

  • tagalog

    Ben, what's with "BCE" instead of "B.C.?"

    Why does the picture at the beginning of your article show Stephen King when there's not a word in the article about him or his work? Or do King and Stephen Sondheim resemble each other very closely, so closely that one can put them in the Separated At Birth picture spread? I know the guy in the picture doesn't look a bit like Miles ("those white boys are always a half a beat behind") Davis…

    • Questions

      Voila! I thought I was the only one who noticed. That photo is of Stephen King, not Stephen Sondheim. Hey, those Stephens all look alike anayway. Right?

      Even if Shapiro wasn't responsible for this botch, he could have brought it to the editor's attention. Has any at headquarters noticed? I hope this sort of thing isn't replicated. The last thing we want is the Left having a permanent belly laugh at our expense.

    • Advocatus

      BCE (or Before Common Era) is a common handle used by historians. And your beef with it is?

      The article does mention King as in "… with cliché-ridden language like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (literary critic Harold Bloom rightly slammed King as “an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis”)."

      So maybe you should pay a bit more attention to what you read before you fly off on some high-handed fancy tirade. But nice try.

      • tagalog

        I was wondering what the beef is with "B.C." that someone felt he/she had to concoct "BCE."

        I hardly think what I wrote is a tirade. But I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder. Knock yourself out. Literally, please.

        I may not notice everything I should when I read, as you have pointed out so well, but what I DO read, I tend to interpret without excessive hyperbole.

  • trickyblain

    Ben talks about him and says he is not worthy. He is deemed as such by someone who has never done anything artistically merit-worthy.

    I actually thought The Stand was an excellent read complete with symbolism and subtlety…Cujo and Pet Semetary were among the more suspenseful "fun" books I've read. That was a long time ago and I haven't read his recent stuff, though.

    Is it "real literature"? I'll leave that to the literary failures to decide.

    It would seem Ben is — quite perplexingly — feeling mighty superior these days. Yesterday, he was telling us what the response to the President "should" have been. Today he is The Authority on modern art and culture.

  • g_jochnowitz

    Music ended in 1904, between the composition of the 3rd and 4th movements of Mahler's 6th Synphony. http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/ADiscordant.html

    The death of art followed.

    • trickyblain

      Good essay!

      I never "got" antonality, much to the chagrin of a number of my professors.

  • Ghostwriter

    Well,I written a lot of fiction myself and although I don't always follow the rules of storytelling,I do know when to break the rules and when not to. Most creative types these days can't seem to know when to do that.

    • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

      Was this also fiction?

      • Ghostwriter

        Ha,ha,very funny,Flipside. Your humor is just as bad as your anti-semitism is.

        • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

          I know. I’m not very good at it.

  • Stephen_Brady

    Like everything else, I prefer to let the market decide what is "good" and what is not. Art is one of those areas of life where there truly is not a paradigm. I love Beethoven and Johnny Cash, Tschaikovsky and Randy Neumann, Puccini and the Beach Boys. I also know that I heartily detest rap, in all of its forms, and wasn't too thrilled with disco, either (although I appreciated the fact that the kids started dressng up, again).

    This is one area that we can all agree to disagree on. There really isn't a "right" answer to the question, "What constitutes art?"

  • Amused

    "Good Art " Music , books etc . ,are the ones that people buy and fatten your bank account . Skip all the rest of this exterraneous b.s. / OR …..you can be like most poets , die destitute and in 50 years or more , you may be recognized and someone else will publish your stuff and they'll get money to fatten their bank accounts .
    That's about what Janes stuff amounts to , if people like the novelty of a male stroke followed by a female stroke of the brush , done with a "conservative " mentality [whatever in the hell that is ] good luck with that .

    • tagalog

      Well, not exactly; "good art" is what people still consider valuable fifty or a hundred years, or more, after it's fashioned. Whether it sells, or is popular or not, in its own time is not a reliable indicator.

      In this regard, I always think of the pre-Raphaelites, who were popular in their day though deeply disliked by their contemporary avant-garde artists, then who fell out of favor as artists, then have in recent years enjoyed a revival. For them, it is still not certain if they made art or kitsch.

      It's a cliche that an artist must die before his art becomes "good art."

      • Amused

        That reference was to poets tagalog , and it's more than cliche , but bitter truth for "most " poets /.It's the exception rather than the rule , that a poet be recognized whilst still alive .

  • E. M. L.

    I suppose my point can be best summed up by saying: Would you go to your dentist to get your car's transmission fixed? Same goes for this article. I wouldn't go to my lawyer for advice on what art is. I'd, you know, talk to some artists. Shapiro's opinion doesn't surprise me at all, in that he's saying exactly what his parents said about what he considered art when he was young. Shapiro's generation don't understand this generation's art because they can't. They're too busy comparing what they know and understand to be art to this "dreck" that they don't consider to be art. Sadly, Shapiro just doesn't care enough to even try to understand art. Oh well. I hope he learns in time that just because you don't like something, doesn't mean its bad. It means that you don't like it and nothing more. I personally don't care much for almonds. That doesn't mean almonds aren't food all of the sudden.

    One more thing, a thought experiment: If a hundred artists create art for five year, how could the result not be art?

    • Stephen_Brady

      If a hundred artists create at for five years, there will be millions of people who hate it, and millions of people who love it. Those who hate it will say that it is not art. Those who love it will put it on a pedestal in their home. There are no rules.

      However, when the taxpayer's money is used to subsidize "art", then the taxpayer should have some input …

  • Robert Babcock

    Thank you for your thoughtful and well-written article, Mr. Shapiro. I'm surprised at the lack of substantive rebuttal you've received in the comments, but not at the hubris with which it was delivered: when you criticize the status quo–in this case rampant artistic relativism, cherished by its proponents because it represents to them some kind of freedom–muddled thinkers throw temper tantrums.

    I agree with you entirely; I've said the same thing myself for years. Thank God that, when I was working toward my BFA back in the 1970's, I had teachers who taught me visual language, the "rules" of perception that enable us to communicate visually. How many of your detractors' egos could take my painting professor telling them to wipe their canvas clean and start over again because their composition sucks? They'd probably be camping on the chancellor's steps, demanding her resignation for having the temerity to impose "rules" on them.

    Nowadays an artist's statement is required to inform the observer as to just why the pile of styrofoam cups and crowbars in an installation piece is a valuable comment on the alienation of the oppressed, rather than just a pile of styrofoam cups and crowbars. And thank goodness for that piece of paper: you can't get a grant without it, since the piece itself has no inherent visual justification for its existence. That's where you end up when nobody can say what art is anymore.

    Ig blat fornk aqus looq–

    Oops, sorry: I had a sudden burst of very satisfying creativity, but I momentarily forgot that, without conforming to a commonly understood form, whatever I was trying to say will be, at worst, nonsense, and at best less well expressed than if I'd respected and used "the rules". (But if I call it Dada, maybe I can get away with it…)

    By the way, our daughter, who got her BFA at Chicago Art Institute a few years back, agrees with you, too. Again, good work, Mr. Shapiro.

    • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

      If I ha a dime for every structuralist who has an anecdote about how he and his wife personally witnessed the collapse of representational art in the 1970′s I could weld him a massive portrait of Billy Joel bellowing in an Italian Restaurant. To are a great and presumptuous snob, Mr. Babcock, for assuming that today’s artist is not savvy about the rules of visualization or the puffery of presenting them in a social matrix of Kulturkampf. I hope you are Riunite, I mean reunited with your golden age of wood panelling and polycarbonate resins.

  • PAthena

    My mother was a fine artist who was trained in art school. Her comment about what passes as art nowadays is that what these "artists" used was the typewriter, to explain to us lesser mortals how profound their "art" was!

  • Amused

    Shapiro's a propagandist , with a narrow minded world view , which enompasses virtually every thought that comes into his mind . But one must give credit where it's due .No matter what the subject , Shapiro and his ilk , do indeed have the skill to spew out 10, 000 words or more of SPUN BULL SHIIIT .As for his success ? That exclusively depends on the mentality and politics of his audience .After all who , but those looking for this particular brand of spin , and in the colors they prefer , would embrace this stuff as credible , and fail to see through this slick ,and thinly disguised political vehicle ? In this ,is where Shapiro's skills reside and are self evident in literally everything he puts to print . This practice repeats itself through virtually every article and author that appear on this blog .
    It's propaganda children ! Modern day " goebbels " refined and subtle ,deceptively crafted to reach just a step above the lower mentalities of his audience , and willfully embraced by those possessing the mental abilities to "read between the lines " , who throw their own intelligence aside for the sake of ideology .

  • Amused

    ….and nobody does it better than FPM . And that really is too bad , becuase there is an important message to get out ….ISLAM ! It's goals , mechanisms , tactics , and strategies . I get that , indeed know it better than most , including all the " jouranlistic denizens " residing here . I've studied it in detail since 1964, and especially after my first visit to Israel in '66 , and subsequent trips to East and West Pakistan , Iraq , Iran ,Saudi Arabia , Lebanon , Jordan , Egypt and Syria .in the followiong 7 years .,due to my occupation . It is a message too important and deadly serious to dilute with this us and them American "politik " b.s. A fact that is lost on those like Shapiro ,Vadim, Moran , et al . You diminish yourselves and more importantly your credibility . This is not to suggest in any way that the left is any better or worse . You fixate and obsess on the present Administration as being the enemy . Nothing is further from the truth , and is a dangerous diversion .

  • crypticguise

    And I thought it was just me who had recognized the difference in Art of the past and modern "Art". Also music that frankly is not music but cacophony and crappola. No melody, no harmony, no lyrics…. just noise.

  • Amused

    Oh poor crypticguise , it's not about art . Is Shapiro really too slick for you ?

  • http://cybergatis.blogspot.com cybergatis

    Currently writing my first musical…and Sondheim has been my sole inspiration. Gld bless him for his talent and work.

  • CurmudgyOne

    All of your art shown is the same idea. Pretty boring, actually. Just being different in an artistic medium doesn't make it art. Different strokes, I suppose … but isn't that what Shapiro was talking about? While you and your husband "was" in the SoHo art district, did you happen to notice that grammar also has rules? Thanks for your post and link; you are a case in point for Shapiro's article.

  • Advocatus

    I have to agree. All the paintings in that online gallery are cut from the same cloth.

    Jane: What is "art that is half male and half female strokes"? How does one make a brush stroke male or female? If a man holds the brush, the stroke becomes male, and if a woman does, the stroke becomes female, I reckon. That's certainly a fun way of painting in the family, but I'm not sure it necessarily makes for high art.

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    So is Louis Farrakhan. Maybe they can duet.