Democracy and Art

by John Link

My friend Annie Markovich recently observed that she, like many others, wanted more democracy introduced into the patronage system for art. There were too many artists in the "out group" and too few in the "in group". A friend who worked in the minimalist mode when it was in vogue in the great art mecca, New York City, had a rep from ARTFORUM visit his studio in Chicago and got told that if he were doing the same work, but in NYC, he would get recognized for it. There are many other examples. There are a bazillion artists for every one who gets even minimal recognition. It seems mathematically inevitable that many good artists go unnoticed and that the system is set up to ensure this to be the case. And of course, many artists who receive recognition are not that good. At one time I too shared Annie's desire to expand the base, to allow more people in, heck, to allow everyone in, and let the cream rise to the top on its own without interference from biased elitists.

Yet, like Annie recently said to me, I recognize that democratization has not worked. In the first place, more may have gotten in, but the door was not opened to everyone. And secondly, they more who were let in, the worse the art got. And I suspect many of the outsiders, once admitted to the inner circle, prefered to keep it exclusive. "Fairness", "equalness", "diversity", "openness" - all laudable values in themselves - seem deadly to art if it is to maintain any quality. Why, I don't know. But that's the record. Clement Greenberg thought "novelty art" would last two years, then five years. But it has been going on (and down) for fifty. See my Slippery Slope of Hope if you want a long drawn out discussion. But really, many will recognize that Big Culture and the Great Pomo Dumbdown go together like bread and butter.

Be careful what you ask for.

August 27, 2012

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