Los Angeles, California

Dave Hickey wrote and sent this over before his book signing yesterday. 

I am interested in the survival of the art world now that the distinction between the fine arts and popular arts has dissolved — now that the one-time congeniality of the cottage industry that created most of the great art of the twentieth century has been infected by the relentless, aggressive habits of corporate and institutional culture — now that the underground which once provided a home for cultural rebels has been obliterated. For the past one hundred and fifty years, the marketplace has censored popular art. What is popular is popular art. During the same period, high art has been defined by its ability to censor its audience to a knowledgeable and sophisticated audience defined by its ability to tolerate difficulty and dissonance.

During this period, popular art was always more popular than high art. Peter Max was always more popular than Andy Warhol. Andrew Wyeth was always more popular that Alex Katz. Salvador Dali was always more popular than Georges Braque. So how does high art survive when it can be censored by its “popularity.” In this new art world, difficulty and dissonance are routinely suppressed. Writers like myself whose livelihood has been grounded in the interpretation of difficult art are rendered obsolete. Scholars devoted to assessing the historical impact and viability of difficult art are rendered obsolete. The small contingent of dealers and collectors who take chances on behalf of difficult art are rendered inconsequent. Artist devoted to pushing the envelope are de-prioritized.

So what becomes of the tradition of dissonance and difficulty?
It survives, I think, but nobody thinks about it. Art is simply defined by its opacity and left opaque, so there are no historical consequences to work that might be difficult to understand. It simply dwells in the tides of fashion as the sort of thing we don’t understand and don’t care to. So, difficult art will continue to be made but no one will notice. This leaves a space for a new underground where people might pay art more careful attention to the world before their eyes.

Photo by Toby Kamps.

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