Blame the Bourgeoisie!

“Dumbass Opera” acrylic 48 x 60, by Mike Tracy
Copyright Mike Tracy. Used by permission. All Rights Reserved.
Please! No applause between movements. It’s just not done. If we are to be accepted by the haute monde (the cultural elite) then we must conform to their standards–or at least the standards we perceive to be theirs.

Hogwash. But first, a brief history lesson. Sometime during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a middle class began to establish itself in cities throughout Europe–a merchant class–that fancied itself above the hoi polloi. They sought out artists and artisans to elevate their living situations, acquiring paintings and objects (China trade, anyone?) to enhance their quality of life. By the 17th century they were adding Rembrandt, Vermeer and the like to their ‘collections.’ In the other arts, music and literature were reaching new ears, eyes and minds much like a tsunami washes over an island. Think big.

Once the British (quickly followed by the colonists) began their ‘grand tours’ of the continent–well, anyone (anyone with money, regardless of its source) could collect and enjoy art, music and literature–heretofore reserved for the educated royal classes. Not wanting to appear as rough as they actually were, this new class (call it ‘nouveau riche’ if you will) began to fetishize the experiences by layering elaborate and strict protocols onto the experience of enjoyment.

All of which leads me to a recent article written by Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times. He writes about the critical backlash against the “Slumdog Millionaire” saying “What’s far more intriguing to me is why popular works of art invariably inspire a backlash. In fact, the backlash–or its first cousin, historical revisionism–is a creation of the modern media age.

“Today’s critics, who are invariably the torchbearers of the backlash, are suspicious, if not openly hostile, of any piece of art that is granted too much widespread–i.e. uncritical–public acceptance.

“For years, pop music was haunted by this kind of cranky contrariety. But film critics have been just as quick to abandon filmmakers after the first blush of success.”

I will add here, that the same applies to art criticism. Today there are well-respected pop music critics writing for most major media–but unfortunately not for the visual arts.

Goldstein goes on to write “One of the worst afflictions of our media age is that many of our most persuasive cultural apparatchiks are almost instinctively wary of commercial success, as if it were a curse instead of a delfightful, altogether unlikely blessing for an artist.”

Although Goldstein is writing about movies–I strongly believe that he struck the right note about all of the arts. What, really, is wrong with falling in love with something that moves you? It’s pedigree is of little concern, if it gives you pleasure, makes you think or otherwise stimulates and enhances your life. Trust your heart and fear not those who turn a gimlet eye toward your choices. At the same time, we must press forward our demand for critical assessment for the art and artists deemed insignificant by the media–those unworthy souls–whose popularity remains under the radar of critical analysis and acclaim.


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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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