November 15, 2007

Art is right wing.

From time to time, I write something here that gets a rise out of people. One was:
To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.
Witness the outcry.

So I was pleased to see a piece in The Guardian titled "Modern art is rightwing" (via Memeorandum). The author, Ed Vaizey, a Tory MP, argues the point this way:
Contemporary art is highly individualistic. It is about freedom of expression, the chance to make one's mark and to speak with a distinctive voice - all characteristics of the right, rather than the left. Contemporary artists are entrepreneurs in every sense of the word....

Contemporary artists are busy making money, just like any other capitalist in Britain, or the developed world, today. The contemporary art market is just that, a market where people invest and even people like Hugh Grant can make money....

More controversially, perhaps, contemporary British art is not engaged, in my view, in contemporary political debate....
Let's fight about it all over again!

UPDATE: And this?
[The new 75-story tower designed by the architect Jean Nouvel for a site next to the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown] is the result of a Byzantine real estate deal...

For some, the appearance of yet another luxury tower stamped with the museum’s imprimatur will induce wincing.
It's quite gorgeous.

43 comments:

AllenS said...

Let's not forget another great artist, Vinny van Gogh, who cut off his left ear so he wouldn't have to listen to left wingnuttery crap.

Simon said...

I liked the follow-up comment you had on that post at Volokh, too.

George said...

It certainly is capitalistic, if not insanely snobby.

You can't buy hot stuff by current artists unless you're in the know.

"Perhaps that is why, after demoralizing first encounters with artists and dealers, new collectors seek her out. People with money can be quite na├»ve about how the art market works. Just because you can afford that painting doesn’t mean you can buy it. The artist Richard Prince has received e-mails from new collectors asking him where to get one of his nurse paintings, one of which, Dude Ranch Nurse #2, sold at Sotheby’s in May for $2.5 million (another goes on sale at Christie’s next week). “I immediately understand that they don’t know what they’re doing,” he says. “That doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m not an educator. Really, that’s where Kim comes in.”

"All the while, in one of the more unregulated markets in the modern world, Heirston is accumulating her own body of intelligence about who owns what and how much they paid for it. From her townhouse on the Upper East Side, she sits watching a significant portion of the art market flow by. During the auctions, she and her team will attend all the sales, recording prices and identifying bidders. She gets an early look at a lot of paintings because dealers know she won’t burn the picture by showing it indiscriminately. A loose JPEG can get around quickly—and spoil the market for a painting."

ricpic said...

Individualists? Yes. Entrepreneurs? Rarely.

The best arrangement for an artist is to have a protector, a patron. That clears away the messy and time consuming business of making a living and lets him get down to the business of making a thing: art.

Pogo said...

There are two separate issues here: the creative element, that is, the art itself, and the artist's personal politics. Those artists who are leftists do not seem to realize that their individualism is at odds with actual leftism in practice.

Soviet and Chinese "art" and "literature" (the words require scare quotes in this context) made a mockery of true art, because their mandatory service to leftism destroyed originality and individualism. Only the dissidents made anything lasting.

Joseph Hovsep said...

I see your point about the great artist being more individualistic than communally-focused. But I could more easily buy the argument that great artists are libertarian than right wing. There are lots of ways that both conservatives and liberals seek to censor free expression or protect it, by supporting or opposing nondiscrimination policies or bans on flag burning or perceived obscenity. And there are lots of ways in which both conservatives and liberals value and critique communalism, by supporting or opposing redistribution of wealth or stigmatization of the failure to adhere to certain social norms.

Simon said...

Joseph
When you suggest that "[t]here are lots of ways that both conservatives and liberals seek to censor free expression," I know you didn't say this, but would you say that conservative hostility to the NEA is motivated by a hostility towards artistic expression? I hear that charge a lot in debates similar to this one, but it strikes me as being misguided. Tolerating vs. seeking to censor Andres Serrano's "art," for example, seems clearly distinct from the question of whether one ought to pay his rent.

rsb said...

right left. art is what it is for the artist. they can make it and burn it up and laugh. take your money and stuff it in your turkey or your coffin.

Freder Frederson said...

Are you absolutely insane? Just because art is a commodity it is "right wing" and the people who create it are conservative? You seem to have adopted wholesale Simon's stupid conservative/liberal dichotomy as individualist and collectivist. Of course if one defines artists as "conservatives" because they are individualists that means that the CEOs of large corporations and loyal employees (along with NASCAR and other sports fans) are liberals.

Freder Frederson said...

Tolerating vs. seeking to censor Andres Serrano's "art," for example, seems clearly distinct from the question of whether one ought to pay his rent.

You're not serious are you Simon? Not only does the right seek to stop the funding of "degenerate art", they also seek to stop people from seeing it completely through laws that loosely define "obscenity".

To pretend otherwise is just dishonest.

Pogo said...

Freder, why should funding of the arts even remotely be considered an appropriate function of government?

If it is a government function, why would you be surprised it is politicized, endlessly scrutinized, and used for advantage by voters, pundits, and populists?

Why are you surprised that voters and their representatives attempt to forbid or limit certain expressions of art according to cultural norms? Has there ver been in the history of the world a society without any restrictions on expression at all? Where?

To pretend otherwise is just naive.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Simon, I mostly agree with you that the specific issue of NEA funding of artistic expression is a different issue, but I think opposing funding because one is offended by the content of the specific artistic outcome contains an element of censorship. For example, you could extend your argument to opposition to public schools having certain "controversial" books in the library or allowing vulgarity on the public airwaves, which can come from right and left (but I think more often from the right). You could argue that this conservative opposition is about the use of public resources to support controversial or offensive art, but I think its fair to say the real motivation of most conservatives in those cases is to censor content. The public arguments conservatives make tend to focus on the offensiveness of the art, not the publicness of the funding (they don't want Vonnegut in the libraries even if the books were provided for free). And it may be in the public interest to censor some of this expression(just as it may be in the public interest to ban certain hate speech), but my point is just that there is a well-developed body of right wing thought that supports restrictions on free speech too.

Palladian said...

A bird with one right wing cannot fly. A bird with one left wing cannot fly.

"Art is a lie that tells the truth", that shopworn saw attributed to Picasso, is really another way of saying "fake, but accurate".

I would say the best artists are anarcho-libertarian if their attributes must be mapped to political terminology.

Politics is language, an attempt to organize human behavior, instincts, philosophies and make them communicable. The visual arts operate, fundamentally, outside of language; pre-language, anti-language. It creates experiences through its being, it doesn't describe experiences that lie elsewhere. Artists may be right or left or whatever wing, and they may even mistakenly think that they're using their art as language, as a political tool but art doesn't play along. The primal, immutable nature of art is eternal. Politics, language, intentions, with time all rot away. What is left, if anything, is the true nature of art.

Freder Frederson said...

Freder, why should funding of the arts even remotely be considered an appropriate function of government?

Well Pogo, considering that from the dawn of civilization, governments, all over the world and in almost every civilization--even the most primitive societies--have funded or subsidized the arts in one way or another, only the most philistine libertarian (of which you are probably one) would argue that the government has no role in funding the arts. And before you worry over the pittance of public money that goes to arts funding, perhaps you should concern yourself with the huge subsidies shoveled at sports arenas and teams.

Freder Frederson said...

Has there ver been in the history of the world a society without any restrictions on expression at all?

I don't disagree with you Pogo. I was just countering Simon's ridiculous assertion that the right was only concerned with the public funding of art, not the content.

Simon said...

Freder Frederson said...
"You seem to have adopted wholesale Simon's stupid conservative/liberal dichotomy as individualist and collectivist."

You're right, Freder - that's my stupid dichotomy. I created it. All on my own. You know what I admire most about you, Freder? It's that you're terribly well read in the literature of ideas.


"Simon's ridiculous assertion that the right was only concerned with the public funding of art, not the content."

Many on the right are concerned about the NEA primarily because they are being asked to pay for content that they find objectionable. There would be no need to censor Andres Serrano (I'm not meaning to pick on him especially, he's just a particularly visible example) if the taxpayer hadn't been required to fund him, because there'd probably be nothing to censor, he'd have been forced to take productive employment.

Pogo said...

the best artists are anarcho-libertarian

Well said.

Freder Frederson said...

There would be no need to censor Andres Serrano (I'm not meaning to pick on him especially, he's just a particularly visible example) if the taxpayer hadn't been required to fund him, because there'd probably be nothing to censor, he'd have been forced to take productive employment.

Do you really believe this. Do you know how much of his income came from public sources or do you just believe that artists get rich off of government subsidies?

And I know your stupid little dichotomy was cooked up by Hayek.

the best artists are anarcho-libertarian

Name a few. Just don't make blanket statements.

Pogo said...

Freder, the point is that an artist living off the public trough is required to answer to, or even kowtow to, the public, just as artists have been tied to their patrons in times past.

Few artists were ever given free reign to produce whatever their heart desired, whenever the muse struck them.

Der Hahn said...

Freder Frederson said...
You seem to have adopted wholesale Simon's stupid conservative/liberal dichotomy as individualist and collectivist.

Because your conservative = bad/liberal = good dichotomy is so much more insightful?

dick said...

I can understand Freder trying to say that historically governments have funded artists. However what he does not finish saying is that normally the governments funding the artists were run by one man and that one man was the one funding the art. There have been some exceptions but they were usually in times of depression or recession.

The thing about Serrano is that he should never have been funded in the first place and the outcry was not that he created the art so much as that the public was being forced not only to pay him for creating it but also paying to have it displayed in municipally funded institutions. There would have been no problem with a private gallery or museum displaying it. The problem was why should a public that rejected for the most part the very premise of his art be forced to pay millions to display it and protect it from vandalism. That was what Rudy was complaining about when it was shown. Bit different from what you were claiming.

Freder Frederson said...

The problem was why should a public that rejected for the most part the very premise of his art be forced to pay millions to display it and protect it from vandalism. That was what Rudy was complaining about when it was shown.

First off, it wasn't "millions" (try tens of thousands). And you are confusing two controversies by two different artists. In Rudy's case (contrary to what Simon would have us believe of conservative's motives), he successfully stopped public funding of an exhibit he didn't like, but that wasn't good enough, he then tried to have the show cancelled altogether even after private funds were procured to pay for it.

Simon said...

Freder Frederson said...
"And I know your stupid little dichotomy was cooked up by Hayek."

Since by your own admission you've never read Road to Serfdom, you have no basis to asses either the conceptualization or its intellectual underpinnings. Perhaps you'd like to review some movies (or, perhaps more apropos, works of art) you've never seen for us. Not only are you ignorant, you're disingenuous in your initial attempt to suggest that this was some idiosyncratic conceptualization of mine, which would have stood unless rebutted.

Trooper York said...

I like anything Selma Hayek cooks up. Yowwwwwza!!!!!

Freder Frederson said...

you have no basis to asses either the conceptualization or its intellectual underpinnings.

While Hayek's theories may hold some validity at a macroeconomic level, it is ridiculous to talk about planners vs. individualists (or whatever the dichotomy is) when it comes to social issues. Social liberalism does not necessarily mean fiscal liberalism (there used to be a bunch of socially liberal but fiscally conservative people in the Republican party). I don't need to read Hayek's book to know that it is silly to try and fit art into a conservative/liberal continuum based on the health of the art market.

Richard Dolan said...

We seem to be deep into blogging as performance art here.

Left wing/right wing as a dichotomy is pretty empty these days, whatever that distinction might once have meant. Depending on the issue or the context, lefties can be fiercely individualistic (anarchists, unite! -- if that's possible) and conservatives just as fiercely communitarian (let's have some law and order, please). It's mostly with respect to State intervention into market economies (and even then with major exceptions) where the old left/right distinction divides on individual/communitarian lines.

The connection between that left/right stuff and art seems elusive, however. Ann quotes a Tory MP's statement: "Contemporary art is highly individualistic. It is about freedom of expression, the chance to make one's mark and to speak with a distinctive voice - all characteristics of the right, rather than the left." That might have made some sense if he was talking about Stalin's USSR (except that there the left/right dichotomy as we understand it was basically reversed, with conservatives being the regime-supporters), and perhaps (in a really watered down sense) on the worst PC campuses among American universities today. But as a general comment about the relationship between "characteristics of the right rather than the left, his observations about "freedom of expression," a "distinctive voice," etc., makes no sense at all in any Western context. Just run down a list of major writers today -- Ian MacEwan, Paul Auster, Jose Saramago, Graham Swift, Kazuo Isiguro, etc. -- and ask whether they fall into any pattern of "right rather than left." Frankly, I have no idea what their politics might be. It's like trying to figure out if Mozart or Dante would have been a Rep or a Dem. Utter nonsense.

Except as another exercise in performance art, I can't imagine why the Guardian published it or why Ann would be "pleased to see" such silly stuff.

Henry said...

Freder said: You're not serious are you Simon? Not only does the right seek to stop the funding of "degenerate art", they also seek to stop people from seeing it completely through laws that loosely define "obscenity".

You're not accidentally referring to Tipper Gore, are you?

Actually, one of the more dramatic examples of government censorship I know of was Buffalo Mayor James Griffin's decision to bulldoze an outdoor neon sculpture that featured four dancing penises in top hats.

Yup, he was a Republican. Except when he wasn't -- he was elected Mayor of Buffalo after losing a Democratic primary (he won on the Consevative and Right-to-Life lines). At one point he ran unsuccessfully for Erie County Executive as a Republican. At another he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against President Clinton in the 1996 New Hampshire primary.

rcocean said...

Just to restate in a different way what more intelligent commentators have already written.

All great artists are individualists. Most of them in fact were/are raging egomanics. But that doesn't make them "conservative" - it just means they're unwilling to prostitute their art to some cause.

And conservatism is about more than just making money and ability to "do your own thing".

Freder Frederson said...

Most of them in fact were/are raging egomanics.

And no Ann, it doesn't follow that just because you are a raging egomaniac that you are a great artist.

perfecthair said...

Althouse said:

"...underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that."

To whatever degree "right-wing" can be equated with contemporary American conservative or Republican, this statement is a wild contradiction.

perfecthair said...

.....the people who have fallen in line with GW poilicies are the antithesis of "taking responsibility" and "strong individuals".

Zeb Quinn said...

It isn't just the fact that artists like Andres Serrano receive public funding --and that's bad enough-- it's the additional fact that but for governmental largesse their art is such that they'd be working at a 7-11 or be in a soupline that really toggles the gall meter.

Ralph said...

No Zeb, there are enough rich fools who want to show their sophistication by appreciating the disgusting or shocking instead of condemning it. If they can get the poor rubes of Middle America to finance it, all the better.

Freder Frederson said...

No Zeb, there are enough rich fools who want to show their sophistication by appreciating the disgusting or shocking instead of condemning it. If they can get the poor rubes of Middle America to finance it, all the better.

I guess art is conservative. Decadent, disgusting, degenerate, and immoral, and supported by the upper classes. But to add insult to injury, the fat cats get the poor rubes in flyover country to contribute their hard-earned tax dollars to art that undermines society and all that is good. Meanwhile those of us who think that dogs playing poker and Thomas Kincaid are high art are ridiculed.

Actually, that is the central tenet of the conservativism.

Duncan said...

I'm an artist. I write and perform. And yes, there is some credit due to the notion that artists are passionate about their station as professional individuals, and that this passion is a right-driving passion. I'll admit to listening to Maggie Thatcher's conviction-driven speeches in celebration of the free market and feeling as if here was a person who appreciates individual effort and individual accomplishment. . . here is a philosophy that will accept innovation and difference, that will give people the freedom to create.

But. I think artists would also call themselves professional humans. Picasso's paintings of his lovers were great because he had the capacity to feel the anguish and the lust, and it was a capacity that was, yes, superhuman. And it was not only his own personal anguish that Picasso was able to feel and then communicate, it was the anguish of the other. No way for him to have painted Guernica and Weeping Woman without a capacity to celebrate and understand what was going on inside the other in addition to his capacity for individualism. I think this empathetic capacity explains the actual political practice of most artists, which is decidedly left, liberal, progressive, etc.

But, the title of the post is, "Art is Right Wing," not artists are right wing. Yes, well, we could go on and on about whether or not right wing (and I think we are talking about libertarian, no?) politics create the freedom desired by art -- you know, though, if you get Ron Paul-style government, you get corporate art and church art and art funded by wealthy society mavens, and there are limitations for the artist under those conditions as well. Freedom, as it were, isn't free!

And also, in this thread, there seems to be a fixation on great art exclusively, no? I remember a talk given by Bill Ivy, former NEA chair, who called himself a citizen artist -- he played the guitar. And then there's Dana Gioia, our current NEA chair, whose rather academic artistic pursuits in poetry and lyrics for Opera would be unimaginable without the government subsidies (direct grants and indirect support through Universities) that go to poetry journals and opera houses. I mention these two not great but good artists because most are just good, ok, or bad. But I don't think we would have the great artists without the good artists and the ok artists -- maybe even the bad!

In little towns and in the inner cities and the burbs, it's the good and ok artists who are training the potentially great artists. And, the good and the ok artists thrive in a society in which they can live a decent life, with decent government health insurance and a great public education and some government help paying for college and so forth and so on. If there isn't the support for all of these artists, you’re not going to get Joshua Bell, one of the great violinists of our time, rising up out of the hills of Southern Indiana, getting his training from the community of artists who themselves were employed or trained by Indiana University. You’re not going to get Kara Walker, who no doubt benefited from affirmative action and government protection of civil rights, not only for herself, but for her family and the artistic community in which she grew up.

I could go on and on about Canada in this regard, Atwood, Monroe, the Stratford Shakespeare festival -- all of it amounting to a thoughtful, egalitarian art scene that is at the same time populated by artists who are indeed passionate individuals. . . and yeah, there's some credence that our "more free" society -- that's what the right would call it, comparatively, I think -- might produce a fiercer, "greater" class of artists. But does it? We do produce more crap, more empty celebrity, than Canada, that’s for sure!

In the end, what can I say, but that Norman Mailer came of age when rents were cheap in Brooklyn, and bright middle class kids didn't have to spend the rest of their lives paying off loans for Harvard!

PS: Hi, Ann! It's me again, the guy who doesn't read your blog, sitting here reading your blog! At a cafe today, reading your blog. You like to read and write blogs at cafes. . . . I know that because I, the guy who doesn't read your blog, read your blog! (I don't have a digital camera, so I can't take a picture of my food and post it like you do on your blog. . . . which you say I don't read!) (This doesn't make any sense to those of you who didn't catch Ann telling me that I was lying, and of course I'm not a regular reader, just a rabid supporter of a candidate. . . it was great, though. . . I felt baptized!)

Revenant said...

Modern art definitely has one thing in common with the Right:

I don't care what either one has to say about popular culture. :)

Freder Frederson said...

We do produce more crap, more empty celebrity, than Canada, that’s for sure!

Yeah, but Canada is responsible for Celine Dione.

Duncan said...

Yeah, but Canada is responsible for Celine Dione.

Oh, hardly! We all have our hands dirty on that one. I think Celine would still be singing French Canadian folk songs if it weren't for the Eurovision Song Contest (yes, created by European socialists -- points to "art is right wing"), James Cameron and the appetite for BIG OSCAR WINNING MOVIES, and that great American cultural capital (for which I absolutely believe there is a place!), Las Vegas.

On the other hand, if you're right, Canada can produce both an international pop star loved by soccer moms the world over (why do you think they chose her for Hillary's songstress!), and still maintain a healthy climate for serious artists like Daniel MacIvor, a playwright -- celebrated by our own New York Times -- who is just an average Joe from, I think Vancouver, and who -- again -- owes his opportunity to write small, interesting, wonderful plays that don't earn much from the free market.

Points to Canada!

Duncan said...

Whoops! Didn't finish my thought! Owes his opportunities to create his plays in part, yes, to the state!

Freder Frederson said...

Eurovision Song Contest (yes, created by European socialists -- points to "art is right wing")

Hey, Eurovision gave us ABBA. It is the ultimate commodification of music--whether it was created by socialists or not.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann's update concerns the proposed tower next to the MoMA. The artist's rendering looks quite beautiful. But the NYT article describing it gets a bit carried away: "Like many contemporary architects Mr. Nouvel sees the modern grid as confining and dogmatic. His tower’s contorted forms are a scream for freedom." Concrete pillars really don't do much screaming, for freedom or anything else; it's not contorted (taht describes, say, Houdini) but just a bit asymmetrical; and it's a strange idea of "freedom" that equates it to the negation of the "modern grid."

Fortunately, the building is much better than the article.

tc said...

All men have problems, mainly with and about women/the feminine(x) side within men(xy). Women (xx), in contrast, do not such problems, but are meant to stir men to use their creativity (the y in the xy) to do great things/create great art. So art can be considered to be masculine/ "right wing".
As an example of women's art- creating potential, I re-post the folowing:
Women love conversation...words even more than actual sex, many times. Men are the opposite...that orgasm is the key. Appropos of that, I re-post a previous post:

"breast-beating hysteria" ? I love all womens breasts -and,of course,vaginas, for that is where the real pleasure/elevation to "God" lies. But I am, unavoidably, first attracted to big natural breasts (and I can tell the difference with near unerring accuracy...especially when I see them swing -or not- when she bends over...). But all women's breasts always have something fascinating about them...even the little ones.
9:45 PM
tc said... I got so excited thinking about women's breasts, I forgot to post this:
jewsyonkersislam # 440 Address on Yonkers schools to Yonkers Board of Education and supporting newspaper documentation (see jewsyonkersislamiii-tc.blogspot.com

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Revenant: Gotcha. It's just like a little laser tag game in the commentosphere.