stuff that genuinely survives - as anything other than
scholarly fodder - is usually "popular" at the time, and
nearly always demotic in inspiration, at the very least.
The reason for this is intuitively simple, once understood,
and is very unlikely to change. The realities of life
- at the base - change much less than do the efflorescences
of the "leisure classes" - which are much more culturally-bound,
to boot. Therefore, more demotic stuff hews closer to
the common ground of our human nature - whereas, production
for the elites frequently appears foolish or irrelevant
once its immediate context has vanished.
Therefore, I'd argue, it's about time "we" stopped supporting
"their" arts via bureaucratic funding...and re-cast aesthetics
w/out the baggage that has always made it - basically
- irrelevant to artistic production.
That conclusion, interestingly enough, was where the whole
new humanities project actually started...all of a decade
& more ago...
Trouble was, aesthetics remains - once you discard the
idealist nonsense - just about the most complicated thing
you can tackle... So, lengthy sojourns into all
of the actually relevant areas ended up delivering what
looks rather like a re-shaped rationale/methodology for
the entire Humanities - drawing upon the best aspects
of key earlier approaches, and updated via handpicked
current work across the complete range of relevant disciplines.
Let's just hope the damn thing can fly, eh?
Anyway...back to art - and "great art", what's more.
Too often, cultural criticism/studies make a fetish of
one or two aspects of the stuff - and ignores what is
really important. Plato & Aristotle are two of the
worst offenders here...but, it's actually more useful
to focus on recent trends - although there's certainly
no improvement. Modern evaluations tend - particularly
- to focus on "originality" & "transgression"...as
if these were the main things to look for.
Which is purely nonsense - because anyone
can produce something that'll fit this bill - as long
as there's no requirement for it to be any good... Killing
someone, for example, undoubtedly qualifies - unless,
of course, they've been killed before...
This may sound simple...and irrefutable. But, the main
difficulty - and the reason for all the obfuscation -
lies in defining just what makes for quality - especially
after philosophical aesthetics has finished w/it. The
chief hurdle to be overcome is the "opposition" constructed
by that discipline between art & entertainment - and
the (spurious) notion that the former is marked by some
qualitatively different & more "elevated" experience.
The only answer I can see is to junk the entire setup...and
view aesthetics as the study of how/why people enjoy themselves.
Sure, this makes "art" merely a sub-division of deliberately-tailored
human experience...and the latter simply a subsection
of hedonic experience in toto, but - it cuts the Gordian
Knot that's damned aesthetics to irrelevance, and opens
it up to all kinds of insights from many widely-scattered
And, the best current scientific work would suggest that
we can't rule any
disciplines out of the mix. With the demise of old notions
of a "pleasure centre" in the brain - and the crucial
emergence of the frontal lobes as the key region for emotional
enrichment/regulation (see Antonio Damasio, Elkhonon Goldberg
& others) - there is simply no place left for the
idealized divide between rationality & emotion which
philosophical aesthetics standardly requires. The same,
incidentally, goes for the "individual" versus the "social"...which
developmental psychologists since Vygotsky have been trying
to tell us for much, much longer...
What we're left with, instead, is "reason" & "emotion"
- not to mention "art" & "entertainment" - as spurious
reifications...of the sort that philosophers have been
so good at generating over the years - particularly when
they elevate "philosophy" & such over our more mundane
So, it's back to the drawing board - which is where aesthetics
ought to really work, if anywhere. The most insighful
approaches in this area seem to come from collecting the
ideas of artists (of all types) - and bouncing these off
scientific & historical studies. In contrast, very
few cultural theorists - especially the obscurantists
- are of any real use at all...as they tend to bring too
much baggage w/them to make it through the doorway.
Now...on to the funding issue. There's a real place for
government funding of what we might call "museum culture"
- as, otherwise, collectors'd hide the best of the past
from us - as long as it is easy & cheap/free to access.
The same, however, does not apply to contempory work...and
it especially does not apply to the elite performance
arts such as opera & ballet...funding for same being
merely upper-class welfare, as the poor have no chance
This, of course, is one of the true appeals of such forms
today - their (current) social exclusiveness makes them
ideal as social markers. And, to pursue the point further,
it could do so even better were they deprived of their
unjustified life-support systems, especially in a luxury
market as overheated (see Robert H. Frank) as today's....
So, defund them - and the rich will, surprisingly, enjoy
them even more. Same goes for the contempory arts, with
- however - one major exception...that of infrastructure.
Because this is the area where market failure is rampant
- particularly for those w/out connections - and performance
venues, practice & exhibition spaces, workshops, distribution
setups...all of these are, in general, either wastefully
bureaucratic, underfunded, or absent all-too-often in
the current "arts" economy. What we need are a multitude
of small operations - with clear tasks to serve - offering
people choices whatever they want to do. Moreover, the
same could be set up w/seed money by the government, then
run at cost...thus freeing-up money next time around for
further self-sustaining projects.
Anyone who's had to scuffle for years in one of the "non-legitimate"
arts will - immediately - understand the value of such
an approach...locked-out, as we are, from the public largesse
tapped by the self-selected "arts community" - who too
often appear to waste most of their time scratching each
others backs, rather than getting down to work.
And, the biggest joke is...it's our work - rather than
theirs - that will tend to survive, if the whole of human
history is any guide...so, let them eat dirt, for a change
- along w/the rest of us - and let's see exactly
who proves to have the genuine vocation, eh?
Because, there's simply no reliable way of telling whose
work will still be valued in the future...and, we certainly
can't give serious direct support to everyone that wants
to be an artist. The only alternatives are either to cherry-pick
- based upon the opinions of so-called experts - or to
support and structure as wide a market as possible...and
let intensity of vocation & audience choices serve
to select the winners. And, we all know what happens when
the former option applies...
Bureaucratic empire-building, wasteful expense on "show"
rather than service delivery, self-selecting influence
networks making the key choices on highly elitist grounds,
and unproductive careerisms of the worst kind. Sadly,
there's simply no way out of this mess...except to tear
up the blueprint & start again.
Cultural production is great stuff - and there ought to
be more of it - but we'll never get there if we keep insisting
that, right now, we actually know
where the worthwhile new practitioners will be
And, remember...the great
arts are rarely the arts of the "great".