Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Signature of Man

Ahlquist has a chapter in Common Sense 101 called The Signature of Man.

It is all about art. And since this family of mine depends on people's appreciation (and really, subsequent purchase) of art (my husband is an artist, and we make our living at it) I was very interested in this chapter.

One of the things we've particularly noticed in the art world is that there is a stuffy sort of "high art" mentality, which sees "Ugly is Art" and "If we don't understand it, it must be art" as art, and then there are regular people, who seem to want understandable and even beautiful art to hang in the living room.

One problem is that the "high art" people stand in the way of the regular people. The professional artists, the university trained art teachers, the gallery owners and such kind of "gate keep" the art from (or for) the common man.

In our art world, we must jury into art shows. The jurists are usually these "high art" types. However, the people who attend the shows and see the booth, and are our potential customers, are all regular people, looking not for some un-explainable mess on a piece of canvas, but for something nice to go with the new paint on the living room walls.

So we play a "game" of trying to find a piece of art (or actually 4 or 5 pieces of art) that will work as slides to get us into a show, but not be too awful or strange that we wouldn't want to hang that art in our booth. If what juries you in to a show gets you in the show, but then no one buys it, it's hardly worth getting into the show. And the rules demand that whatever you jury in with must be what is seen in the booth.

So we continually search for the unusual thing, the vague whatever that will strike the eye and interest both the "high art" types, as well as the mass of people who buy art as interior decor.


  1. I've encountered precisely the same problem with poetry. When it comes to entering poetry contests put on by the school, or by magazines, or literary journals, so long as its being decided by a panel of judges, under no circumstances whatsoever will any classical poetry win. It can not happen, and it's a freaking disgrace. The prizes invariably go to lengthy, amorphous passages of prose that have just been given fanciful line breaks and poor diction. That's what is considered "high poetry" these days, and it's utterly laughable to anybody with any training. Most modern poets disdain training, however, because they disdain all form and tradition, and as such their majority rules the minority who really are better than them in basically every way.

    Alternatively, however, when I've entered poetry competitions that require I stand on stage and recite, to the acclaim or criticism of an audience made up of average folk, I can tell you that there's nothing they like more than something with a steady meter, attention to rhyme, and a fair dose of good humour. Nobody likes long-winded, unfocused angst. They do like ribald sonnets about the Internet, or a parody of Blake's "The Tyger."

    This disconnect between the common man and the people with all the funding has of course existed since time immemorial, but it seems nowadays to be maintained, in many ways, out of spite.

  2. Yes, well, we were warned about this too:

    "As I have pointed out elsewhere in this book, the expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows better. But if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest."
    [GKC, Heretics CW1:164]

    Oddly enough, though GKC mentions "science" this applies a fortiori to the "liberal arts" side of the university.

    However, since I sit on the fence between the realms, as uncomfortable as it is some days, I am still laughing. Hee hee.

  3. Dear Nancy,

    You said that people do not understand the "high art". I think what you mean is they do not understand why some one would want to produce something as repulsive as the high art. I think the average man understands better the "high art" than the high "artist" that produced it, hence his repulsion. For something to be truly repulsive it must be suggestive. What the average man has discovered without thinking, when he staggers back aghast at some "high art" is the same thing that the GI's discovered at Dachau; the fruits of some inhuman philosophy.

    God Bless,
    Jim Carrico

  4. Not all "high art" is repulsive, although some certainly is. Some is just, well, lacking in immediate understanding. For example, an abstract with just a bunch of paint sloshed on the canvas that looks like you could have done it with your eyes closed, but the artist talks about the meaning of the environment, and the air we breathe, and how this painting evoked breathing to them, or whatever. That, to me, is just plain strange art.

    And Furor, I think you run into the same thing in the poetry world, and an actor recently told me it's the same thing in the theater world.

    And that's why we need common sense to deal with this stuff, this nonsense.

    Thanks for the great quote, Dr. T. We can always count on Chesterton to come through with clarity.

  5. Nancy, better delete the above spam post before someone clicks on the link in it. Who knows what dangers lurk there?


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