Art, modernity and capitalism

James N. Stewart jnstewart at
Mon Oct 18 19:36:23 MDT 1999

----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Hoover <hoov at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Monday, October 18, 1999 6:44 PM
Subject: Re: Art, modernity and capitalism

> > Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism
> > by T.J. Clark
> > Louis Proyect
> Clark's book on Courbet (_Image of the People: Gustave
> Courbet and the 1848 Revolution_) resonates with the view that
> 'bourgeois society is efficient in making all art its own' and
> asserts that the 'avant-garde...[is] an unabashed form of social
> cimbing.'

    Indeed the is the case in atleast two simple ways.
    First, to the extent that modernism is seen as desirable or as the
province of the wealthy or sophisticated, it is social climbing to pretend
or aspire to an appeciation for the benefit of the public display of social
status.   This is a Veblenesque interpretation.
    Secondly, the avant garde is not entirely institutionalized.  A painter
who can lay paint like rembrant would not be generally well received in teh
institutional-academic world of the fine arts.  If you ain't avante garde,
you ain't shit on campus.  This has cause an illdefinable genre of art you
might call, tenure progressivism.  This is to be seen is university and
public galleries the length and breadth of the country.   After a while one
gets imatient and mumbles something about just getting on with it, mostly
while the tenure progressive is carrying on about the great insight of his
or her own work---and it's always called work.  Nody ever says, "I paint
like that because I enjoy it."  One occasionally does long for a nice
picture of a boy on a pony.
    The tenure progressive is a social climber in the first sense as wella s
in the additional liter sense of seeking formal staus, i.e. rank and tenure.

    There is aninteresting irony, at least in the American left, which tends
to exhibit a sophistication in the arts which is somewhat opposed to the
taste of the massses which we calim to champion.  I believe this explains
some of the folk-bohemisnaism of the fifties and sixties.  That turned into
the sophistication of Dylan.

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