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Whither Genuine Art?

Posted by acdtest on October 2, 2002

Whither Genuine Art?

he online magazine Salon.com has an interesting article up today by Harvard assistant professor and composer Joshua Fineberg that asks the question, Classical Music: Why Bother?. Mr. Fineberg’s answer: Because classical music, like all genuine art, has intrinsic worth and value that makes it worthwhile bothering about. He goes on to lay the blame for the generally sorry state of classical music in our culture at the doorstep of the present cultural climate that exists in this country vis-à-vis art, and which insists on the principle that no created work has an intrinsic value and worth that makes it superior to any other, but that all created works are inherently equal, and individual taste is both the determiner of what is and what isn’t art, and the final arbiter of a created work’s worth and value.

In other words, vox populi vox Dei, and the market rules.

What else is new. This will hardly come as Earth-shattering news to anyone, in America especially, who hasn’t been sequestered in a cave for at least the past couple decades or so. That equalitarian notion where art is concerned was born in the radical populist ferment of the 1960s, and achieved its ultimate reductio ad absurdum in the PC and postmodern thinking of the 1980s; thinking that continues in force up to the present day.

It strikes me that Mr. Fineberg displayed a certain failure of nerve in his piece, and danced around the real central issue: Genuine art — genuine and art as determined not by the individual tastes of The People, but by those who by education, training, and experience are competent and qualified to make such determinations — both in its creation and reception is, and from Day One has always been, a strictly elitist affair where equalitarian thinking and notions have no place. None whatsoever.

And that’s the crux of the problem today, again, especially in America. Today’s authentic elite would sooner cut out their tongues than admit publicly to their status, or even so much as suggest that the concept of an elite has any real meaning. Understandable, actually. Being charged with elitism today is, in its degree of opprobriousness, on a par with being charged with child molestation. And so we get the absurd public stances on art on the part of those who should and do in fact know better; those such as Mr. Fineberg mentions in his piece; viz., museum directors, artistic directors, classical performers and composers, and ministers of culture. And I would add public school boards, university administrators and faculty, newspaper and magazine editors, writers, and publishers, etc., etc.

So, what’s the real answer and solution? The real answer is that, as Mr. Fineberg correctly states, genuine art has intrinsic value and worth regardless of its reception by the public, and is distinct from trash. And the real solution is that those who by education, training, and experience are qualified and competent to distinguish genuine art from trash — even appealing trash (there is such; contemporary commercial fiction, and much of 19th-century Italian opera, for but two examples) — must be willing to stand up and declare that distinction publicly and loudly; be willing to declare trash even, or rather especially, when that trash is held in high esteem by The People; be willing to declare openly to any and all species of philistine: No, you bloody purblind simpletons! That’s not art. That’s crap you’re effusing over, and not worth the time and attention of a trained chimp. Wake up and smell the garbage dump you presently inhabit, or you and your children and your children’s children will be doomed to become its permanent residents.

Incredible though it may seem, prior to the 1960s there were such stalwarts in this country, and they were unashamed of their elite status, and unashamed as well to declare genuine art as art, trash as trash, and the immensity of the distinction between the two. Today, if such in fact still exist, their voices have been muffled or stilled, either through cowardice, or by the fact their once lofty and influential pulpits have fallen victim or been sacrificed to the marketplace, and the power of the rabble.

Let us now pray.

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