The biggest controversy in art is not what you think. It’s easy to think of controversy in terms of politics. It’s very easy to think of controversy in terms of who’s funding what and what kind of vested interest as well as hidden agenda is being championed by such funding decisions.
These kinds of discussions play out all the time and, ultimately, they fizzle out because, let’s face it, it’s part of a choreographed, sometimes planned and sometimes accidental, chain of events that really speak to the matter of the intersection between funding and resulting art.
It really touches a very raw nerve because any artist worth his or her salt would be insulted at the idea that their funding somehow some way interferes with the truths their work conveys. In their minds, they’re reduced to nothing less than artistic prostitutes because of such allegations.
It is no wonder that artists really are quite sensitive to this. You don’t even have to directly address it. You might not even intentionally make the claim, but you can bet that they will get up in your face if they detect somehow some way that this is the kind of point you’re trying to make.
However, in reality this is not the most controversial issue at hand. The reality is actually the opposite. The big challenge in modern art is the seeming monolith of personal assumptions.
Let’s just cut to the chase. There are not too many traditionalist conservative artists out there that are widely heralded, renowned and awarded in the art world. All of them talk about personal freedom in terms of social liberal perspectives and programs.
I can’t for the life of me, even think of one conservative free-market, property-rights-driven artist who believes in core conservative values that is lionized by the art world. Can you think of one? I can’t, for the life of me, come up with a name. I really can’t. This is no joke.
This highlights the big threat to the art world. It has nothing to do with personal expression in classical terms. You have a forum where you’re supposed to write your heart out or express your heart out or come up with sculptures that really speak truth to the human condition. However, unfortunately, if you speak certain truths that may not jibe with the political complexion of the rest of the art world and, more importantly, the critics that keep the whole thing going, you can kiss your career good bye.
The worst penalty in the art world is not being criticized. In fact, if you think about it, all that drama is great for your career. The more people you can have talking about you, bad mouthing you, bashing you and casting you in a bad light, the more people would actually be encouraged to check out what you are about. At the very least, it grabs eyeballs. That is not the worst fate you could suffer.
Instead, being ignored is the kiss of death. If you say something that cuts against the grain, the worst thing the art establishment and the art powers that be can do to you is to shut up. That is the worst thing that can happen because, ultimately, the spotlight is focused on where they want it to be. You don’t get any of the attention. You don’t get any of the discussion. You just die slowly.
It doesn’t matter how awesome or intriguing your work is. It doesn’t matter how deep the truths you lead people to. None of that matters. What matters is the spotlight, which gives life, is turned away from you.
This is the big challenge of the modern art world because it cannot sustain itself shutting out very important voices. It cannot sustain itself when its underlying attitude truly is censorship. Sure, the external forms may be groundbreaking, even scandalous, but deep down inside, it’s really conservative because it’s talking about the same stuff over and over again.
There’s really nothing earth shattering about it because it’s no longer threatening to the mindset of the typical people who are attracted and inform the art world. This really is its tragedy because it’s going to eat itself. That’s pretty much the clearest way to put it.