Michael J. Lewis‘ long piece in Commentary titled, How Art Became Irrelevant, is a tour de force of cultural analysis. In his well-written and long article (did I mention it is long?), Lewis’ breadth of knowledge provides a wealth of thoughtful observations and quotable passages.
To buttress his main thesis, which I think is reasonably embodied in the two quotes below, he surveys developments in art since the ’70’s. Like anyone else trying to sort out and make sense of developments over the past fifty years, some things Lewis highlights are idiosyncratic corner cases that do not represent significant trends. This is another way of saying I don’t agree with him at every point. Having said that, Lewis shines a powerful light on the art world and illuminates it in a way I find compelling.
Among many quotable passages, I think these two provide a good summary of Lewis’ article:
“For a generation or more, the American public has been thoroughly alienated from the life of the fine arts while, paradoxically, continuing to enjoy museums for the sake of sensation and spectacle, much as it enjoyed circuses a century ago. The public accepts that it has nothing important to say about who we are, though it does occasionally rouse itself when something is at stake that does reflect our collective values…”
“This estrangement has been a disaster for the arts, which need to draw inspiration from the society and culture that is its substrate. It is a myth that an art withdrawn from the realm of public inspection and disapproval is a freer and superior art….”