Inspired by revolution, politics, and social change, artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries began to question traditional artistic values and norms. What this resulted in was a purposeful rejection of craft, tradition, religion, Western culture, monarchy, elitism, style, fashion, and other things that had propped art up over the previous 1000 years.
The artists who did this had a healthy revolutionary spirit, and were genuinely questioning what had gone before, in order to bring something truly new to the world. The result was artwork that the world had never seen before, because they didn’t correspond to any prior or existing style or artistic convention- urinals, bicycle wheels glued on stools, sculpture that used rotting food, non-linear film narratives, abstraction, shock, horror. etc.
Then we run into trouble
At some point – I’ve pinpointed it to the 1950s – this revolutionary spirit, rejection of craft, and the political theories behind it, became formalized. In other words, it became the status quo. Art, over the next 50-60 years became more and more craft-less, politics-based, non-visual, and sometimes transitory and even non-existent. This was all given an intellectual basis.
The reasons for this are really complex, and someday – soon – I will do a long talk on it. It comes down to two things: 1) a politics-based liberal status quo has co-opted every social movement of the 20th century, and by extension, the artists inspired by those movements. 2) the lack of craft, and the prioritization of the concept (rather than how pleasing the art looks), is part of a larger ideological preference for everything to be democratized – the same impulse to give children awards just for taking part, even if they came last in the race, is also the same impulse that awards art that rejects in intentional technical skill.
So yes: art – the art that is officially sanctioned by the status quo – is a kind of farce. Here’s a longer explanation of the antidote:
By the way, this says nothing about the huge amount of talented artists in the world. There are amazing artworks being made. It also doesn’t take away from the fact that marketing is an essential aspect of the art gallery system, and as such, the strict conventions of the art world (which defy mass market conventions) all are all functional. In this case, the farcical aspect of art is a marketing strategy that can only exist at the top tier of the market – where art belongs. The farcical nature of art creates an air of the understated, which when combined with the context of conspicious wealth (a gallery), lays the ground for ‘sophistication’. In other words, the more ‘farcical’ in the context of wealth, the more sophisticated. This is unique to the art market, and doesn’t work with any other luxury item.