Monday, February 22, 2016

Conservatives Despise, and Leftists Embrace, This Particular Example of Laissez-Faire Capitalism

An article posted at the website of the National Post by John Robson, made me aware of certain paradoxes with respect to the market for modern art. 

Robson’s politics are to the right, and while an intellectual, he shares in the conservative distaste for contemporary artworks (the title of the piece: “Modern Art is Garbage”, Feb. 1, 2016). 


Modern art, Robson says not inaccurately, is “meant to disgust, shock, challenge "convention" and reduce hope and morality to a smouldering heap of obscene rubbish.” 

He describes how an abstract-expressionist work long credited to Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), was recently exposed as a fake, but only after its owner paid US$8 million-plus for it (and who was an official with Sotheby’s, the famed London art-auction house). 

Robson’s contention seems to be that it is in the nature of Rothko paintings that they can be so easily faked. 

But Renaissance works have been subject to successful forgery, as well, with their exposure coming only as a result of chemical analyses revealing the anachronistic materials used in their production. 

Also Fraud.

But more relevantly, abstract-expressionism and other more recent art movements that repel and even disgust conservatives like Robson, are a result of the free market. 

Certainly, the arts (including visual and plastic art) have been subsidized by the government, but modernism in art going back to the nineteenth century, has developed many as a result of the free market. 

The art market is in fact one of the few examples of nearly unregulated capitalism in today’s economy. 

For being essentially a handicraft industry, as well, it is big money, as with the recent sale of a Picasso work for more than US$150 million. 

Conservatives axiomatically favour the free market as the default means through which goods and services are produced (I know this to be true of Robson, as I’ve been reading his columns over many years). 

Yet, when it comes to a product — modern and contemporary art — which results from transactions of a market which is in turn almost entirely laissez-faire, they are unanimous in their hatred of it. 

Capitalist pigs.

This is confounding to leftist politics, as well, though. For, not only do artists adhere to classical- and neo-socialist politics as an orthodoxy, regardless of their level of enrichment by the marketplace in art they claim to despise. 

It is confounding to leftist ideology in the first place, that contemporary art (painting, sculpture or new-media) is almost universally disparaging in content of bourgeois values and tastes, in spite of it being a product of laissez-faire. 

Socialists have long claimed that cultural-commercialism is directed toward conditioning and brainwashing the masses into accepting the “status quo.” 

But with modern art, this is clearly not the case. Further, when contemporary artworks do come under criticism by conservatives, leftist commentators reflexively defend an industry that is practically without regulation by the state.

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