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We Must Also Be Good

Post #1574 • November 2, 2012, 8:05 AM • 3 Comments

From a must-read essay by the London painter Jacob Willer:

There is nothing new in using art to pay a spiritual debt. But we do it differently, now that we have developed a strange idea that art should be a reflection of our society. We decided that art is not to "soften and humanise the mind", as Sir Joshua Reynolds said—such lofty sentiments are now dizzying. Art is not the wise balm of beauty to our rough and rushing lives, it is just the odd fact excerpted from life; it should be as rough and rushed—and as blandly real—as the rest. But, strangely, despite the currency of nihilistic arguments, our minds have not so hardened that we can fully prise Art away from Virtue. Precisely the people who would laugh at the old ideas of Reynolds, and call him pompous, prudish, even sick, inherit from him their extraordinary esteem for art, whatever art may be. But they even exaggerate and pervert his esteem. Art is no longer for the good; art is, essentially, good. Therefore, since art reflects us, we must also be good. Perhaps that is why so many otherwise reasonable people have let their sanity slide and applauded contemporary art; and that is why they let art be the vehicle for money and reputation laundering. Wherever there is art, there must be good. The more there is, the better we are. And, with our drunken faith in markets, believing that value is price, the more expensive art is, the better it is, so the better we are. So they thought.



Chris Rywalt

November 2, 2012, 4:36 PM

Anish Kapoor's ArcelorMittal Orbit might very well be the first sculpture to have its own dedicated website. It's probably not the first artwork to have its own corporate sponsor but I can't think of any others ("Societe Generale Eiffel Tower"?).


Walter Darby Bannard

November 1, 2012, 8:08 PM

I think all societies need an "ultimate value". I am puzzled and surprised by the way art has become the ultimate commodity (the thing one can throw money at after everything else has been bought) which in a social sense is ultimate value as well as monetary value. It feels like what religion must have been like back when it really governed everyone's life, when rich folks would put up huge sums to build a grander cathedral than the one in the next town and pay a fortune for a saint's finger bone.

In this climate the public face of art will necessarily be commercial, and the people making the decisions no more aware of real value in art than the customers for sacred relics were about their authenticity.

This may turn out to have a public benefit in the long run, because it forces us back to our roots. It doesn't help the serious struggling artist much, however.


Andy Gambrell

November 7, 2012, 10:41 AM

This thread reminds me of the campy but salient exchange between Michelangelo and Raphael in the 1965 film, "The Agony and the Ecstasy."

Raphael: For what is an artist in this world but a servant, a lackey for the rich and powerful? Before we even begin to work, to feed this craving of ours, we must find a patron, a rich man of affairs, or a merchant, or a prince or... a Pope. We must bow, fawn, kiss hands to be able to do the things we must do or die. [Raphael chuckles] We are harlots always peddling beauty at the doorsteps of the mighty.

Michelangelo: If it comes to that, I won't be an artist.

Raphael: [Raphael scoffs at Michelangelo's remark] You'll always be an artist. You have no choice.



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