Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Ego art

With the Gates starting to come down (perhpas it was worth having them put up to see this glorious dismantling), reading a review of Cy Twombly's retrospective at the Whitney and a book review of a some of Mark Rothko's ravings about aesthetics in close succession, I started to wonder if something other than self-aggrandizing art is even possible in America. Since Warhol, or perhaps Pollack, art has been subsidiary to the artist's fame, a mere echo of it. The content of their work is the naked totalitarian power of imposing one's will on a meek audience, empty occasions and surfaces that deny audiences even a fig leaf of substantive content which might shield them from some of the nuclear blast of the artist's obscene, white-hot ego. Our culture values inviduation for its own sake as a kind of Archimedean point from which all other values flow, so it makes sense that America would embrace the art which is about nothing else but individuation, about the contempt the artists feel for having to give some social form to their desire to express oneself.

Give me Soviet realism; there's a style where the ego is subordinated, where the artist must actually bristle against conventions and find creative ways to express subversive intent. There, the artist doesn't despise his audience but yearns to communicate important meanings to them against the grain of what he seems to be saying but which is obviously state-mandated. Readers can attend to the subtleties, look for anomalies, suspect something perverse in every detail. Everything is masked, thus everything is expressive. American ego artists aspired to transcend convention, rejecting all formal limitations and expectations, and therefore they can express nothing, just the wordless screaming of our garden-variety infant, pleading for attention.

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