Drowning in the Democratization of Art’s Aesthetic

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American popular culture is often aesthetically bankrupt, its driver money and sustainers marketing and technology. This pattern was confirmed in yesterday’s Sunday reading.

First an LA Times piece titled creativity? No Thanks This is Hollywood. Driven by a need for short term economic returns ,Hollywood’s film industry has turned risk adverse.

[If Hollywood had a suicide prevention hotline for despondent agents, managers and producers, the switchboard would be swamped. In the past few weeks every industry insider I’ve had lunch with has been morose, sullen or depressed.

To hear the talk, the dark ages are upon us. Producers are glum because studios are killing their deals left and right¢â‚¬¦ The media conglomerates that own today’s studios are demanding less risk and more return¢â‚¬¦

It’s commerce, not art

In the New Hollywood, the power has shifted from production to marketing. And why not? When your aim is to make a franchise picture aimed at the whole family, the person you want at the helm is a brand-management expert, not a filmmaker-friendly production chief.]

Then an article about world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly who it turns out is the worlds biggest self promoter, some saying this not his craft explains his reputation and commercial success.

[If we measure an artist’s importance by the number of museum exhibitions, books, articles and television appearances he has, Seattle glass guru Dale Chihuly is right up there with the greats.His work is in the collection of most every U.S. art museum you can think of, as well as many abroad. Museum exhibitions of his work circulate continually and stacks of hefty coffee-table books praise his talents. And who hasn’t seen one of those often-aired documentaries about him on PBS?

But what many don’t know is that Chihuly a Northwest icon who has built a multimillion-dollar business generates the bulk of that exposure himself. Most of those hugely popular exhibitions weren’t organized and distributed by art museums, but by Chihuly Inc. And those books and television shows? Most of them were produced by Chihuly’s publishing company, Portland Press. All that publicity has inflated the public notion of Chihuly’s status in the art world.]

The photograph of a Chihuly ceiling demonstrates the drama and beauty of his work, but would it be diminished if you learned Chihuly did not actually blow the glass? He is in a lawsuit that argues he does not even create the glass art that bears his name that he has become¢â‚¬¦the Thomas Kinkade of the glass art world (or has Kinkade become the Chihuly of the painter world?)

[He’s known for promoting glasswork as fine art, yet produces it on a factory scale, with teams of craftsmen and contractors turning out warehouses full of glass components. And though Chihuly no longer blows glass himself, he is ever vigilant about what other glassblowers are making, intimidating those whose work he deems too much like his trademark style.

Of course, Chihuly, 64, isn’t the first artist known for showmanship and self-promotion. He’s been likened to Salvador Dali, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. Another name pops up repeatedly, too: Thomas Kinkade, the controversial Christian “Painter of Light” and founder of a shopping-center art franchise business. “Kinkade has a factory to produce the work, operating with a staff of painters and touch-up people, and with marketing people who control their own outlets,” said Portland Art Museum curator Bruce Guenther. “That’s a model built off Dale Chihuly.”]

Then there is the news that Olivier Theyskins, named just this spring as the best young fashion designer, is out of work. Proctor and Gamble bought his design label Rochas for the perfume brand and closed the fashion business once thought to create synergy with it.

Amusing Ourselves to Death; Sucked in the Undertow.

Art being traded off for commercial interests is no new phenomena, but the commoditization of art is becoming pervasive, and the mass consumer, weaned on commodified art, appears willing to gobble it up. Is it possible after 50 years of electronic media dominating pop culture, that we’re learning that it not only aims for the lowest common denominator, but actually lowers it?

I’ve written before about the loss of a middlebrow culture in which the educated elite meets the uneducated half way. It appears that our whole society is being dragged downward in its aesthetics. Pop culture functions like a great dangerous oceanic undertow sucking the masses towards their certain death.

Those who know they are created in God’s image should create to meet the standards of the maker not the consumer and should be an elevating leaven in the superficial, mass marketed money machine called entertainment culture. But alas, today’s Christian sub-culture has caught on that there is money to be made in imitating today’s faux art and so the faithful, who are called to be a remnant for aesthetic sanity, are content to make a buck as they are sucked under by the deadly undertow.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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