The Death of Western Art
by Kenneth Lloyd Anderson
[From Instauration May 1999]
In The End of Art (Princeton Press, 1997) art historian Arthur Danto [left] really means the end of Western Art.
There is definitely a parallel between accepting virtually anything as art and the interracial, international egalitarian acceptance of all races and all people. A world without borders parallels art with no restrictions and no narrative history.
Art which was once beyond the pale is now within it. Art with no part in art history, which is a reversion to some earlier form of art, is now the order of the day.
The 1960s had a paroxysm of art styles, just as it had a paroxysm of hedonism and universalism. Today anything can be a work of art. Anyone of any race can be a citizen.
Six centuries of Western art have come to an end, apparently to be followed by the end of Western man. What Danto calls the "post-historical" period will be followed by post-white man, since the narrative history of Western Art was essentially narrated and created by white men.
Danto states his values clearly: "How wonderful it would be to believe that the pluralistic art world of the historical present is a harbinger of political things to come!"
The history of painting can be understood as artists getting better and better at representing reality. Photography might have taken over for painting in this artistic history, since is represented reality better. Painting history in fact ended with photography. Supposedly the only thing left to the painter was to make other rules, come up with other values for painting. Apparently painters did not want to -- or could not -- learn photography.
Some say the break in the Western narrative history of painting reality began with Manet; others say it came with Van Gogh and Gauguin. It was a slow death. Certain death occurred when any attempt to revive Western man by continuing the narrative history of Western art was shouted down as racist or fascist.
The affirmation of white culture in art ended with WWII. Internationalism and interracialism conquered nationalism. The concept of "no borders" was increasingly reflected in the artistic concepts of unreality and nihilism.
Is Max Beckmann's Birds' Hell art?
The move from the eye to the psyche and from mimicking reality to the expression of emotional states was intrinsic to the decline of Euro-American art and the rise of other races with more irrational forms of art.
Jewish art critic Clement Greenberg's attempt to define "pure" painting removed race and nation from consideration in art history. Recall Tom Wolfe's hilarious description in The Painted Word of Greenberg discovering "flatness" as the essential factor of painting.
We really cannot examine aesthetics and political philosophy until we heed that ancient Socratic command to "know thyself." Socrates (Phaedrus) states, "[S]o long as that ignorance remains, it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters." Art critics, who have not yet defined human nature the way sociobiology and the evolutionary psychology now define it, will have huge gaps missing from their art philosophies. Survival and reproduction drives influence even examinations into the "purity" of art, which prides itself on being avant-garde and lags far behind modern sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.
Greenberg took all the power out of art by insisting that pure art must exist without relating to anything other than itself, with no message other than its own flat objectivity. When art is not perceived as meaningful or enhancing, it is difficult to affirm and easy to reject. Art has been used to affirm the power of religion, nation and race for centuries.
Greenberg's "pure art," which insists that art is "impure" if it contains an admixture of any medium other than itself, is not art. It takes the sociobiological base away from art, like cutting the roots away from a tree, leaving only a dead trunk.
Greenberg's art philosophy led to his describing Jackson Pollack as the greatest 20th-century American painter, an absurd pronouncement and really hilarious when it is understood that Greenberg was serious and was taken seriously by other New York critics! Pollack's dripping of paint onto floor-level canvases was described as high art by Greenberg's coterie. The absurdity makes sense only in sociobiological terms, only as Greenberg's will to power as manifested by his determination to destroy all the basic elements of Western art. It is perhaps pertinent to mention that Jewish and Islamic tradition prohibits the graven image. Greenberg comes from this tradition.
The "tyranny of taste," which many modern critics complain about, is often sociobiologically an objection to the art of another's race. One race's feeling and form cannot be foisted upon another race without arousing the feeling of "tyranny." Critics who objected to Western artistic tastes were frequently not of Anglo-Saxon, Protestant or even Christian heritage.
What Greenberg was seeking to "purify" was precisely the elements in art which Western artists had used for hundreds of years.
Plato knew that art is a tool of power, when it is not corrupted by aesthetics. But deeper than power (even Nietzsche did not want to go deeper than power) is the purpose for power, which has been increasingly elaborated upon by modern sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, namely, the reproductive drive of the genes for success. Art is not as much a tool of "power," as a tool of the biological needs of the race. The history of art shows that the affirmation of the sacred -- those things which each race holds of divine provenance -- has been the formula behind the greatest works of art.
Danto's big philosophical question concerning the difference between art works and real objects -- a question which he thinks ended the history of art -- is not as big a questions as he thinks. It is reminiscent of the silly arguments about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. There are more important issues to spend one's time on than thinking about ways to regard art, but many are now taboo. Modern thinkers have not been allowed to examine the biological base of social behavior, which includes artistic creativity. Here is where the real thinking on art should be directed. Evolutionary psychology is beginning to develop in this field of study, but it is very tentative and still politically correct.
What did Western Art ever do to people like Greenberg and Danto to make them so violently anarchistic? It was the will to power of a group of people who did not conform and did not want to conform to Western art tradition. They wanted to blow it up -- and proceeded to do so.
Edward Hopper and a few realist painters fought the last battle against what they called the "gobbledygook" of the Museum of Modern Art. They banded together "against the wholesale usurpation of the abstract." The conflict was over in about six years. Greenberg and his tribe triumphed.
When the sociobiologically sanctioned affirmation of biology and race is left out of the definitions of art, only superficial classifications remain. Art cannot be separated from non-art on purely visual terms. Even when art is defined historically as representing better and better ways of depicting reality it is still not a deep and conclusive way to define art.
By dealing in superficial questions, Danto decided that because he could no longer understand the difference between art and reality (i.e., Andy Warhol's Brillo Box), any art will now be acceptable. Any "artist" can do whatever he wants. Such slogans as, "Everything is an artwork" and "Everyone is an artist" became current.
Danto favorably quotes Jean-Paul Sartre's idea of being "truly human," which Sartre defined as having the "freedom" of no identity. The problem is that there is not such freedom. We have strong biological identities whether we admit them or not. Sartre arrogantly said we are condemned to freedom when we have no freedom to be condemned to. We have "essences" which we will have to validate before we can be "truly human" and those essences are biological and genetic. We can't wish them away. Why would we want to? Our philosophy has to adjust to human nature, which should not be expected to adjust to philosophy.
When Pop Art took emblems from popular culture and tried to elevate them or transfigure them into high art, they were affirming the commonplace over the high art in Western history. This coincided with the civil rights movement of the 1960s which declared the equality of all races. It was all a political subterfuge and it was motivated by biological power drives which were probably not even known to their possessors.
Newt Gingrich states that what took place in 1965 was "a calculated effort by cultural elites to discredit this civilization and replace it with a culture of irresponsibility." It was not calculated. It was simply the will to power in high gear. The '60s radicals wanted a "culture of irresponsibility." They believed their way of life was superior and more virtuous than traditional culture.
Danto has advanced the surprisingly boring idea that all art is a product of its own time, its own period. Every art is possible, Danto confesses, but we must still relate to art in our own way, in our own time. This relationship can be characterized as warmed over Marxism. If we are looking for deeper essences to describe the artist, art must be seen as essentially biological, genetic and racial.
Europeans recreated many elements of their culture when they moved to America; Africans recreated their own African villages in American projects or ghettos; Jews became hypertrophied bankers, akin to Shakespeare's Shylock. The sociobiological method of evaluating art history has the added benefit of bringing the will to powe back as a motive of art creativity. Modern cultural philosophers will evaluate any history, visual history, economic history, any history, other than racial history. We may not be the "lonely outsiders" to past historical periods that Danto believes we are, if we evaluate historical periods racially.
Modern culture, according to sociobiology, is really only hypertrophied hunter-gatherer culture. Human nature remains essentially the same as it has been for perhaps 100,000 years.
When the biological or genetic nature is included in history, the future is not as impossible for us to predict as Danto thinks. Only when human beings are neutered of their biological nature does one get a human with no past and no future.
Should we now proceed as if modernism and post-modernism never happened? I would rather rebulid the basic foundations of great artistic expression -- the affirmation of the sacred in art. Technique, style, form would follow this function. By sacred, I am not speaking merely of religious ideals, but of what races and ethnostates hold sacred, which includes their own biological perpetuation. This philosophy applies to all races and all ethnostates, and to the art they develop.
The exciting thing about a racial preservationist movement in art is that it can revive sacred art, which has been buried by the profane art of the modern and postmodern world.
Ellen Dissanayake's book on the biological origin of art (Homo Aestheticus, 1995, University of Washington Press) suggests that traditional art is concerned with "making special" those things which are considered important, such as birth, puberty, marriage and death.
Modern art does not make special the traditionally important aspects of life, perhaps because survival is far easier now and one doesn't need to bond people through art for survival's sake. Unimportant things are "made special" by the commonness and vulgarity of Pop Art subjects.
Reviving or saving a declining or dying race and culture is an exciting cause, perfectly designed for "making special" what is traditionally important -- the affirmation of the sacred in art. This has the potential for creating great art.
KENNETH LLOYD ANDERSON