Jonathan Jones asks an important question in his Guardian art blog. The widespread attention paid to Yan Pei-Ming’s protrait of Bernie Madoff isn’t what Jones is talking about here. Instead, it’s a somewhat tendentious and overwrought question–it operates under the assumption that art is meant to be oppositional–but a legitimate one nonetheless.
In post-modern capitalism, secondary markets created a counter-reality that was unfettered by production. The economy was run like a theme park. It’s obvious how deeply involved in that daydream was the art of the last 20 years, which so gleefully rejected anything that might tie it to the slow, patient, tedious stuff of real creativity.
[ . . . ] What I want to ask now is – why? What happened? How did art become the mirror of fraud? [ . . . ] After the second world war artists were steeped in history and introspection. Art has never been more serious in its view of life than it was in the era of Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon. But even as modern painting reached such heights and depths, western society was going through an epochal transformation. The power of the capitalist economies in the postwar era was unprecedented in world history. An entirely new lifestyle, that of “consumerism”, was born.
Consumerism instantly inspired artists. Pop art in America and Britain took the surfaces of objects, the instant appearances of the new bright world, as its subject matter. Everywhere, emotional depth in art was censored. Abstract Expressionism had to die. Art could teach people to look at the world in a new way: to embrace the cool. Pop art taught everyone to enjoy money and the mass media and 1980s post-modernism taught the same lesson again.
How Art Killed Our Culture (Guardian)