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The Reactionary Art World
By Ed Driscoll · February 13, 2006 05:34 PM · Bobos In Paradise · The Return of the Primitive · The Substance of Style

In his cover story in National Review this week, Mark Steyn looked at how worn-out Hollywood's subject matter is, even though the people who produce it (such as George Clooney) think they're on the cutting edge:

Hollywood prefers to make “controversial” films about controversies that are settled, rousing itself to fight battles long won. Go back to USA Today’s approving list of Hollywood’s willingness to “broach the tough issues”: “Brokeback and Capote for their portrayal of gay characters; Crash for its examination of racial tension . . .” That might have been “bold” “courageous” movie-making half-a-century ago. Ever seen the Dirk Bogarde film Victim? He plays a respectable married barrister whose latest case threatens to expose his homosexuality. That was 1961, when homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom and Bogarde was the British movie industry’s matinee idol and every schoolgirl’s pinup: That’s brave. Doing it at a time when your typical conservative politician gets denounced as “homophobic” because he’s only in favor of civil unions is just an exercise in moral self-congratulation. And, unlike the media, most of the American people are savvy enough to conclude that by definition that doesn’t require their participation.
Modern architecture went through a similar reactionary phase in the 1960s, as its leaders died off as elderly men one after the other during the decade: First Frank Lloyd Wright, then Corbusier, then in 1969 first Gropius, and then Mies. But in their final years, these men, once pioneers, were frequently living off past designs. In 1966, Robert Venturi wrote Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in which they pointed out that Mies van Der Rohe's architecture was little changed from projects he envisioned in the late 1920s. In other words, what called itself "modern architecture" was based on concepts that were forty years old--or more.

Modern art is going through a similar phase--only its concepts are even older, and much more reactionary. Modern architecture, especially as it advanced beyond its very early days in the 1910s and early twenties, was rarely designed to shock, unlike so much of today's modern art. On Saturday, I wrote:

Leftwing artists specialized in Epater Les Bourgeois for much of the 19th and 20th century to the point where everyone who could possibly be disgusted is now barely able to simulate the aura of the penumbra of amusement.
No doubt, Giuseppe Veneziano, the Italian artist who painted "Oriana Fallaci Beheaded" thought he was making a wild gesture that really epaters those bourgeois! But instead, it's the same old stuff; we've seen it a million times before.

Of course, to paraphrase something Glenn Reynolds wrote about Kanye West recently, if Veneziano had balls, he'd paint a portrait of Mohammed beheaded, instead of Fallaci. (Don't write--I'm being facetious. I don't want to see paintings of anybody beheaded.) But hey, who wants to end up like Theo Van Gogh? Nobody wants to suffer for their art that much, right?

And besides, that would run the risk of actually agreeing with Fallaci. And that's not going to happen anytime soon.

Update: Michelle Malkin has some thoughts as well.



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