I charge the institution of democracy with at least a part of the blame for the state of art today. It’s pointless sculptures with ragged edges and twisted forms which amount to nothing but a confounding array of ignorance and platitudes about free expression and human rights. To compare it to the works of years past in nations ruled by kings would be almost fallacious as calling it art seems wrong. Yet to keep the integrity of the term it ought to be classified as art, but not as good or high art. As terrible and pointless monstrosities grown out of a virtuosic wasteland.
The age old duality of nature and nurture, whether it is by somebody’s nature that they become a certain way. Is someone born to be a criminal? Or is it the upbringing of a person that forms them into what they become? Does a criminal become a criminal because he was raised in such a way that he became that way? I won’t answer this question in whole as that is not the purpose of this essay but I do believe one noteworthy thing comes from one’s environment and not themselves. That is the virtues they are naturally inclined to. Take for example a family who has accrued massive wealth in real estate. The expectation then is often that the children will follow in their parent’s footsteps and continue to build upon the family fortune. So the environment in which they are brought up lends itself to form them as money conscious, astute and observant of the things that such a profession would require them to know.
The English word “nation” originates from the Latin root nasci which means “to grow” or “to be born.” Ideally then, a nation is a sort of birthplace, or nursery but a nursery for what? The birthplace of what? Of its people of course but also of their virtues and perhaps their vices as well. The qualities of an Italian are not the same as those of a German which are not the same as a those of a Chinaman which are not the same as those of an American. At a simple and stereotyped glance we can call the German precise and rigid, the Italian lasseiz faire but passionate, the Chinaman as an intellectual who is both practical and superstitious and the American a loud and overfed Neanderthal. This isn’t true of every last one of the people of these nations but these are the parts of the people who hail from these places that are the most apparent. Likewise, different forms of governance will affect the people of those nations to have different values and practice certain disciplines differently.
Art is perhaps the most obvious measure of what sort of things are encouraged in a society. What people choose to decorate their homes and streets with is indicative of what they believe and what they hold dear. And though the artist holds a certain authority on what is made as it is his creations that are put on display throughout the cities and towns of his home, it is the patrons of the arts that act as the gatekeepers, choosing whose art will be put on display. Who is excellent and who is worthless. So, the statues and paintings and other such artistic projects that are endorsed by different forms of governance should speak to some degree on their virtues and their shortcomings.
How The Unlimited Power Of The Majority Increases In America The Instability Of Legislation And Administration Inherent In Democracy The Americans increase the mutability of the laws which is inherent in democracy by changing the legislature every year, and by investing it with unbounded authority—The same effect is produced upon the administration—In America social amelioration is conducted more energetically but less perseveringly than in Europe. – Alexis De Tocqueville (Democracy in America)
What Tocqueville illustrates in this quote is the very criticism that Plato levels at Democracy in The Republic. …
when a democratic city athirst for liberty gets bad cupbearers for its leaders and is intoxicated by drinking too deep of that unmixed wine, and then, if its so-called governors are not extremely mild and gentle with it and do not dispense the liberty unstintedly, it chastises them and accuses them of being accursed oligarchs. – Plato (The Republic)
Now if the very existence of democracy is one which is built on instability in which tradition and longevity are hardly things which capture the imagination of those living in such a state, it would follow that without any sort of oversight the artistic community of such a society would also fall into ritualistic banalities. Because there might be an interest in having more art to qualify themselves as an established culture despite the constant changes and shifts in what art is on display. Or perhaps the over-production of subpar art would allow for rapid changes in the artistic fixtures visible to the public. So the art that is produced to fill these fixtures must be mediocre enough that one won’t feel guilt from removing it. Consider the Tilted Arc of Richard Serra, which was on display from 1981 to 1989 in the Foley Federal Plaza of Manhattan New York. The ugliness and impracticality of having a twelve foot high wall made of rusty metal in the middle of a plaza eventually led to its removal. But why would one make such an unimpressive piece of “art” to begin with? And like with many public artworks in the United States it became the subject of politics and controversy, with this particular case even going so far as to be one of the catalysts for a bill to protect the “rights” of the visual artists.
Artists have no rights, only the obligation to create something which is worthy of the money which people invest in them. The patrons of the arts in America, be they democratic city councils, or the rich and affluent are part of a system which changes so frequently and so quickly that it is hard to determine whether there is even a desire for permanence. And permanence is what an artist ought to be seeking. Not necessarily for himself, but for what he does, because truly good art transcends time. Consider how The Mona Lisa is still admired and revered today, more than six centuries after the death of its painter. Or how the plays of Shakespeare are likewise admired and studied many hundreds of years later. But an artist can only take the kind of pride and care in his work that is required to make such a timeless masterpiece if he is given a glorious purpose for his efforts, and nothing inspires more than believing that the one that chose you to do this work has the divine right to rule.
The classical view of kings, that they have a divine right to their throne and their power afforded them reverence. All sorts of courtly etiquette was built around this. From people kneeling before the king, to kissing rings on his fingers and the many other reverences that were practiced in the presence of monarchs. The elevation of a single person to this level of power and prestige is more than some clever moneylender on Wall Street or elected official could ever hope to achieve. Even the President of the United States who is called the most powerful man in the world is not given this much respect. People do not bow before him, and even he occasionally bows before foreign dignitaries if their station demands that much respect. So with a king or any of his lords there is a much higher standard to which interactions are held. Even the nation itself takes on a different place in the imagination of its people. As monarchists in England such as The English Eccentric have said, the monarch is the personification of Britannia. If this is true, then Britannia is now afforded a similar level of reverence from its people as what Britannia displays is reflective of the monarch and likewise what the monarch does is reflective of Britannia.
It would follow then, that the public’s eye should only be able to see the very best art that Britannia can produce. Consider how with this so thoroughly engrained in a culture England has a great many man-made landmarks far more impressive than those of America. From Buckingham Palace, to Shakespeare’s Globe, Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey. These are not monuments to men, these are places where people gather and go about their lives that have become immortal because of how magnificent they look, or how magnificently they have been used.
England now has become a far more democratic state and the result is evident in its current state of affairs with art. Gone are the great artists of the past, replaced with the most insipid sculptures of nothing that mankind has to offer. As the patrons of the arts are now merely looking for something to fill a space, not for something magnificent to last through the ages. This is a shallow substitute for culture, an artificial attempt to recreate something special, because there is no longer a reason to take such pride in art as to make the best and most incredible works possible. The virtues which monarchy inspires are what makes the art of a place good. Not the skill of the craftsmen there.