Every day for all my life I encounter and dismiss the pose which runs “haha modern art is bad”. Every part of it is gibberish, from the personality which undergirds it, to the crazily misapplied language, to the fact that at the very latest this is an idea got from approximately the year 1954. You’ll find it all over the political spectrum, especially amongst Americans, because rather than having to do with preference or interest or beliefs it is the expression of a smug, half-drunk pride in worse things—down-home things, like-folks, nobody’s-better-than-anybody else.
It is an attitude which is frankly and literally Nazi, and there’s not much more to be said about that—the originals in the game, breathless over Campbell’s Soup Kids and derisive of Chagall and Picasso. There are facts about art, and one fact is that the pure and subtle line, athletically controlled, restrained, is better in all ways than the squishy and decorative. Picasso is superior in skill, attitude, aesthetic and choice to a Nazi-commissioned painting of a grinning family at haying time.
This is so clear a boundary that there’s almost no need to say it: if you find yourself agreeing with Nazis, you’ve got to reevaluate your sensible faculties. Here is a position which causes me more concern, because it is better at talking about itself—the political alliance with the Renaissance. A casting-back to a time of balance, sophistication and beauty. Make no mistake: it is the same mind which makes this comparison. The person who in his heart prefers the pink-faced Northern genre painting of the child spilling his breakfast beer is the same person making soft overtures toward the harmony and sanity of Renaissance art compared to the degeneracy of the present day.
When I tell you about this, I will tell you three important facts—
1. The Renaissance as an art period is representative of decadence rather than flourishing; it is the tail-end of a movement and not the great height
2. When Renaissance art is beautiful it is asymmetric, odd and fine, not gargantuan, pleased and hot-faced
3. The people who appeal to Renaissance art for political ends do not like Renaissance art, cannot correctly interpret it, and are substandard lookers in the first place (that is, worse at looking than their betters)
Altogether, I hate genre painting. I hate the homely and the affectedly folkish. At one time I dismissed the people who love it; today I regard them as my enemies. They are not only subliterate visually but an active danger to art in all its forms, and for all that their position is at this point literally antique, they are continuously reinvented. I will talk more about this soon.
NB: genre painting, especially the kind I reference here, is not a Renaissance phenomenon—but the people who invoke the Renaissance for political ends are in fact more interested aesthetically in the failures of art which find their best expression in Northern genre work of the late 16th century and after, (and whose spiritual precedents are the intellectual weaknesses of the Renaissance) than they are in any actual achievement of the 15th c.