Features October 1986
Vulgarity, novelty, and politics in contemporary art
On art and art history.
Comparatively few people care for art at all, and most of them care for it because they mistake it for something else.
Recent attitudes toward art have thrust what has traditionally been known as high art into the shade, and placed its admirers on the defensive. While this situation is sensed as a unique crisis by many, it is in fact the continuation of a long development. The apparent threat is considerably ameliorated by the fact that high art continues to be made and that history suggests that it will, by the reverse of Gresham’s law that has always characterized it, triumph in the end. Good art has never failed to drive out bad by the sheer staying power of its aesthetic—that is to say, emotional—conviction.
Art that is less good has tended to capture general attention quickly and easily at least since the time of the French...
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