Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash discusses the kind of art produced today for readers of the New Yorker, for the believing-itself-to-be-hip, pseudo-educated urban community of fashion, things like the films of Woody Allen and the novels of Don DeLillo.
There is a certain kind of art made here in America for a lofty but banal purpose: to enliven the contemporary educated mind.
You know: the mind of you and me, dear 3QD reader — the NPR listener, the New Yorker reader, the English major, the filmgoer who laps up subtitles, the gallery-goer who can tell a Koons from a Hirst.
This art is superior to the cascading pile of blockbuster kitsch-dreck-crap that passes for pop culture, but only superior by a few pips.
This art sure ain’t Picasso, or Joyce, or Rossellini, or the Beatles, or even Sondheim. It’s more Woody Allen than Ingmar Bergman, more Joyce Carol Oates than James Joyce, more Jeff Koons than Duchamp, more Arcade Fire than the Beatles.
It does not expand the borders of art or wreck the tyranny of the possible or enlarge our hungry little minds.
It is art of the day to inform the conversation of the day by the people of the day who need to be reassured that their taste is a little more elevated than that of the woman on the subway reading Nora Roberts.
For want of a better label, here’s a suggested honorific for this kind of art:
Urban Intellectual Fodder.
Neither original nor path-breaking, this art is derivative hommage; postmodern commentary around the edges of art.
It is art born of attitude, not passion. It is art that postures but doesn’t grip. It is art created by those who are more passionate about a career in art than about art itself. …
What distinguishes this art from actual art?
Primarily, this is art that thinks about art. Art of the intellect, not the heart. Art done to bring us the smart, not the art.
The artists of Urban Intellectual Fodder act like art critics doing art — they’re better about their art than with it, better on their art than in it. Their art is done to show their smarts, and that’s primarily what one gets from their art.
Smart art: in America, the land of anti-intellectualism, it’s perhaps inevitable that our art should devolve into a screech against the national celebration of the dumb.
Unfortunately, this art does the smart thing to the detriment of the other things that art can do. It does the soothing, lulling thing, because it is art to make the viewer feel smart. The audience I’m talking about wants only that from art: to be made to feel smart. So they get their art of the brain, for the brain and by the brain. Art that panders with its braininess.
Urban Intellectual Fodder is the prozac of the American intelligentsia.
It’s studiedly smart; it’s properly elliptical; it’s quite self-aware and often very meta; it is extensively footnoted, either actually or mentally; its distance from its material is either ironically remote or uncomfortably close-up; it is intensely minimal or wordy or effects-ridden, in either a refined or extravagant way; it specializes in conceits, and sometimes its conceit is to be devoid of one; and it makes its small points, and sometimes its big obvious ones, in either a very guarded or rather grandiosely ironical way.
Critic James Wood coined a name for it: â€œhysterical realism.â€ Dale Peck had a name for it, too: â€œrecherche postmodernism.â€
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.