catapult magazine

catapult magazine


Does Democracy Produce Bad Art?


Apr 06 2002
06:41 pm

A few months ago I heard an NPR interview with the dean of the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. She claimed that the American view of art differs from that of most of the rest of the world in that Americans don’t expect/want their art to ask complex questions. She thought that this might be because, steeped in democracy as we are, we mistrust anything that cannot be commonly understood. This leads to an art scene heavy on spectacle and flash, intent on giving the audience an experience outside their lives, rather than probing them to dig inward.

Are all those Hollywood action flicks and romantic comedies a product of democracy?


May 10 2002
11:11 am

Though this might seem to suggest a communication problem at home, I’m going to respond to this one.

I remember Dave and I talking about how the films that we seem to like right away are the ones that throw us for a loop, that are a challenge to try to figure out. These are the ones that you go back to again and again. I think of these films in the same way as I think of pieces of bonafide art in the museum. But is it the same?

You would think that a visually advanced culture like ours on the forefront of televisation and the expanding of an ever-growing vocabulary of images would be getting better at “reading” visual art. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Or is it too early to tell? Maybe we’re just a generation away from a more appreciative visual art audience. Then again, maybe there is something to that claim that democracy is to blame. But France is a democracy and they don’t seem to be suffering in the art department.


Jul 16 2002
02:25 am

I wonder if the better question might not be: Does capitalism produce bad art? We live in a society run by the dollar. Relatively little of the art we produce as a society makes money — so society judges it to be worth little as a whole. That art that does make money tends to make a ton of money — this puts some odd stresses on the meaning of that art (a simple message wouldn’t be worth a million dollars — so it must be complex, or If this artist made half a million on this painting, it can’t be talking about inequity of resources, etc). And maybe we can point to capitalist societies that make it work better than we do — but North American capitalist society is by far the most maniacally consumerist society on the planet.

Poor art may be the price we pay for the option to chose from four different kinds of chee-toes.


Nov 04 2002
09:15 am

The real question then is what is art of what is good art. Actually I think that Western capitalist culture we have a huge source of ?good? art, though it may not be good in a Christian perspective. Advertising is probably the most effective art in many ways because of how well it does what it sets out to do.

Our consumerist capitalistic society is built upon the assumption that the stock market and commerce is the solution to all of societal problems. Advertising propagates this consumer desire that we are lacking what makes us truly happy from the moment we are born to the day we die.

This art of advertising, of calling our attention to what we are lacking and what we have it thoroughly not Christian and I believe that it makes the better fine art suffer. At the same time it is a tremendous but dangerous tool.

Advertising is in effect the best example of pop art in our society because it represents our society view while it propagates them. The very basis of ?advertisement art? is rooted into the depths of our culture.

So expanding on B.C.?s point that it may be capitalism that is the cause for this ?bad art? I would rather look back and say it was the democratic ideals of a free society that produced capitalism which in turn created advertising to propagate its purpose, the buying out of society.

I have many more ideas brewing in my head right now about visual art and it?s purpose in society and how Christians can reform culture by the use of art, but as I said the ideas are stewing and congealing and they are for another post another time.

cheese it.


Nov 24 2002
01:39 pm

But Americans (in general, of course) do seem suspicious of the artsy-fartsy. We often call unique or innovative art “weird” or “wasteful”, preferring things that are more useful for society: things like automobiles, mobile phones and medical research.

I think we value the capitalistic system because it is so handy as a tool for valuing things. Putting a money value on something is easy, clear and it makes sense. A hamburger is worth 2 dollars and 99 cents. I give you the cold hard cash, you give me the hamburger so I can fill this annoying empty feeling in my stomach. Look at the way “Blue-collar Bill” scoffs, however, when an artist prices a canvas covered in layers of black paint at 10, 000 dollars. What’s the use of something like that if we’ve defined value in terms of utility?


Dec 25 2002
06:23 am

Old thread here, but I had a thought or two:

I don’t think that all of our art in capitalist society is tainted, in fact, I’m increasingly blown away by how many GREAT movies are coming out nowadays in the states. Granted, there are also more crap movies (that is, Hollywood’ized films) coming out as well. I think that what’s happening to art is what Marx said would happen to a capitalist society: the rift between the rich (or perhaps high budget, flashy films) and the poor (or in this case, the lower budget, often higher quality films) is increasing. The true artists are becoming more and more distinct from the money mongers. That’s why foreign films are always so different from American films: there’s not quite the same gargantuan rift between artistic and commercial. Actually, that’s just a guess.

I mean, you can almost always tell within the first 5 minutes of an American movie whether it’s going to be an essentially good, inventive, thought-provoking film, or an essentially money-driven, cheesy, brainless one. Maybe it’s oversimplifying, but most movies seem to fall into one camp or the other. After that, there are good things and bad things to be analyzed, and of course there are always pleasant and unpleasant surprises coming out of each camp.

The mainstream market is largely controlled by money, and I think the way our society is structured plays no small part in that.


Dec 26 2002
03:55 am

Democracy does not produce bad art…commecialism does. Our society suffers from a sort of MTV syndrome and if we have to spend more than 20 seconds on any given subject we (in general) get bored. I think that America needs to re-learn the art of seeking beauty in its truest form, through observation and introspection, and lose the concept of the candy coated, shrink wrapped, $19.99 plus tax art that collects dust on the shelf.


Nov 14 2003
06:54 am

The alternative question—-does socialism (for ianstance, communism) produce good art?

I saw (I think 1988) the big, fun international art exhibit held on Navy Pier in Chicago.

The Soviet Art was quite good, tho there was a bit of “worker worship”. Had I the money, I would have stopped by their booth first & bought some pics.

I was that impressed.

Yet I don’t know what percentage of all Soviet citizen art they represent.


Nov 14 2003
04:06 pm

Working five years in an art store blew many of my preconceived notions about the relationship between art and money, between art and personality, etc. One customer frequently walked in and bought over $500 worth in Kolinsky sable brushes, just to walk out and get into his brand new Jaguar. Another walked in, one who has paintings hanging in the Louvre; he got out of a Mercedes. Others came in who were struggling to make it. They spent a lot of time considering what they had to buy. My former boss, who has managed the store for over 20 years, has noticed that the starving artist is for the most part a myth. For the most part its a choice. They’re oftentimes highly individualistic, even egomaniacal, and they are usually the first ones to turn their noses up at an offer for help or advice. They’re too busy trying to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it pays off and they get a solid break. But a level-headed artist who has decent skills can usually make it, even if they have to produce art for a particular client until they find a niche market. The ones driving Mercedes are usually good at what they do and have found a niche for their work.

I guess my point is that in a society like ours with a sufficient abundance of resources, an artist can do pretty much anything they want. As long as they are willing to work with clients to pay the bills, they can create a variety of things at home. The dollar’s not to blame; it’s a knife that can cut both ways. You just have to be creative in making it cut the right way.

The problem may have more to do with cultural values. Why do people who might do just about anything choose to create the sort of art they do?


Nov 15 2003
09:59 am

I think in a democracy, you have lots of art produced. More quantity (I suspect) than in a socialistic system.

In a socialistic system (less personal freedoms, more gov;t control of the individual)
well, maybe the state chosen artists flourish & the others have to work on t heir own in corners.

Some of the non state-sponsored artists may be quite talented, even brilliant, a few—-maybe the best artists of their time,
….but sometimes the demands of their regular job & possibly family demands, etc. may minimize their output.

In a democracy, if an artist (visual artist in my example here)can produce at least some art that is popular (i.e. commissioned art like portraits, or commercial art, or art in currently popular styles) they can earn $$$ and keep their art skills honed.

And if they can make an adequate living by producing popular art, they should have time to paint/sculpt/design the works from their heart which may or may not have success,
….but in the long run might well be their best work.

Thus, I suspect it seems a democracy produces more bad art because ther’s lots more people doing art (good…mediocre…to bad) & getting it seen.

More persons can express themselves (but of course that does not mean all art expressions are good).

But more people can have fun trying to reach for the stars!!!


Nov 18 2003
09:27 am

The language anton uses about “finding your niche” is market language. Artists in a capitalistic society must find their market if they are to survive as professional artists. Though this is not new, the problem with that is art starts to become valued only as a product. As some artist friends were mentioning this weekend, in many other cultures, art does not need justification as a valuable product. It’s the air, water, food people breathe. It’s an integral part of the fabric of the culture. I think art is also in the fabric of our capitalistic democratic culture, but its place in our society reflects a value system tilted towards that which can find a market. But doesn’t art have value beyond just being a marketable product?