Art in the Age of Cynical Illusions

For over a century art has been mired in a state of perpetual self-absorbance, abandoning en mass the traditional cannons of the beautiful and the sublime, submerging itself in a miasma of ithyphallic ideals. The rejection of arts divine qualities as well as suspending the artist’s duties of enshrining human feelings and experiences at the heart of our culture has created a distorted looking glass,  in which we see nothing save the most basterdized and narcissistic elements of human nature.

It is of no surprise that some of the most venerated artists of our age are nothing more than acerebral marionettes helplessly lost in the cynical illusions foisted upon them by their post-modernist forebears, whose relentless assault on a confident commitment to beauty was so strong. Today, through a mixture of insecurity and cultural degeneracy, the artist is an ignominious and lucripetous character who projects his own perversions, mental abnormalities and loathing for humanity into the cultural sphere in the hope of fame and other earthly delights. Our artistic institutions have nurtured these creatures, teaching several generations of artists that art can have no validity if it does not shock or drown itself in kitsch sarcasm and if the artists are not, in some way, mentally disturbed. If an artist and his work do not fit these criteria, then the promise of monetary patronage from whom ever dilettante or institution and the seal of approval from the critics are taken away.

The pernicious influence, with which the cultural vanguard has over the on going development of art as a form and as a concept, is the prime reason why to continue blaming the post-modernists of the early 20th century is futile, we are now all well aware that it was they who seeded these destructive ideas in arts consciousness. However, it is the professors, teachers and critics alike who gave intellectual credence to the proposition that ‘all art is subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and moreover beauty holds no virtue in our utilitarian world; which like the most vicious of spores spread so far and wide and with such rapidity, that it became the majority viewpoint. So, how can a young artist ever hope to create something of beauty when they are taught that beauty is just an antiquated concept, which only stifles true creativity?

Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet, oil on canvas (1894)

Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet, oil on canvas (1894)

It is an on going battle not helped by the fact that throughout the length and breadth of Britain, the contemporary art galleries which act as the creative focal points of our towns and cities, are yet another wing of the intelligentsia’s army, who continue to disseminate these ideologies on to an impressionable public. Temples dedicated to belluine idols of gratuity that allow the destroyers of beauty to hide behind the facade of respectability.

Since the birth of Western philosophy in ancient Greece, beauty proved to be a source of immense fascination to many of the great thinkers, from Aristotle to Plato. Some came to the conclusion that beauty was a manifestation of the divine, a view that the Christian Church later adopted, and which culminated in the Renaissance, others like Pythagoras and Euclid for example, looked at beauty from a more secular perspective, attributing scientific and psychological reasons why a pursuit of beauty was only to be encouraged. It was Pythagoras who put forward the theory of the Golden Ratio, describing it as the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency’ which to many was the perfect summation of beauty, something uncorrupted, pure and powerful, that can restore emotional equilibrium to the soul.

During the 18th century, when the spark of the Enlightenment ignited new ideas in Western Europe once again, beauty became a source of fascination. Many philosophers such as Immanuel Kant confirmed the importance of beauty as one of the great universal truths, reaffirming the theories put forward to us by the ancient philosophers, concluding that their message was one of the most important elements in the sphere of Enlightened thought.

The Rape of Persephone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1622)

The Rape of Persephone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1622)

However, skip ahead to today and philosophers have completely done away with the Golden Ratio and derided every aspect of the beautiful aesthetic down to its very foundation, adopting in its place bohemian notions of creative egalitarianism and encouraging a culture of anti-perfectionism. So preoccupied are they that art must satisfy our immediate, superficial appetites that even the most potent purveyors of despondency are automatically rocketed into the stratosphere of artistic genius. The “graffiti artist” Banksy has come to exemplify this repugnant system of thought, a man who has no knowledge or respect for the past, is intellectually vacant, seeks attention for the sake of attention, and is completely submerged in self-indulgence; to the intelligentsia he is seen as the Messiah of British art in the 21st century, the epitome of creativity in our age of diminished expectations, who must be praised and encouraged at every opportunity.

The guardians of contemporary culture can not relinquish these doctrines, that promote the language of art in its most weak and limited form, that denies us as human beings the very things we need most in life, namely a sense of order, quality and symmetry. It would seem that they are just as much the puppets of their forebears as the artists themselves, with the concept of artistic harmony and all its related attributes being so watered down that they have become anomalies, fit only for scorn and ridicule. The intelligentsia have become slaves to the addiction of instantaneous pleasure and vicarious thrills, succumbing to what can only be described as a complete mental paralysis, where reason and rationality have become jaded; one only has to see the intelligentsia attempt to defend the post-modernist philosophy to realise this, for at no point do they use substance in their arguments, they instead engage in jargonised ring fencing in a vein attempt to justify their actions, but no attempt can be made to justify the abandonment of beauty and the celebration of ugliness. As the Historian Kenneth Clark once said “We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.”

If, as a society, we do genuinely want to reinitiate the pursuit of the beautiful and the sublime, we must move our critical judgement away from the artist and on to the intelligentsia, dissect what art really means to us as a culture and finally come to understand what so many contemporary dissenters like Alexander Stoddart, Roger Scruton and Robert Hughes et al have put forward to us, that art is not subjective, beauty is an objective principle that as Professor Scruton says ‘leads us on a path to home’.