I recently overheard a snippet on National Public Radio about the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and the painter Georgia O’Keefe. They were married in 1924 and had a tumultuous relationship when Stieglitz was considered the most important figure in the New York “art world”.
(By the way, NPR is funded to the tune of an estimated $40 million by federal taxpayers, whether you listen to it or not. And most Americans do not listen to NPR. Among conservatives, listenership is very rare.)
The essay was classic NPR fare. Stieglitz was portrayed in glowing terms, as was O’Keefe. Only problem is that Stieglitz was a photographer not an artist, and O’Keefe was a second-rate flower illustrator who also painted hackneyed scenes of the desert in New Mexico. Stieglitz is described in one biography this way: ‘More than any other person Stieglitz compelled the recognition of photography as a fine art.’
What does all this mean?
It represents the glorification of ‘modernist’ art by the political left and the substitution of ‘popular’ culture for ‘high’ culture. Because photography is a popular culture pursuit and Stigelitz was completely self-interested in his quest. Meanwhile O’Keefe was a popular-culture painter. Her work is very thin gruel. Compare it to any great European painter from Cimabue to Jacques Louis David and, well, there is no comparison…
Today, ‘modern’ art is anything any leftist wants it to be. Jump off a building and it is art if you can convince enough people that it is so. Because the first premise is that ‘modern’ art must completely disconnect itself from the historical bases of Western art – the understanding of natural form, of the human form, and of man’s highest forms, and a devotion to traditional drawing, painting and sculpture in order to understand those forms.
As a result of Stieglitz’s efforts, photography is called “art” today which it distinctly is not. Photography is a mechanical process of visual reproduction. So to elevate a photographer like Stieglitz to the most significant figure in the so-called “art world” is a farce. And to elevate a mediocre feminist like O’Keefe to the status of a great painter is the same level of nonsense.
But to be expected. Because under the ‘modernist’ paradigm of the left, art is conducted not for the difficult and challenging universality (beauty, integrity of form, historic discipline etc.) that it has sought for millennia, but as a financial and promotional sop to certain chosen groups (leftists, blacks, gays, feminists etc.), just as socialism itself never rewards achievement, but rather it rewards selected groups of people according to their political beliefs.
O’Keefe (1887-1986) was picked out of the crowd because the art world needed a feminist hero after a few thousand years of male dominance. Never mind that Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) was a very good painter long before O’Keefe. But Cassatt was too ‘European’.
And thus O’Keefe got lucky and was picked out of a sea of New York mediocrity. It could just as easily have been any other female painter. O’Keefe just happened to have been associated with the right people (Stieglitz). Which is classic socialism – know the right people and you’ve got it made. Forget about quality, integrity or scholarship.
Go look up the work of either O’Keefe or Stieglitz on the internet. Stieglitz was certainly a competent photographer, which means nothing in terms of art. O’Keefe was a lackluster painter who generalized all her forms in a cartoonish, childlike manner. So that puts them on about the same level.
But they were elevated in their time by the art gatekeepers, and once certain figures get elevated and thousands of lives and fortunes are invested in their names, there is no turning back. That is why these names are always pronounced with reverence – because so many people are invested in them.
Of course one would expect National Public Radio to run with this story just as the left in America has run with artistic mediocrity for more than a century. For instance, insipid political sophistry like Arthur Miller’s cheesy melodrama Death of a Salesman is held up as great literature, when in fact it is just cheap histrionics. Painter Willem de Kooning is ballyhooed for his distorted human figures when in fact his work represents the refinement of hum-drum caricature.
But then again, what is National Public Radio but a hum-drum radio network funded by the government and hosted by liberal commentators spouting the Democrat party line which by nature substitutes mediocrity for excellence.
Oh, no! The people at NPR are as smart as the people at The New York Times! says the liberal left.
So if they’re so smart, why must they take millions in subsidies from people who don’t even listen to them (taxpayers)?
Answer: Because they’re not smart. They have only the glib facade of smart that we are accustomed to from the left. And all you need to do is read the New York Times just once to see what a bland, predictable and doctrinaire publication it has become.
But the liberals have built up their glorious leaders. Oh, the great Stieglitz! they say. And the superhuman Arthur Miller! And the seer and sage Andy Warhol! And Picasso, who re-invented what we know as art! All great!
Indeed, re-invented. They created a new form of art made for a mass audience (again, socialism) that is beneath the quality of even Norman Rockwell whose skills were infinitely higher than those of O’Keefe or de Kooning or Miller or Stieglitz. Rockwell actually knew how to paint. Which is no small feat.
Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more conservative insights.