An Artistic Renaissance?

Article excerpt

The author observes that in recent decades, the arts and humanities have been dominated by forms known as "modernism" and "postmodemism," which have repudiated traditional artistic and literary forms. However, he nol signs of an artistic renaissance, and in particular examines the evidence presented in one journal, The American Arts Quarterly.

Key Words: The arts, humanities, American Arts Quarterly, aesthetics, beauty, artistic renaissance, modernism, blackling, James F. Cooper, Froderiick Tuner, purposes of art.

Since the 1920s, the arts and humanities have been dominated, within the various levels of the "arts establishment" in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, by "modernism" and "postmodernism," which have repudiated traditional artistic and literary forms. Outside the establishment, and despite its various gatekeepers, much excellent work has been done by artists who are oblivious to the demands of the cognoscenti. Recently, however, even the establishment itself as an intellectual bastion has come to be challenged in all fields by a "new renaissance." An example of this renaissance is the American Arts Quarterly, published for the past 16 years by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation. This article will include an examination of that journal's philosophy, the meaning of this intellectual revolution, and several of the wider social and cultural issues suggested by the "culture war's" conflict over aesthetics. It is impossible to understand the nineteenth and twentieth centuries without grasping the central role played by the "alienation of the intellectual" against the predominant "bourgeois" culture. Contempt for the mainstream society in the West has set the stage for much that has occurred in virtually all aspects of the intellectual, political, ideological and cultural history of the past two centuries.

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these many ramifications, even though they are relevant to the artistic and cultural issues we will discuss. What is most directly to the point is that during the eighty years since the end of the First World War the official artistic and literary "establishment" throughout Western civilization has been committed to a repudiation of the elements of aesthetics and literature that have charcterized the West since the Greeks. For eighty-plus years, the "cognoscenti" in those fields have been committed first to "modernism" and then to "postmodernism."

A source of frustration for the alienated intellectual elite, not just in matters of culture but of politics and ideology as well, has been that the gigantic mainstream society, though in many ways headless since it has lacked the leadership and inspiration that an appropriate artistic and literary subculture ideally must give a free society, has gone on about the business of life. Outside the domains controlled by the cognoscenti, millions of people have continued to paint to carve, to write, to compose, utterly oblivious to the fact that the art establishment looks upon their work with disdain. This doesn't mean that in many ways those millions aren't affected by the establishment's worldview; but the influence is less than is often imagined: life goes on. Taking just Western (United States) Art as an example, such as one finds it in the journal Art of the West, many fine painters in Santa Fe, Tucson, Jackson Hole, Albuquerque, Wichita, and the like, have throughout the twentieth century produced excellent work. Wilson Hurley, for one, stands among the great masters of all time, with his magnificent skyscapes. But most such work has gone unremarked within the domain of what we might call "intellectualized art." Representational painting, melodious music, humanistic sculpture - all have gone on, even though they aren't the works that win the awards and governmental commissions or receive the scribblers' acclaim.

Our emphasis here will be on art at the "higher," more selfconsciously intellectual, levels, although always with the caveat that the great corpus of human artistic endeavor deserves much more credit than this emphasis will give it. …