After surviving more than half a century of attacks as nonart or anti-art, various styles of modern painting continue to flourish despite their ambiguity of form and content. Yet, aside from conferring social prestige and serving as a commodity for investment, or as a decorative appendage to homes or public buildings, painting seems to have little place in our technological twentieth century except as a font of psychological discontents and fulfillments.
Living art or, more exactly, living artists who receive the payments or commissions that make the creation of art possible, cannot depend on the kind of support that formerly sustained them. For painting no longer has the same uses it had for thousands of years as an integral part of the institutions of a culture, such as clan, state or church, but is largely dependent upon institutions of its own -- the galleries and museums of the small world of the art world. Despite signs that the public's interest in art is growing -- mushrooming attendance at lectures, museums and exhibitions, large sales of art books, the entry of Sears Roebuck into the business of selling original paintings to a mass market -- publicly or privately supported museums and a few wealthy connoisseurs remain its mainstay.
Paradoxically, as its ties with the community have become more restricted, art has come to be considered more closely related to the entire quality of the life of a culture and of human beings, a symbol of the finest values the culture has to offer. So potent is the very idea of art that even detractors of modern painting usually assume that "real" art is a good in the same vague but certain way that religion is a good -- though they may not look at pictures any more frequently than they attend church. Art seems a counteragent to the machine and technology which, despite teachings like those of the Bauhaus, are still widely felt to be antagonistic to human values. In our mass society, possession