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The New Classicism and Culture

Frederick Turner

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Charles Jencks, the postmodern critic, recently began an article with the words "Beauty is back." It was a belated comment, but better late than never. There is a fresh wind sweeping through the arts. It is happening across the globe and in a hundred different corners of the arts and culture. This essay will look mainly at American and some European examples, but with the internet a significant new element has been introduced, and whereas it took the Renaissance perhaps three hundred years to diffuse throughout Europe, and the Romantic movement a hundred years to diffuse through the West, it need take only a decade or two for the whole world to wake up to the change that is happening in the cultural climate.

What makes this movement revolutionary is that it is a counter-revolution, a revolution against the ugliness and moral chaos--and wretched intellectual silliness--of the contemporary arts scene. Everybody now knows of the sawn-up human heads and elephant dung and genitalia and self-mutilation of the angry wing of contemporary art--the Mapplethorpes, the Serranos, the Damien Hirsts, the Karen Finleys, the Annie Sprinkles. We know also the blank canvases, the slinkies dropped from pianos, the "installations," the meaningless scatterings of words and boxy architectural gulags of the silly wing of it: the John Cages, the John Ashberys, the Jeff Koonses, the Mies van der Rohes, the Warhols.

But there was purpose behind the anger and the flip irony--nothing less than the undermining of western civilization. This was the party line, and artists would not get their work hung in galleries, poets would not be published, architects would not get commissions, and composers would not get performed if they violated it. The idea was to replace the support that artists got from the "complacent" middle class with state support through grants and tax-based patronage, and to that end a government arts bureaucracy would be created, imbued with avant garde ideology, to ensure the orderly flow of money. Rebellion would be institutionalized--there would be a continuous cultural revolution, that would make the world safe for all the things--sexual adventures, envy of the rich, violence, self-destructive hedonism, dishonest personal and public behavior, intellectual snobbery, and moral superiority--that one used to be ashamed of. Once the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic structures of civil society were broken down, the way would be open for the establishment of an immortal state cultural bureaucracy, with secure livings for all its members.

The one thing one was not allowed to rebel against in Modernist and Postmodernist orthodoxy was the tradition of rebellion itself, the basic rule that whatever art one makes must help to bring down the bourgeois market society that supports the arts. The artist's heroic role was to insult the poor mugsies who go to galleries and read poetry and attend concerts. And the new classicism has resolved to violate this Prime Directive.

Read this entire essay on the Townhall.com website.



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