For many centuries, the West’s artistic traditions were held among its most precious assets, for they conveyed — by melody and brushstroke — so many things otherwise inexpressible about who we are. But at the beginning of the 20th century, culture suddenly took a different turn: artists, no longer content simply to loosen the ties and top buttons of convention, stripped themselves completely, doused their clothes in petrol, and set them alight.
Swept by the modernism surging through Europe’s veins, they sought to overturn and recreate everything anew. Declaring their own traditions irrelevant, they butchered them. Schoenberg irrevocably scrambled tonality. Duchamp scribbled a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
The great oaks of Western art were burned to the ground. Today, radical artists are left scouring through the embers, still looking for last traces of life. Their primary target is now the taboo — the unspoken memory of a once-communal system of values. Tracey Emin shows us her unmade bed, strewn with used condoms and bloodied underwear. Damien Hirst suggests that the 9/11 hijackers “need congratulating”. Every last inherited standard — every last comfort — must be torn from us once and for all.
But by trying so hard to wipe its own memory, art comes perilously close to losing its sense of self altogether. Once the shocks no longer shock, what does it stand for? A few generations after the narcotic highs of modernism, the art world has left itself largely brain-dead.
This tragedy acts as a miniature simulation of just how easily — and quickly — cultures can wither away. And it ought to alarm us to see the same pattern emerging right across Western society.The preening nihilists are now, ipso-facto, the mainstream, while those of us who value Western standards and traditions have become the rebels, the new counter-culture. That idea is captured in this comment by "The Sanity Inspector":
As for art, the pants-droppers who call themselves artists nowadays ought to watch Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation", and then enlist in the military. If they want to shock me, that would do it.Me too. Barring that, they could "revert" to Islam and run off to join ISIS, an act that never fails to shock. However, that too loses its shock value once you realize that given a choice between brain-dead modernism and the manifold narcotic highs of waging ISIS-style holy war, some of the West's young'uns are bound to choose the latter.