The inevitable decline of official institutions that have to do with the arts. Based on the belief of the immutable laws of art. Any institution that sets itself up as the guardian of such laws is, by that very fact, a thing of the past. There is still a tyranny of taste, but the tyrants concerned are dealers and critics and collectors. To be a member of the Royal Academy was once a great advantage, both financially, socially and professionally. British painters only got around to forming their own Academy in 1768, but not surprising since alongside the genius of a Holbein, Van Dyck, or a Rubens, the British artists were thoroughly outclassed.
By the middle of the eighteenth-century there were artists like Reynolds, Hogarth,Gainsborough and Richard Wilson who could compare with the best of their contemporaries on the Continent, which led ultimately to the formation of the Royal Academy of Arts. There was a public that would pay to see new pictures, enhanced by the gifts of Joshua Reynolds as both catalyst and manipulator. No man who was not himself remarkable could have been the close friend of Johnson, Burke, Goldsmith and Boswell.
Reynolds was forty-five when the R.A. came into being, and he remained its president until his death twenty-four years later. He, more than any other man, gave the institution its tone. That tone was not to everyone’s taste. It exasperated those who felt that it is no part of an artist’s business to treat the world of wealth and fashion on its own terms. To this day, we can see the corrupting influence of high society on artists who allow themselves to be annexed by it. To live like a pig and paint like Titian or to live like Titian and paint like a pig?
Not surprisingly, it was William Blake who put forth the extreme anti-Reynolds case. As a student of the R.A. schools in 1778 he had not been happy, and throughout his life he felt that, as he wrote in the margins of Reynold’s “Works” : This Man Was Hired to Depress Art. What was important in England, he wrote, ” is not whether a man has talents & genius, but whether he is PAssive and Polite & a Virtuous Ass & Obedient to Nobleman’s Opinions in Art & Science.” Observe the imposing nobodies in the market today, and remark on the business/patron/corporate to artist relation in action, and you will agree that corporate money values have subsumed art, and there is a great deal of truth in what Blake said.
Reynolds, however, believed that the artist was not a gypsy or an itinerant comedian, to come begging at back doors for the chance of showing his skill, but a professional gentleman who should be able to treat with the great figures of this world as prince with prince. For this he needed security and an imposing establishment; but he also needed the kind of personal distinction which not many artists of that day could claim. Reynolds was just the man. For it was to Reynolds that the R.A. owed not only its high place in English society but the easy and expansive tone of its entertainments.
Donald Kuspit: ( see link at end) : I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of th
ntemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder’s monkeys of money. They exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money — the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself — not the value and staying power of art.
Money supposedly has no value in itself, that is, it is valuable for what one can exchange it for, but I will suggest the surge of art buying is money’s parthenogenetic way of saying that it is valuable in itself, indeed, value distilled to purity, the quintessence of value in capitalist society.
Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art’s spiritual value and its commercial value. He warned against the nihilistic effect of collapsing their difference. I will argue that today, in the public mind, and perhaps in the unconscious of many artists, there is no difference. The commercial value of art has usurped its spiritual value, indeed, seems to determine it. Art’s esthetic, cognitive, emotional and moral value — its value for the dialectical varieties of critical consciousness — has been subsumed by the value of money.
Art has never been independent of money, but now it has become a dependency of money. Consciousness of money is all-pervasive. It informs art — virtually everything in capitalist society — the way Absolute Spirit once did, as Hegel thought. Money has always invested in art, as though admiring, even worshipping, what it respected as its superior — the true treasure of civilization — but today money’s hyper-investment in art, implicitly an attempt to overwhelm it, to force it to surrender its supposedly higher values, strongly suggests that money regards itself as superior to art….
…Art’s willingness, even eagerness to be absorbed by money — to estheticize money, as it were — suggests that art, like every other enterprise, from the cultural to the technological (and culture has become an extension and even mode of technological practice in many quarters) is a way of making and worshipping money — a way of affirming capitalism. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit3-6-07.asp