I entered art school in the 1980s. If someone had told me then that by 1990, the field of illustration, my undergraduate major, would be in such shambles that the Graphic Artist Guild would be running a campaign to save it, and by 2020, fine art, my graduate major, would become so marginal a topic that the vast majority of educated, cultured, news-following people would be unable to name a single living fine artist, I would have replied that illustration has been a phenomenon for centuries and fine art for millennia, and that his forecast sounded absurdly pessimistic.

But that forecast would have been right.

What happened? Advancing technology accelerated the liberal regime of tolerance, equality, rights, and markets - the founding values of America and the core principles of the West as a whole - towards grotesque conclusions. Tolerance devolved into an attitude that no culture is better than another, though the West is worse than all of them. Equality devolved into an idea that unequal outcomes should be remedied by compensatory inequality. Rights devolved from a specific relationship of God, citizen, and sovereign to a notion that every basic need is a responsibility of the collective. Markets, distorted beyond recognition as such by supposed remedies and safeguards, were applied to phenomena that barely qualify as property and became the arbiters of morality and taste.

What else happened? Modernism, which energized innovation in the arts for a century, devolved into corrupt projects that attacked artistic value itself. The default politics of the art world, progressivism, which for a long time was concerned with the well-being of laborers and the protection of any kind of minority, even minorities of conscience, is now just fascism spray-painted pink.

It’s a bad time for art, and a bad time for freedom. So the counterculture that answers all this rotten history must embrace art for art’s sake, and freedom for freedom’s sake. It must negotiate a post-liberal political world and a post-value art world. It must resist both tradition and innovation as ends in themselves, yet discern what is vital in each of them. It must defy default politics without installing another default. It must use technology without becoming used by it. It must challenge the Frankenstein’s monster that is the philanthropic-institutional complex. It must find a way to persist in an economy based on nothing.

Is this wretched? Of course. But as Henry Miller wrote, “The great sacrifice which we must all make, each and every one of us, is to burn away the dross. In other words, consign to the living flame that which is dead…. The Day of Judgment is not an invention of the religious-minded but a psychic or spiritual phenomenon obidient to the moving calendar of our own conscience.”

My muse commands it. If she commands you likewise, follow along.

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art through the lens of freedom, freedom through the lens of art


Artist, art writer, comics poet, latter scion of the modernist project, Fulbright scholar, editor of Aphorisms for Artists by Walter Darby Bannard, OG blogger, navigating the collapse of liberalism armed with only a paintbrush.