Edward Bernays

 “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

Edward L. Bernays


This operates in the Art World. We are conditioned to accept the normalization of the visual arts through deliberately designed conduits that are hardly ever of the artist’s making. How art is to be seen, is as important as the so-called art object itself. The social framework surrounding our engagement is as important as anything passing for art. Some art is marketed. Some art is community art or local entertainment or hobby. Some art is academic, to be housed in the confines of academic purpose and role. Some role of art is to remain published as journal that can substantiate or justifies the validity of settled art for the greater public so it can be seen as “real, tried and true” for the public domain.  The narratives are added and viola…  Art!… Some art is automatically museum bound, pre-purchased and created for a public role.  Or sits in storage containers outside airports, avoiding tax, to market a future transfer, languishing in very nice wooden boxes, made especially for its long, lonely wait.

But all these modes of presentation invariably necessitate a middle man to some degree, a social force that had little to do with the actual creation of the art but is invariably responsible for its presentation and to a large degree whether it is deemed “successful or good” or not.  The artist is held hostage on many levels. Artists themselves usually have the last say as to what or how their art is seen or not. Or to what it is. They pray for luck or some kind of power. They fight insanity, sometimes they lose the battle or just foist it off. Why are not artists enraged at this drubbing they take…. day in…..day out…. throughout history?

Or are artists the willing sign-makers for the social order of the dominating state in which they exist?? 

Al Jirikowic

15 thoughts on “Cultural Conspiracy

  1. The homogeneity of academia, arrived at through online networking, drives the policing of artistic thought. It would not do to disagree with one’s Dean; most artists teach, the competition is intense, so gatekeepers deny work or ideas that subvert their position and income. As a result, the New Art Examiner is a breath of fresh air.

    1. Academia has degenerated into a self-serving self-promoting mutual admiration club. Of course, there are exceptions, not many..Fear is Dominant. Adjunct Faculty are treated with little or no respect. The New Art Examiner may be a fresh air (thank you, Miklos) The New Art Examiner has made a significant contribution without the interest or support from Academia. Power plays are a universal theme, cloaked under the delusion of institutional creativity and excellence.

      1. For the average person… where is one to learn how to paint ???…academia is what the artist rebels against… so it has a reaction value of rebellion or launch point or as Derek implies, it sucks the student in or more often than not.. it neutralizes the young artist into a demoralizing attitude… The academy I propose is an anti-academy… a school that is self conscious of the pitfalls of an emerging artist… is it possible????

        1. The decision of today’s academia that Avant Garde can be taught is a delusion. Certainly, the process is a money-spinner as students pay hefty fees with the silly idea that a degree awards them the status of being an ARTIST. Craft techniques can be taught as a required methodology. Good taste can be acquired or developed as the stunning and profound exhibition of Verrochio at the National Gallery demonstrates that in the Renaissance the time of a shared symbolic order, quality objects can be manufactured.
          Art today, modern and postmodern, is a free for all, organised by celebrity culture, which means the goalposts are not fixed, public opinion cannot decide what is significant art or even art. It is significant, fun, entertaining and informative to discuss art matters; however, Hollywood and Academia are not up for the job. The Patronage system, whatever that is, is broken.

          1. Derek,

            By “Avant Garde” you must mean emerging art that is really art. Academia certainly teachs what it considers “Avant Garde”, which it understands as the art everybody who is somebody is doing, a lot of which would not strike anyone as art unless it is labelled and/or shown in a venue that appears to function as a validator of art. Contemporary art is what it actually is.

            Of course, no venue can validate art. Their attempts are empty gestures, for the most part anyway. Instead, art validates itself when it is good enough.

            The best academics work by pointing students towards the real stuff and prodding students to seek their own path into the most fertile place to pursue making their own. Sounds sort of 60s, which have been repudiated as far as the academy is concerned, but is a far better approach than simply telling students to make knock-offs.

            Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the academy, for the most part, has falsely identified Avant Garde art as the most popular contemporary art. While this is patently contradictory, once one wraps one’s mind around it, contemporary art can be taught, you just adopt up-to-date codecs and teach the students how to mimic them.

            The irony is that the artists who invented the idea of an Avant Garde did so by rebelling against the contemporary art of their own time, not mimicking it

          2. Hi John,
            We could easily slip into a discussion of the meaning and status of avant garde art. The media throws around words like confetti at a wedding. Today’s academia lives inside the time of postmodernism, The avant garde emerged in Paris in the 19th century in opposition to the Academy. Eventually, it became popular art in so doing the Academy became near obsolete. before this the Academy was a popular and significant statement of art. art. We live now in the media drenched society. Museums and Academia have a problem They have to recruit students and members. The idea of the avant garde is broken. Celebrity and Hollywood have replaced serious art discourse, Remnants survive, but mostly the values of corporate culture dominate which means getting more people through the turnstiles and recruiting more students. Serious validation is irrelevant. Therefore, art criticism has lost its purpose as the adverting specialists do a more effective job. The illusion of a dynamic art is all that survives.

          3. But John, does not the art market “validate” art?? …. And does not academia want to make their students successful …. art wise?? That is not say good art must be pricey, but if it is not… how well will it ever be known out side a community art realm? What is the critical frame work, indeed then, to “expose” good art?

          4. Al,

            Art validates itself. Eventually culture comes to realize the result of that process and organizes its general opinion of its value or lack thereof. Admittedly, it seems to take longer and longer to accomplish that task, as the last 150 years have unfolded.

            The art market does assign a dollar value to work that seems to be eternal. But nothing is forever and eventually many of its “validations” will be overturned. Sotheby’s put Duchamp’s pee pot on the cover of their final 20th century auction catalog as the most “important” work of the 20th century. Will this hold up? I don’t think so.

            There is no “critical framework” that I know of that can expose good art. In fact, most of them get in the way. Just look for yourself and the art will expose itself, if it has anything to expose.

          5. If neither the Academia nor popular (or celebrity) culture can unbiasedly define art, who then is in a position to recognize an Avant Garde movement? Who is the “public” in “public opinion”? Are you suggesting that the average individual independently educate he/herself in art history, in order to differentiate good art from bad?

          6. yes Raquel….I think any individual should always be aware of her/him self in the realm of art history, if indeed, art history and art thinking interest them. Why not make art a constant contemplation and study? And that means having ideas about art, not just a flush of feeling or being reminded of something or someone that may or may not be of some subjective import or memory that dances across your screen. I think art does something for us that is ineffable and mysterious and yet we have ideas that make the art the art. We should talk about these ideas and how they play. This is what seems to make art so human. You agree……??

          7. Raquel,

            Thanks for the questions. DIFFERENTIATION: I am definitely an odd ball. I think art history has little if anything to do with weeing art. For that reason I avoid reading labels when I am in a museum. Of course, some things are immediately recognizable because of what I know about history, but I still distance myself from everything I can, except the art itself, situating myself in a “cloud of unknowing”, a timeout from life zone, where taste and aesthetics can best thrive (I have found). I don’t “differentiate” the good from the bad, the art does that for itself. All I do is notice it. AVANT GARDE: Art history is relevant here, but on an elemental basis. If there is a huge contingent of artists employing the same codec at once (which is a matter of fact and therefore subject to art history), then they can’t legitimately be called “avant garde”, or “leading edge”. Instead they are a “herd” that is plowing and replowing the same old ground that dominates the “temper” of their own time – contemporary art, in other words. Curiously, few art historians appear to recognize this. I remain mystified why. COONSKINISM: Rosenberg used this term to cast light on what is quite specific about the New York School, namely, that there is little the various artists have in common stylistically. Like the colonists, they each sat in a place outside the regular designated battlefields and picked away at the massive British armies as the Brits marched toward what they regarded as the proper place to do battle. I certainly prize such individualism, both in the making and the appreciating of art. Art, as art, is experienced directly, without mediation from the intellect or memory of the past, in an eternity of the present. To get its gift, if it is good enough to offer a gift, you must do it for yourself. The moment you tie your taste to what someone else tells you that you should or should not like, you are losing part or all of your connection to the art itself, which eats at the”validity” of your experience.

            Like I said, I am an odd ball. I’m comfortable with antiquated terms like “beauty”. In fact, I am uncomfortable with discussions about art that do not use it or one of its equivalents. Without beauty having its place, it would be like discussing food and deliberately leaving out any reference to its flavor.

            But that discomfort seldom prevents me from enjoying the argument itself. It is one of the best ways to grow.

          8. So Raquel… I congratulate John for his announced part in “his sense of his art history”… this is what an an ongoing sense of personal art life means. I quite admire his own sense of museum going, declaring his aesthetic space of “cloud of unknowing” which I share in my own way. It is as if he knows what he responds to for his own instincts, that he protects, and does not have to tell about and that is his space that he “trusts”. This sort of aesthetic would not have developed if it had not been honed out over time and study and reflection and an uncertain aspect of a welcome unknown factor. Of course that factor looms about John’s experience and mind which will not be identified in any identifiable manner but this factor of the unknown keeps John interested in his life in art. I would say it his friendly “shadow” of appreciation but John will keep his company of art in his “way”…. and he will not tell you what to like. And I agree that a major failing of our sensibilities these days often operates with a unwelcome [in my mind] sacrifice of “beauty”….. where did it go?????????

  2. Hi Al,
    The fact that one decides to become an artist and not a plumber, a gardener, a lawyer or a doctor for example, is due to the fact that most artists don’t fit, nor do they accept, the pre-formed mold that society expects of them. They are a less manipulative category of individuals, even though many do sell out in order to survive. Inside they remain independent creatures, somewhat uncomfortable for society to manage and live with. I disagree with you on your saying that artists have always accepted this “drubbing”, as you call it. They always remain different from your local pharmacist, newsagent, restaurant manager, and so on. Vive la différence!

    1. When artists sell out they are no longer independent creatures and have lost authenticity. Identity politics is the great issue of today. Race and gender have entered into the mainstream discussion with some urgency, art has not. I do not see much comfort in the fact that artists are oddballs and natural eccentrics.

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