Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why artists should be conservative

Since the end of WWII artists have been overwhelmingly liberal modernists. Where has this got them?

They have become irrelevant. As a reward for their role in transgressing the traditional order, artists have been given a few state grants and then ignored.

A liberal modernist society doesn't need artists. It's run by a managerial class on a technocratic basis. There simply isn't an important social function in such a system for art.

Serious artists, therefore, have been shunted out of the public square. How many people today know or care about an important contemporary poet or painter or playwright or composer?

It wasn't always so. Traditional societies ultimately found a basis for order on the transcendent (on the recognition of a "good" existing beyond our own immediate individual preferences or desires). It wasn't functionaries who were best able to express and communicate the transcendent to the public. This was a role for high art, a role which gave artists an important place within society and culture.

Consider the case of poetry. Wordsworth had a tremendous influence in the early 1800s. If you read his most famous poems, they express the transcendent in Wordsworth's response to nature. By the 1920s and 30s, you get poets like E.E. Cummings, who is a modernist in some regards, but who still expresses the transcendent in his love poetry.

And today? In Australia the only really well-known poet (known to the general public) is Les Murray, and it's probably no coincidence that he is unusually anti-modernist in his world view.

People once cared about art because they cared about the "transcendent moment" that artists might communicate in their work. They also cared about art because art had a role in sustaining a civilisation: in giving finer expression to what was both good and necessary to the existence of a people and culture.

Artists might, for instance, represent to the public a higher ideal of fatherhood, or of national feeling, or of the masculine virtues, or of romantic love.

What is there for artists to do in alliance with liberal modernism? For a while, they could assist modernists in trashing the remnants of a traditional culture. There was a moment, too, when they tried to align art with the goals of technocratic efficiency (think of the principle of the architect Le Corbusier that a house is a "machine for living in").

But none of this has a future. Eventually there is no more tradition to set yourself against, and there is no reason for an art based on efficient, abstract function to resonate with the public (most people do their best to ignore it).

It's difficult to see how the situation for artists can improve; the further we descend into liberal modernism the more irrelevant that artists become to the processes of society.

So let me repeat: it makes sense for artists to decouple themselves from the forces of liberal modernism, as it is through these very forces that they are being relegated to insignificance. The hope for artists is that liberal modernity will falter and that this will allow a reassertion of the traditional within Western culture.


  1. I want to agree with what you say, and certainly in the visual arts this is true. I don't know of any great painters, and although architects are well known, I don't think their work can inspire as much as an old Church for example. But what about music. I can throw out names for you throughout the decades: The Clash, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Dylan etc. They all seem to be able to capture their audience, and their music does not necessarily attempt to capture the "transcendant" or the traditional aspects of culture. But I could be wrong.

  2. Does this story tie in with 'scandalous art'?
    It's about a polymer-preserved kidney stolen from an art exhibit involving human cadavers.
    To me it shows the depraved state of 'art' today. It's all about the grotesque, the shocking, the jarring, and not about beauty and order as art once was.
    As for 'valamparampil's examples of musical groups. Most of those listed are musicians whose music is a vehicle for their revolutionary ideas, socially or politically. Bob Dylan, I suppose, used a more traditional vehicle at first, doing 'folk' music in the style of Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston, but he too seemed to be more interested in making a statement than in art for its own sake; I could be wrong, he has made a point of being enigmatic.

  3. Good post, reflecting closely my own thoughts on the subject.

    In a more traditional culture, an artist indeed had an exemplary role to play, and through his art gave new form and vitality to the culture and society. This of course is not really possible in a market-driven functional "culture" and because of this, art has become meaningless, largely seen as only a form of entertainment, like movies or music. From this follows that alienated, atomized individuals, like many nihilistic artists today, plunge ever deeper into the meaningless, numbing subjectivity, away from the traditional patterns that in a more organic cultures used to aid them to channel their potential more constructively.

    But however hopeless this situation seems to be, I believe the pendulum will eventually start to swing into another direction again. Any artist, who is today brave and strongwilled enough to reject the dictates of modernity's (dys)functional pseudo-culture, and instead, affirm and work towards the rebirth of the more traditional art, is laying the foundations for the future.

  4. I think that a lot of conservatives have been "turned off" by today's "art" and this as made the situation worst.

    I will add that artists tend to use the right side of their brain which is creative but childish.

  5. I can throw out names for you throughout the decades: The Clash, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Dylan etc. They all seem to be able to capture their audience, and their music does not necessarily attempt to capture the "transcendant" or the traditional aspects of culture.

    We can trace that back to the start of mass distributed music - the commercial transition from the first big selling artist, the operatic and expensive to produce Mario Lanza, to his RCA stable mate, Elvis Presley.

    Record companies found - through Elvis - that combining emotional chordal progressions with an appeal to juvenile vanity was a cheap and easy winning formula, especially in the predominantly young population of the USA.

    It’s the same exact formula record companies use to this day.

    In the absence of a real, structured culture, three generations of the West have since been bombarded with this manufactured identity of ‘rebellion’ and decadence.

    Whether it be Britney Spears or Rage Against The Machine, it’s all from the same blueprint. And most people, once they grow up a bit, are embarrassed of what they were ‘taught’ to like.

  6. I’ll add that the only longevity you find in modern music, is when an artist uses very traditional styles and song structures.

    Bob Dylan’s long term success has everything to do with the way he mimics 19th century British folk song.

    Even his counter culture lyrics appeal, at root, to the ‘community feeling’ that came from ethnic folk music.

  7. Valamparampil, thanks for the comment. In regards to music, notice how the Western classical music tradition, one of the greatest of the world's artistic traditions, has just about died out since WWII (in the sense of a) the production of new masterpieces and b) its place within modern culture).

    For examples of the transcendent within the classical music tradition, think of a piece like Vaughan William's The Lark Ascending, which finely expresses English national feeling.

    It's true that various forms of popular music have held their ground.

    Popular culture, though, has more a function of entertainment and this is why it's true of pop artists that "their music does not necessarily attempt to capture the 'transcendent' or the traditional aspects of culture" as you put it.

  8. I have also notice many times how modern liberal pop/rock musicians are quick to point out that their music, lyrics, and everything is for entertainment and "not to be taken seriously". Any musician who would dare to state that his music indeed "attempts to capture the transcendent", would be negatively viewed to be a "religious person", "too serious", and thus somehow flawed, according to atheistic liberal principles.

    On the other hand, those who want to be seen as "serious" (yet liberal and thus "good") are always trying to make themselves a name as tireless and passionate benefactors, who wish to "save the Third World" or "bring the world peace".

  9. I just surfed in here on a blog search. Interesting take.

    I would think one of the reasons why poetry (my particular province) is at a low ebb is precisely because there is a lack of "marketing" among artists.

    In the Victorian age, poets would have two "repertoires", if you would. The "personal stuff"-- which is the stuff where they wanted to treat of their personal preoccupations; and the "popular" stuff, which was essentially marketed for mass appeal.

    Poets have completely abandoned the second. There is no attempt to appeal to the people.

    And plus, poetry lacks a "star" system like the other arts have. It's schlocky, superficial, and so forth, but it succeeds in keeping particular arts alive.

    Popular music sustains the high-brow stuff; Hollywood does the same for the serious filmmaking. Poetry does not have that same mass-marketed system.

    It's not like there isn't a desire. Just think of all the fourteen-year-old girls in the world who like poetry. They just don't have access to it in a way that appeals to them.

    But I like your idea that a more conservative society would be more artistic. I had never thought of it that way.

  10. Public Art, Public Museums, Public Libraries, Public Education, Public Transportation - - a government that cares about Public Art is a Liberal one.

  11. We are out there. It is a tough world for Conservatives in the arts for two reasons: 1. Liberals are in the majority and they hate us, 2. Conservatives think we are pulling something over on them.
    Please forgive me for posting links, but I thought you might like to know what I am up to. I am a political artist in Atlanta, Georgia; US. My views are Objectivist/Libertarian and my work is not well received by the art community. I persevere however, and have teamed up with Modern Conservative to launch a Conservative art movement. It's home is at, and I have written a manifesto and handbook. Currently, I am seeking Conservative artists to join up, feature their work, recruit more members and make it a national movement. If you know anyone, anywhere in the world who qualifies, please pass the links.
    My work can be viewed at Thank you for your time and I would love to hear what you think.
    I believe that our culture is directly influenced by all forms of art, and will not rise from its current descent into squalor until we present an alternative that the average person can relate to and appreciate aesthetically.

  12. There is nothing wrong with modern / contemporary art. The problem is that there is an extreme left bias within professional art world. For example, taxpayer dollars fund museum art exhibits and other gallery spaces, but the curators who put those exhibits together often have a far left bent.

    I think the solution would be for taxpayers,who want to see more than far left viewpoints featured in public funded exhibits, to write their representatives demanding that public funded venues have their funds reduced or pulled if they do not have exhibits that convey several viewpoints.

    There are great artists living today who create pro life art and who explore themes of marriage between man and woman, but you won't see those artists being exhibits in mainstream galleries or in public funded spaces because of the left bias that exists.

  13. There are many interesting points of view here and I think we are all on the right path to addressing the issue of art and culture. This is not just an issue of music, poetry, painting or any other genre. Our success depends on our ability to come together to address the issue of one-sidedness in the arts. The challenge is not finding people to support our point of view. It is getting them to act on their desire to promote Conservativism through the arts. Take Glenn Beck for example. He complains periodically about art, offers to put on a show, then does nothing. I know several people who submitted Conservative political art to him and not one of us got a response. The biggest obstacle we have is lack of support and follow through from our own community.

  14. Getting support from our community won't matter much if we can't get big supporters. No one cares if a bunch of conservative minded artists put on an exhibit... but they do care if if a high profile conservative promotes the exhibit in some manner. That is how you make the news and that is how you give teeth to an art movement.

    There are only a few openly conservative minded professionals in the mainstream art world. The art critic Brian Sherwin is one of them. I'd say contact people like him to get the ball rolling.

    Another person of interest is Andrew Breitbart. He has shown interest in de-polarizing the art world. We have to contact people like this and make them know that it is worth pressing on.

    Conservative visual art is not just art from centuries back, it is not just Old Master paintings... there are living artists exploring conservative themes in contemporary works of art. I think the problem with Beck is that he views conservatism in art as being masterful painting created before modernism.

  15. You are correct on all points. That is why I have been working so hard to get conservative artists organized. I have found that simply trying to contact the people who can help is not enough. They get too many emails to notice.
    I have put together a booklet representing my group of art friends from across America and will be going to CPAC to promote our efforts in person. I find the personal connection really makes a difference.
    If you are interested in seeing the book and the artwork, it is available online at:
    There are many misconceptions we must overcome, but perseverance will pay off. I appreciate your advice and hope you will keep track of our progress.