[This article appeared in The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Summer 1999, pp. 225-241. The editor there made certain revisions that, though well-intended, had the effect of garbling the first part of the discussion. The revisions also removed some important discussion of the “philosophy of art” at the end of the piece. What appears here is the article as Professor Murphey initially wrote it, and as he prefers that it go into his permanent collection of work.]
The American Arts Quarterly:
At the Eye of the Artistic "New Renaissance"
Dwight D. Murphey
Wichita State University
Since the 1920s, the arts and humanities have been dominated, within the various levels of the "arts establishment" in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, by "modernism" and "postmodernism," which have repudiated traditional artistic and literary forms. Outside the establishment, and despite its various gatekeepers, much excellent work has been done by artists who are oblivious to the demands of the cognoscenti. Recently, however, even the establishment itself as an intellectual bastion has come to be challenged in all fields by a "new renaissance." At the center of that renaissance is the American Arts Quarterly, published for the past 16 years by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation. This article will examine that journal's philosophy, the meaning of its intellectual revolution, and several of the wider social and cultural issues suggested by the "culture war's" conflict over aesthetics.
Key Words: The arts, humanities, American Arts Quarterly, aesthetics, beauty, new artistic renaissance, modernism, postmodernism, blacklisting, James F. Cooper, Frederick Turner, purposes of art.
It is impossible to understand the nineteenth and twentieth centuries without grasping the central role played by the "alienation of the intellectual" against the predominant "bourgeois" culture. Hatred toward the mainstream society in the West has set the stage for much that has occurred in virtually all aspects of the intellectual, political, ideological and cultural history of the past two centuries.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these many ramifications, even though they are relevant to the artistic and cultural issues we will discuss. What is most directly to the point is that during the eighty years since the end of the First World War the official artistic and literary "establishment" throughout Western civilization has been committed to a repudiation of the elements of aesthetics and literature that have characterized the West since the Greeks. For eighty-plus years, the "cognoscenti" in those fields have been committed first to "modernism" and then to "postmodernism."
A source of frustration for the alienated intellectual elite, not just in matters of culture but of politics and ideology as well, has been that the gigantic mainstream society, though in many ways headless since it has lacked the leadership and inspiration that an appropriate artistic and literary subculture ideally must give a free society, has gone on about the business of life. Outside the domains controlled by the cognoscenti, millions of people have continued to paint, to carve, to write, to compose, utterly oblivious to the fact that the art establishment looks upon their work with disdain. This doesn't mean that in many ways those millions aren't affected by the establishment's worldview; but the influence is less than is often imagined: life goes on. Taking just Western (United States) Art as an example, such as one finds it in the journal Art of the West, many fine painters in Santa Fe, Tucson, Jackson Hole, Albuquerque, Wichita, and the like, have throughout the twentieth century produced excellent work. Wilson Hurley, for one, stands among the great masters of all time, with his magnificent skyscapes. But most such work has gone unremarked within the domain of what we might call "intellectualized art." Representational painting, melodious music, humanistic sculpture - all have gone on, even though they aren't the works that win the awards and governmental commissions or receive the scribblers' acclaim.
Our emphasis here will be on art at the "higher," more self-consciously intellectual, levels, although always with the caveat that the great corpus of human artistic endeavor deserves much more credit than this emphasis will give it. A point to note is that even at this more rarefied level there have always been many individuals who have stood out against the conformist pressures of an establishment.
What we see in recent years, however, is that such people have started to become organized, to become conscious of the conflict between their values and those of the official cognoscenti, so that a self-conscious movement toward a "new renaissance" has come into being. What is occurring is not a banal imitation of aesthetic forms from the past, but an eagerness to apply those forms to the world as it is and will be.
Perhaps most illustrative of this new renaissance is the American Arts Quarterly, now in its sixteenth year, published by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation located at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. On one dimension, the AAQ can be appreciated for its beautiful reproductions and informative essays about artists, schools of art, galleries, exhibitions, collections and books. It goes beyond that, however, with an on-going discussion of the philosophy of art and of culture. This makes it one of the more thoughtful and intellectually provocative journals published in the United States. This is especially so because the AAQ reaches back to the past and forward to the future with genuine originality; it is the mouthpiece for no orthodoxy.
The "new renaissance" has other voices, too, since movements are springing up in all contexts. The AAQ refers to "the new California figurative realists,...the poets of the expansive poetry movement, the New Formalists and Narrativists, the new tonalists and modalists in music." (1) James F. Cooper, the editor and publisher, speaks of "the Communitarian Movement, Romantic Realism in the arts, the New Classicism in architecture, the New Narrative in poetry." (2)
In 1997 a professor at the New School for Social Research, classical composer Stefania de Kenessey, established the "Derriere Guard," which holds an annual festival, for the purpose of fusing past and present, Western and Eastern, tradition and innovation. She is said to see this as a "third side in the American culture wars," adopting neither "right-wing classicism" nor "left-wing avant-gardism." (3)
. In 1998 the society "Classical America" marked its thirtieth anniversary; it was founded "to promote the classical tradition in architecture, painting and sculpture." (4)
. The AAQ reports a religious renaissance also is underway and finding expression in the arts. (5)
.A non-profit foundation that appears very much attuned to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, exalting the rational and heroic, is called ART ("American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century"). It is "dedicated to a rebirth of beauty and life-affirming values in all of the fine arts." More specifically, this will be through "representationalism in painting and sculpture; melody and harmony in music; grace in dance; structure, coherence and meaning in drama, poetry and literature - and the expression of beauty in all." (6) ART's quarterly, Art Ideas, began publication with its Spring 1994 issue.
. The American Society of Classical Realism, located in Minneapolis, publishes the Classical Realism Journal, which its masthead says is "dedicated to a renewal in the visual arts." (7)
. In 1992 Hillsdale College in Michigan opened its 47,000 square feet Sage Center for the Arts, about which it is said "we offer our students traditional art courses in the classical and realist mode, with an emphasis on life drawing, drawing from the cast, mastery of line, light and shade, proportion." (8)
No doubt there are others, and an injustice is committed by mentioning just certain ones.
After listing a number of these movements, Frederick Turner (who will be discussed for his own sake later) said that their effect on the existing establishment is that "they are trashing everything held dear by the high priests of both modernism and postmodernism." (9) They stand in an adversarial relation to the twentieth century literary and artistic orthodoxy.
Although the writers for AAQ are by no means opposed to all abstract painting, praising, for example, "the beautiful abstract works by Kandinsky and Paul Klee," (10) they are critical of abstractionism's having "purposefully removed the work of art from any connections to the external world, to nature, to history, to human life," (11) concomitantly consigning representational art to disrepute.
Modernism came upon the scene as early as 1860, although it didn't become the orthodoxy until the 1920s, and held sway during the twentieth century until approximately 1960. (12) Painter James McElhinney says "modernism gave us form in the absence of content." (13) For the artists of the "new renaissance," modernism's significance is most to be found in its negative aspect: the forsaking of traditional aesthetic values and criteria. Thomas Gordon Smith writes that "we are emerging from an eighty-year period that has been characterized by the denigration of the value of traditional form and connotation in all facets of our lives, including architecture. The men who invented modernism in the 1920s rejected traditional forms as stuffy, bourgeois, and politically incorrect... It has become the rigid orthodoxy of the artistic establishment." (14)
Postmodernism has prevailed within the intellectual elite since the 1960s, reflecting the counterculture that reached its peak in that decade and the 1970s and that has left major residuals that are very much a part of American culture to this day. The writers of the AAQ tend to relate it most directly to the writings of the "poststructuralist" philosophers Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, who introduced a "radical relativism" that was useful "largely because it can be used to attack and 'deconstruct' the status quo." The literary canon and traditional criteria are seen by the postmodernists as establishment devices of white males.
It isn't an error to focus on Derrida, Foucault and deconstructionism, since their influence has been vastly important within the postmodernist elite. It is surprising, however, to find little recognition within the pages of AAQ of a longer-term perspective - i.e., awareness of the fact that the members of the alienated intellectual subculture have in effect been "standing outside the main culture," picking apart everything about it, since as long ago as Rousseau in the early eighteenth century. What we are seeing is the accretion of 250 years of intellectual-literary-artistic alienation. Indeed, everything we see as part of the ideologized, nihilistic postmodernist movement, which is today's orthodoxy, reached a peak in the Dadaist movement immediately after World War I. There, art became a weapon against art itself and against Western civilization as a whole. An interesting thing about Dadaism is that it adopted the style of playfulness, farce and ridicule that later became so potent a weapon in the hands of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in the New Left. That same spirit pervades postmodernism. In his book Dada, Kenneth Coutts-Smith said that "the most obvious aspect of Dada... was a savage anarchism, a deliberate programme designed to undermine the moral and social assumptions of existing middle class society." Among many examples, he cited a 1920 art exhibit in which patrons entered through a public lavatory and were then confronted "by a young girl dressed as for her first communion who suddenly began to recite obscene verses." (15)
Postmodernism, Gene Edward Veath, Jr., says, differs from modernism in that it returns art to a representation of the world. It "attempts to restore art to its external references... Representational art is back, but it tends to be critical rather than celebratory, stressing bleak and shocking images rather than the beauty of nature or intimations of divine order... Their art will tend to be political rather than moral or philosophical... One artist displays his bowel movements. Instead of making art that is beautiful and pleasing, some artists experiment with art that is purposefully ugly and infuriating." (16) One work in a New York exhibit consists of "human feces on white cube." (17) The rules for postmodernism, Turner says, have been "Was it shocking? Did it break the conventions of representation? Was it difficult to recognize or understand? Was it rather ugly and unpleasant to look at?... If so, then it was good." (18)
Turner's explanation allows us to understand what I observed on a recent trip to Telluride in southwestern Colorado. Telluride is an old mining town, now made chic, nestled in a bowl formed by majestic mountains that tower for thousands of feet above it with pine and aspen-covered slopes. Just down the road at the end of the box canyon, Bridal Veil Falls cascades for hundreds of feet. Looking far up, one sees as tiny specks the signs of heroic human endeavor a century ago in the mine tailings from diggings on steep slopes far above timberline. No place was ever better formed to inspire exalted art. On Main Street, there is a small sign saying "Art School," with an arrow pointing down a side street. I walked the short block to the school with excitement, only to find a courtyard filled with the most grotesque statuary. The students and teachers at that school were choosing not to make the surrounding beauty their subject. Even in that setting, conformity to the de rigueur alienation of the twentieth century artistic and literary elite held firm. My main reaction was boredom, and I didn't bother to go inside.
Contrast: What the American Arts Quarterly Values
The writers for the AAQ, most of whom are artists themselves, are essentially open to all forms of expressiveness. We have seen that there is no automatic rejection of abstractionism (an American abstractionist the editor especially likes is Jackson Pollock (19)). They are not even opposed to all expressions of alienation and angst; Andrew Wyeth is praised as "one of America's great modernists," with a "haunting existential vision... pitiless landscapes... sensitivity to the alienation of twentieth-century American life." (20) Stephen May says about Edward Hopper, painter of Nighthawks and Early Sunday Morning, that he was "the preeminent chronicler of the alienation, isolation and longing of mid-century America by raising to epic timelessness such seemingly prosaic subjects as people in gas stations, restaurants, hotels and apartments." (21) Despite observing that modernism and postmodernism have invoked "atonality in music, abstraction in painting and sculpture, the plotless novel, the meterless and unrhymed poem, the theater of cruelty, and Bauhaus architecture," Frederick Turner is able to say "I am not denying that good art was made in these forms...." (22)
But the AAQ much prefers an expressive affirmation of life and nature. As we scan its pages, here are some of the things its writers praise about a wide variety of works: "Primal ferocity, spirituality and beauty"... "mythology, primal imagery"... "energy, light"... "remarkable control"... "serene and tender"... "elegance, grace and technical perfection"... "tender, languid images"... "monumental dignity and rich orchestration of color"... "staunch realism and strong play of light and shade"... "dramatic composition"... "superb narrative skills"... "painstaking draftsmanship"... "deft spatial relationships"... "delicacy of contrasts." Far from favoring only what is purely classical, Turner, for example, relishes democratic art as found in jazz, some television, science fiction and Broadway musicals, provided these things contain "quality and enduring relevance." (23)
The attention given to specific artists and works of art is raised in many articles to a more systematic discussion of aesthetics. "What makes great art?" is a common theme. Value is given to the "normal critical criteria," which are seen to reflect the artistic heritage of Western civilization. (24) Contrary to the postmodernist view, "beauty" is highly prized. Since most readers of this article won't have the time to read the back issues of the AAQ, it is worthwhile to share some of the insights here:
.To James Reid, "beauty is the splendor of being." (25)
.To Rod Miller, "the classical vision of beauty is connected with the classical vision of reality. Beauty was pursued as the manifestation of truth and goodness. That which was most fully true and good was considered more real, more beautiful, than that which was not... The Greeks sought to construct rational and orderly buildings." Miller speaks of Thomas Jefferson's use of the "three Vitruvian ideals: utilitas, firmitas, and venustas (utility, strength, and beauty)." (26) This reference to the Vitruvian ideals is explained by Thomas Gordon Smith when he refers to "the Roman architect Vitruvius" and says that "his Ten Books on Architecture culls and synthesizes five hundred years of Greek architectural ideas. The classical language of architecture was initiated in Greece 2,500 years ago." (27)
. Stephen Gjertson explains that "of the many treatises on beauty, one of the most lucid and thorough is by American sculptor F. W. Ruckstill. In his book Great Works of Art and What Makes Them Great, Ruckstill states that 'Melody is the fundamental essence of all beauty... Patterns of lines, tones and colors produce melody. Melody works together with harmony. Harmony is variety in unity with dominance." Gjertson adds that "for the artist, there are three additional considerations. First, there is beauty of workmanship, technical proficiency... Second, there is integrity. A work of art must be complete... Third, there is clarity. To be beautiful, what is seen must be comprehended without difficulty or confusion... Finally... is the message or subject of a work of art. Fine conceptions express enduring truths, either about the visible world or the human condition." (28)
. In an article entitled "What Makes Art Great," Burton Silverman speaks of "a painting that aims toward that elusive goal of greatness, one that's illuminated by a passion of some kind." He says "it's the capacity to heighten our sensitivity to experience that gives art its specialness." This involves "the artist's personal, human vision... a vision that's selective, that has priorities, and that brings ambiguity and uncertainty into the visual equation." (29)
The Variety of Aesthetic Theory within the American Arts Quarterly
While the AAQ is clearly opposed to art-as-negation and favors Western civilization's traditional criteria, the quarterly's pages give voice to the broad range of philosophical perspectives that exist side-by-side among American opponents of the Left. It has no fixed philosophy as among them.
Often, one reads Burkean conservative insights. Turner reminds us of the Augustinian "doctrine of human depravity" (embraced by Burkeans such as the late Russell Kirk) when he opines, as part of an explanation of laughter, that virtually everything about the human condition is "shameful": "We are ashamed about our sexuality, about how we came into the world, about how we did not at one time exist, either as a species or individually... We are ashamed of our bodies, which display an impure and inextricable mixture... We are ashamed about eating, because whatever we eat, we are assuming... that we must be more valuable than what we destroy with our teeth and digestive juices... We are ashamed about our economic system...." (30) Alexander Argyros expresses a Burkean orientation, such as Richard Weaver's view that things have been going awry since the fourteenth century, when he speaks of "the four-hundred-year schism between science and the humanities." (31) James Cooper takes a similar perspective when he says that "modernity - with its source in the Enlightenment - has eclipsed morality of any sort, except for the Nietzschean moral extremes... The skepticism engendered by the Enlightenment has reduced all ideas of right and wrong to matters of personal taste, emotional preference or cultural choice." (32)
The desire to reiterate a pre-Enlightenment aesthetic canon often leads back to philosophical Realism, the outlook that was upset by the Nominalists in the fourteenth century. This is the view that the things of the world have essences, and that those essences are more real than the fleeting forms that the things may from time to time assume. James Reid, accordingly, says that "form determines the essence or nature of a thing." The marriage of this conception of the world with theology is evident from his further statement that "nothing exists unless God acts within it, as the wellspring of being, at every moment." (33) From this, we can see why the Hudson River School, whose mid-nineteenth century artists infused an unspoiled American landscape with the immanence of God, is often revisited within the AAQ.
Nevertheless, there are occasional hints of Ayn Rand's philosophy (in many ways a philosophical opposite in its atheism and anti-mysticism). A comment by Earl Davey closely matches the point made by the Randian hero Howard Roark in his courtroom speech in The Fountainhead: "Failure with respect to artistic integrity is, I suggest, a moral issue..., for it constitutes an act of infidelity to self as well as to others." (34) One AAQ issue came with a supplement advertising ART (as mentioned before, the non-profit foundation "American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century"), which strikes this author, from a number of conceptual clues in its brochure, as strongly Randian.
Two Philosophers Central to the AAQ: James F. Cooper and Frederick Turner
Many writers participate in the AAQ's numerous issues, but the quarterly is a platform for two in particular: James F. Cooper, the editor and publisher, and Frederick Turner. Turner, who is Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas, Dallas, was invited by Cooper in 1993 to work with the magazine, and he serves on the editorial advisory board. Both men are first-rate thinkers who deserve, in their own right, to be well known among educated people today.
James F. Cooper
It is Cooper, above all, who states the AAQ's themes mentioned above, and who as the editor and publisher must be understood as the driving force behind the quarterly. He is a philosophical Realist when he says "the forms speak to us through archetypes that spring from a universal subconscious"; and reflects Burkean concerns when he quotes Edward F. Edinger to the effect that a society requires "a central living myth," something Cooper observes Western civilization has lacked through much of the twentieth century. (35) He defends the traditional aesthetic criteria against postmodernism's attack, decrying that "art historians now advocate setting aside the criteria that have dominated Western art for the last two millennia." He heralds the "counter-counterculture" that he sees arising: "Can a nation survive with a culture based incessantly upon endemic, chronic collective guilt? Fortunately, the cult of abjection and the deconstruction and post-structuralization of values has given rise to a counter counterculture which embraces beauty, aesthetics, spirituality, myth, and transcendence." (36)
When Cooper brought Turner aboard, he introduced an intellectual of high excitement, a virtual whirling dervish of ideas. Turner's is one of the more creative intellects at work in the world today. A consensus within the "new renaissance" is more likely to settle around the more earth-bound foundation laid by Cooper, but Turner interjects a mixture of provocation, cutting-edge scientific insight, futurism, globalism, evolutionary perspective, and poetic flights of fancy that makes him "a work of art" in himself. He writes often for the AAQ, but I would especially direct readers to his articles "The New Arcadia: A Vision of the Future" in the Winter 1995 issue; "Tree and Bridge: Art, Knowledge and Cultural Change" (Spring 1996); and "Beauty and the Beast" (Winter 1998).
There is so much to him that it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with what would appear to be his genuine cutting-edge knowledge of the new information sciences. Turner shows a deep understanding of the on-rushing technology and its many implications such as its impact on work, easing of stress on the environment, the predictable colonization of Mars, lengthening of the human lifespan, and the prospect of turning of the earth into a garden. (37) At one point, he says that "chaos and complexity theory have given us ways of including the discontinuous, unpredictable and emergent together with the linear, predictable and deterministic...." (38) He says that, although he was originally a modernist who looked down his nose at traditional art, he was led to "a non-relativistic aesthetic through neuroscience and perceptual psychology." (39) He has sought to arrive scientifically at an aesthetic that is not limited to a single culture but is based instead on universals.
Turner places evolution in the context of information theory: "Evolution itself is the archetypal iterative nonlinear dynamical feedback system." He points to how functional it is for human beings to believe in such things as beauty, value, meaning and teleology - and says that those who believe in them have an evolutionary competitive advantage over those who do not. (40) The result is that these successful qualities become written in our genes. (41) But he is opposed to seeing human beings as genetic robots, which he considers reductionist; the evolution he speaks of is more the evolution of cultures than of individuals, acting, as Richard Dawkins has argued, for understanding the evolution through "'memes' - fragments of cultural information that act like genes." (42)
This gives the traditional Western canon, which Turner sees as really a universal canon, a Kantian-like immanence; Kanchan Limaye reports that in a keynote address to the 1998 Derriere Guard Festival, Turner "discussed the natural classicism and the new renaissance, arguing that a sense of beauty is not a matter of cultural convention, but rather a natural, endorphin-releasing capacity stemming from our neuro-biological evolution." (43)
It is not too much to say that by this time the poet in Turner has taken hold of his science, since his conclusions are fashioned more out of glorious flights of fancy and a desire that they be true than out of solid proofs, which would require extensive investigation that he doesn't supply. The merger of science into poetry becomes increasingly evident as he extends his thinking, arriving at a metaphysic or even theology that Robin Fox refers to as his "new cosmology for the arts." Fox describes this well when he says that Turner "does not aim to abolish myth and replace it with science, but rather to use science to produce a better myth." (44) There is provocative futuristic poetry in Turner's statement that "we can imagine various phases of the process by which the human race - and other intelligent species, in coopperation - increasingly innervate the physical universe, so that it becomes that body whose nervous system is made up of individual persons... Imagine you were wired into the basic structure of Oregon, for instance; as Oregon begins to respond to your purposes, you simultaneously become transformed into something with a hot volcanic spine...Huge constellations of consciousness, animated by some immensely numinous personality and poetic theme... might emerge." (45) In his keynote address, "he posited," Limaye says, "the intriguing cosmological idea that human beings are neurons in the fetus of God." (46)
Whether all of this helps the AAQ and the new renaissance is open to debate, since it is essentially the introduction of a spectacular pseudo-scientific Shamanism, but at the very least it interjects a highly intellectualized excitement. My own assessment is that it is best to marvel at Turner's pyrotechnics, and to draw selectively from his many insights as one can from Nietzsche, but to smile skeptically, though appreciatingly, at his cosmology. But then, I am very much a Nominalist, controlled much more by an epistemological imperative to base beliefs on evidence than to seek only-partially-rooted ontological constructions. In any event, I will continue to read Turner with enjoyment and fascination.
Certain Important Issues Suggested by the AAQ's Discussion
A valuable opportunity would be missed if we concluded this article without allowing the American Arts Quarterly's dialogue to provoke an examination of several important aesthetic and cultural points. I will break them into two parts: first, those relating to the sociological and ideological context; and second, those relating to the theory of art itself.
The Sociological and Ideological Context
The "new renaissance" as answering a vitally important question. Throughout history, a commercial civilization has suffered from a terrible flaw: the inability to generate an intellectual subculture appropriate to itself; i.e., one that is fundamentally supportive and yet critical of abuses and uplifting in its desire to transcend mundane everyday life. The "bourgeoisie" has characteristically been looked upon as an assemblage of Babbitts, as in the Sinclair Lewis novel. The fault for seeing it so has resided only in part in the peculiar snobbishness of the intellectual elites; the active man (and now women, as well) of business have leant themselves to the caricature, as when John Stuart Mill found that businessmen of the 1830s could "think only of shop."
During the second half of the twentieth century, those of us who have sensed the palpitating dangers to American institutions have often asked, "why can't the mainstream society generate and support an intellectual, artistic, literary, cultural subculture appropriate to itself?"
This is why the American Arts Quarterly and other manifestations of a "new renaissance" are so significant. Such a renascence is, potentially, a movement of earthshaking uniqueness and importance. It is not too much to say that if it can supplant today's establishment, without becoming a stifling orthodoxy of its own, it will fill a fateful void at the heart of civilization.
That modernism and postmodernism illustrate, once again, the stultifying effects of settling upon intellectual "gatekeepers." People in the twentieth century seem to be potently aware of how closed virtually all of the earlier intellectual orthodoxies have been; and in societies where personal freedom and democratic participation rule it is common to acknowledge the folly of Socrates' having been forced to drink the hemlock, of Andreas Vesalius' having been burned at the stake, even of Stalin's insistence on Lysenkoist biology. Nazi "bookburning" is recalled with horror.
There is, however, an almost complete failure to see that intellectual smugness continues to impose a "closed shop" in many important areas, and that this is accepted implicitly in the United States today. In American university communities within the social sciences and humanities, outside of Economics, all thought that is not "of the Left" tends simply to be ignored as though it doesn't exist; and certainly it is not honored and rewarded. It is a separate but related point to observe that since the late nineteenth century the American academic community has been divided into a great many specialized disciplines. The disciplines, organized intellectually primarily through their "refereed journals," are assigned virtually exclusive gatekeeper functions, since "publishing in refereed journals" is in most universities made the preeminent criterion for tenure, salary, promotion and preferments of all sorts. In many ways, given the specializations, this is imperative for convenience, assigning to the distant referees the judgmental function and thereby taking it off of faculty colleagues who often know little or nothing about a given faculty member's area of expertise. In 32 years in the academy, I have never heard anyone voice concern about this. There is no sense that the refereed journals may ever be anything other than solidly professional. The lessons of history have not penetrated this mindset. It would be impossible, the implicit premise says, for Lysenkoism to take hold of a scientific discipline, or for any ideas of value to be excluded within any other area.
And yet, here we have had for eighty years, within the arts and humanities, the suffocating orthodoxy of the modernist and postmodernist schools. The pages of the American Arts Quarterly tell us of on-going blacklisting and exclusion. Turner says the censorship comes from "editors, arts administrators, gallery heads, and artists themselves." (47) In a letter to the AAQ, Steven W. Semes writes that "the 'classical' music establishment (Lincoln Center, for example, or BAM) will not program new tonal music by living composers; museums and galleries (such as the Whitney, as its director declared...) refuse to exhibit new figurative and classical art; mainstream literary magazines turn down poetry with rhyme and meter; and representatives of the professional architectural press have publicly declared that they will not publish new classical architecture, regardless of its merits." (48)
The Borders bookstore chain sponsors an annual "Banned Books" observance, during which panelists point with alarm at instances, say, in which parents object to sexually explicit material being included in middle school library collections. We continue to hear, too, about what a shameful thing the "Hollywood Blacklist" was in the late 1940s. So the concept of intellectual openness receives much lipservice within American intellectual circles. But the truth is that anything "of the Left" has, and long has had, an open field, whereas ideas that are not of the Left are like babies smothered in their cribs. A silent double standard applies to this, just as it applies to much else in our ideologically tortured time.
That, while in many ways enriching, such as Turner sees them, "multiculturalism" and globalism, as applied as weapons of alienation against Western society, have the potential of almost certainly stopping the "new renaissance" in its tracks. Frederick Turner is well aware that the ideology of "campus and government multiculturalists" is one that, "if their vision of the world is played out, would turn America into a Rwanda or a Bosnia." (49) But he is able to divorce this realization from his otherwise global, cosmopolitan perspective. He welcomes the assimilation of many cultures, believing it is the only thing consistent with the open-society principles of a free society. He opposes what he considers to be the "Anglo-Saxon or Euro tribalism" that he sees in Samuel P. Huntington's thinking. (50)
In this, Turner seems to be seriously in error. He ought not to divorce the two things. If vast Third World immigration into Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia continues, and is combined with the main intellectual subculture's on-going attack based on its centuries-old hatred for "bourgeois" society, there is little likelihood that Euro-American civilization will carry a significant legacy into the future, other than some inevitable hollow-shell residuals. What is more, even if in some way the "new renaissance" were to supplant the existing leftist orthodoxy, so that alienation against the West were dropped from the equation, the influx of tens or hundreds of millions of people from non-Western cultures into the erstwhile European nations makes it extremely problematical whether those millions will in fact cause a synthesis, Hegel-like, into some new higher culture, one that will retain and advance the best features of the "love for beauty" that the American Arts Quarterly champions. The greatest likelihood of worldwide enhancement of culture will come, instead, from a Western civilization that maintains its integrity, so that its example and creations can then interplay with the many other cultures, which will also be maintaining their own integrity.
Issues Relating to the Theory of Art
The search for a metaphysical justification for art and culture. Virtually all points of view want to anchor their philosophy in something more substantial, more commanding of obeisance, than simply personal preference. In an earlier age, and still to some extent today, they seek a theological foundation, asserting a teleological imprimatur from a consciousness much higher than individual people. In our secular age, most of the search is for a metaphysical standard of some sort - a standard halfway between God and men.
This yearning for a metaphysical source appears frequently in the pages of the AAQ. Philosophical Realism provides one, with its Platonic emphasis on the perfection of essences. And Turner seeks one, on something akin to what used to be called a Natural Law basis, through his fusion of evolution and information theory, which posits that humanity is clearly best-served, in a survival sense, by a love of beauty.
But such efforts run afoul of the fact that value-judgments, preferences about one thing being good and another bad, or one thing desirable and the other undesirable, can only be made by conscious minds. It is impossible for a value-judgment to be made by a rock, a cloud, a tree, or even a long progression of rocks, clouds and trees. They are insentient. So are genes and "memes" (the cultural units of information mentioned earlier). Conscious judgments can only be made by conscious beings. And what does the universe's known inventory contain of these? God, gods and millions of individual human beings (there being no collective human consciousness). If the foundation for a position is not to be set in God or gods, the multitude of individual preferences is the only alternative. The question, then, is whether enough people will share in a set of preferences (usually through acculturation, "compact experiences" influencing them strongly together, and shared myths, rather than through intellection as such) to make a social order possible. A preference in a certain direction will be made easier, certainly, if it can be shown that "long experience shows that following it will serve you (or the society in which you live) better"; but it remains a matter of convincing people.
Such a realization is shocking to those who believe that mankind can't do without a theological or metaphysical standard. Certainly it is shocking to most of those who write for the American Arts Quarterly, who are bound to ask, "Doesn't that leave us right where postmodernism says we are, with a radical relativism that knows no absolutes?" Turner is in effect giving voice to this reaction when he says that "the Enlightenment's idea that truth is only what can be measured and inferred is a reductionist idea," and adds that an unfathomable truth isn't a non-existent one. (51) Notice, though, that he is willing to find the existence of a "truth" even though it is "unfathomable" (i.e., not attainable through evidence). This means that he puts ontology ahead of epistemology, something that I, in making the point just stated, am not willing to do.
Yes, it does leave us right where the postmodernists say we are - but with a difference. There is no reason a radical relativist (i.e., a non-believer) has to steep himself in angst, alienation, despair and cultural hatred. These things are the product not of the existential aloneness of humanity, but of leftist ideology. A non-believer has very human reasons to cherish life, beauty, freedom, his children and grandchildren, a good steak, the breeze blowing gently across the hairs on his arm, instead. It is a matter of the person's, and of the culture in which he lives', "sense of life," to use a Randian expression. We need not refer to Ayn Rand for it, however; my cairn terrier, with her happy, sparkling life-force, conveys it to me constantly.
What this boils down to is that art and culture don't require a "high intellectualization" for their justification. They have ample justification on purely prudential grounds. I am not a painter of the quality of those shown in the AAQ, but I know that I have been working on an oil of the valley southwest of Lake San Cristobal in Colorado for the past three years simply out of love for the place. I've caught hundreds, if not thousands, of brook trout in that valley, and have it in my blood. Why do I need any other justification to paint it? Nor does anyone need a metaphysical reason to paint or sculpt a love one or an interesting character.
Actually, this is hopeful precisely from the point of view of the "new renaissance" creators. It means that the secularism of modern life, an outlook that many of the most serious and thoughtful people will never be willing to abandon, does not make it necessary for anyone to remain a postmodernist. Such people are as existentially free to embrace beauty as to wallow in angst.
That it is a reductionist fallacy to postulate a single "purpose" for art. The writers in the AAQ are perhaps less prone to it than many others, but there is enough of it there to cause me to mention it. What I am referring to is what I call "the simplification fallacy." It is the idea that "the purpose of art is this" or "the purpose of art is that," as though there were not an infinity of reasons for people to want to use media in expressive ways.
The fallacy is often expressed in thoroughly beneficent, heuristically useful, ways, but it is still a fallacy. It's impossible to take offense at American painter Thomas Hovenden's asking "what is the purpose of art?" and then answering "if I can give pleasure, if I can give comfort, if I can give strength...." (52) But, of course, we know that artistic and literary media can be used, just as much, to express passion, or rage, or a demand for justice, or any other of a vast range of purposes.
Much of the centuries-long disputation over art can be eliminated if we realize that it is invalid reductionism to speak, as James Reid does, of "the proper object of art"; (53) or, as Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy does, of "the business of art lies in...."; (54) or, as Frederick Turner does, of "art's whole purpose is...." (55)
Perhaps, however, the disputation is fun in itself, a form of theoretical recreation, and my comments here are like throwing a bucket of water on two dogs. If that is so, readers are advised simply to ignore this section.
That human beings enjoy a unique privilege, the expression of which can be one, at least, of the purpose of art. The mountain valley and high peaks I have been painting are resplendent in the clear Colorado morning air. They give immediacy to the phrase "purple mountained majesty." But, strangely and tragically, the towering rock and streamlets of water know nothing of their own beauty. The spider knows nothing of the symmetry of the web it has spun, sparkling with dew in the light. They have no consciousness that can convey that sensibility to them.
It is the unique privilege of sensitive human beings, if they choose to exercise it, to be the eyes and ears of existence. This bestows upon the artist, musician and poet a reason for being and an endless supply of materials. To those who feel it, there is no higher calling. We don't have to posit any justification for this calling other than the sensitive individual's own awareness of it, but I would be reluctant to call anyone either an artist or a poet who doesn't feel it.
I have had it on my agenda for several months to read my accumulated issues of the American Arts Quarterly and write an article about it. Doing so has opened vistas in the aesthetic and cultural realms that I had only dimly known existed. Hopefully, this article has served a similar purpose for others and has introduced a few readers to subjects they haven't thought about before.
A subscription to the American Arts Quarterly is available free to artists, educators and related professionals by writing to the quarterly at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, P. O. Box 326, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706-9924.
1. Frederick Turner in the Winter 1998 issue, p. 32.
2. James F. Cooper in the Summer/Fall 1994 issue, p. 3. By way of explanation, the Communitarian Movement is said by James Howard Kunstler to embody "momentum all over America to create communities that are worthy of our affection...Some people know it as the communitarian movement. To architects and planners, it goes under the name of the New Urbanism." Kunstler in Summer/Fall 1994 issue, p. 22.
3. Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 8.
4. Summer 1997 issue, p. 44.
5. Summer 1995 issue, p. 23.
6. For further information about ART, contact it at F.D.R. Station, P.O. Box 8379, New York, New York 10150-1919.
7. See the advertisement in the Winter 1998 issue of the AAQ, p. 47.
8. See the interview with Sam Knecht, director of the Hillsdale College art department, in the Summer 1992 issue, pp. 22-24.
9. Turner in the Winter 1998 issue, p. 32.
10. James F. Cooper in the Summer 1997 issue, p. 7.
11. Gene Edward Veath, Jr., in the Winter 1995 issue, p. 27.
12. James F. Cooper in the Winter 1995 issue, p. 3.
13. Interview with McElhinney in the Spring 1996 issue, p. 12.
14. Thomas Gordon Smith in the Summer 1997 issue, p. 8.
15. Kenneth Coutts-Smith, Dada (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1970), pp. 22, 116-117.
16. Gene Edward Veath, Jr., in the Winter 1995 issue, p. 27.
17. Referred to by Frederick Turner in Summer 1995 issue, p. 22.
18. Turner in the Summer/Fall 1994 issue, p. 25.
19. See the Winter 1999 issue, pp. 3-7, 36.
20. James F. Cooper in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 3.
21. Stephen May in the Summer 1995 issue, p. 29.
22. Turner in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 31.
23. Turner in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 32.
24. Cooper in the Winter 1999 issue, p. 6.
25. In the Winter 1998 issue, p. 10.
26. Rod Miller in the Spring 1996 issue, pp. 35-39, 44.
27. In the Summer 1997 issue, p. 9.
28. In the Fall 1995 issue, pp. 30-31.
29. In the Spring 1992 issue, p. 20.
30. In the Fall 1998 issue, pp. 36-37.
31. Quoted by Robin Fox in the Summer 1995 issue, p. 13.
32. In the Summer/Fall 1994 issue, p. 4.
33. Both of the quoted statements are in the Winter 1998 issue at pp. 10 and 12, respectively.
34. In the Winter 1995 issue, p. 11.
35. In the Winter 1995 issue, p. 3.
36. In the Winter 1995 issue, pp. 4, 6.
37. See especially his discussion in the Winter 1995 issue, p. 30.
38. In the Spring 1996 issue, p. 16.
39. In the Summer/Fall 1994 issue, p. 24.
40. In the Winter 1998 issue, p. 35.
41. See page 17 of the Spring 1996 issue.
42. In the Winter 1998 issue, p. 33.
43. In the Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 13.
44. In the Summer 1995 issue, p. 12.
45. In the Winter 1995 issue, p. 34.
46. In the Spring/Summer 1998 issue, p. 13.
47. In the Summer 1995 issue, p. 26.
48. In the Summer 1997 issue, p. 44.
49. In the Summer 1997 issue, pp. 30-31.
50. In the Summer 1997 issue, p. 30.
51. In the Winter 1999 issue, p. 19.
52. In the Summer 1995 issue, p. 47.
53. In the Winter 1998 issue, p. 10.
54. In the Summer 1995 issue, p. 14.
55. In the Summer 1995 issue, p. 27.