Posts Tagged ‘Closing of the American Mind’

The conservatives generally did not attack the conceptions of art that modern artists and the culture industry maintained, but couched their anger in terms of what, to the artists and industry, appeared extrinsic matters—e.g., they protested against certain features of content from nudity and vulgarity to blasphemy, without accounting for why, first, so much of this offensive material enjoyed commercial success or, second, how that content related, or failed to relate, to a thoroughgoing vision of the nature of the fine arts. At their best, conservatives opposed Andres Serrano’s and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography with Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues. But they seldom read the books they championed and it seems not to have occurred to them they might just take better pictures on their own. Instead, conservatives let the walls hang bear—or covered them with banal abstract oil painting, the radical art of a past age that never so much shocked as bored.

Needless to say, not all critics of contemporary art and mass culture were so visceral and limited in their jeremiads. A small but insightful handful of thinkers have orbited about the conservative discontent with contemporary artistic practices and standards in variously tight and wide circles. In the past couple of years, Patrick Deneen and Jeremy Beer have observed that the supposed conservative revolution of the past thirty years foundered largely because it focused almost exclusively on party politics and institutional power. Whatever Reagan Republicans were doing in Washington, they largely left the culture industry to form and reform American consciousness. So absolute was this aporia between institutional success and cultural neglect that most of the children raised in the age of Republican ascendancy have arrived at adulthood with, perhaps, their explicit political principles informed by a vague belief in free markets and low taxes, but with their imaginations and sensibilities entirely formed on the mass cultural excretions of music, film, and television—and their cultural politics in turn molded by that sensibility. To offer just one consequence of this, most persons in their early twenties cannot conceive of why one would oppose the legal codification of homosexual unions, because in their moral imaginations a free and expressive sexuality is a continuous presence taken for granted.

— James Matthew Wilson, “The Treasonous Clerk: Art and Beauty against the Politicized Aesthetic, Part I


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