Art today has ceased to be about beauty. Some time ago I ran a little experiment. I read all the articles in, oh, a half dozen magazines on the arts, looking only for appearances of the word, "beauty." In something like 30 articles the word appeared only once, and in that instance, as I recall, it was an artist relativizing beauty by saying that pornography could be as beautiful in its own way as any of the old masters. So if contemporary art isn't about beauty, what is it about? Gauging from a recent art fair in Switzerland, art seems to be about status, mainly. The Economist (June 20, 2009) reports that some 61,000 collectors and 2,500 artists participated in the Art Basel exhibition this month. The current recession created a great opportunity for collectors to be getting some real "buys" on their favorite artists. For example, one piece, called "Wallet (Lost)", sold for around $76,000. It is described as "a ready-made scultpure that consists of the artist's wallet containing credit cards, identity documents and a few Swiss francs." The writer hastens to add that the price included "the screw and washer" which held the wallet to the floor in the exhibition hall (Oh, well, now that makes sense). An Andy Warhol painting of a soup can - of which their must be about a gazillion in circulation, not to count the knock-offs - fetched a little over $3 million. Why do people pay so much for wallets and soup cans? Not because you can't get these anywhere else, that's for sure. It's status, pure and simple - the privilege of being associated with a particular artist who, for one reason or anther, is highly regarded as representing this, that, or the other idea or trend. People are willing to exchange a good deal of money to look hip or chic in the eyes of their contemporaries. Of course, this doesn't answer the question of how these artists managed to become such status symbols, but that's beside the point. Everybody who's anybody in the art world knows who's "in" and who's "out." And they will pay a good deal of money to be identified with the "in-crowd" in the arts, even though possessing a Warhol soup can can't possibly affect what's going on in the heart of a man. But that's not important. People look on the outside, as we know. They want to know who looks good, has the right stuff, and is properly accessorized - including, at the high end of the social scale, having all the right art. It doesn't occur to such people that, while others are admiring them for their outward appearance, God may be preparing to condemn them for the condition of their souls. That shortsightedness, however, is not a malady restricted to those who pay $70K for some artist's wallet.
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