I got a real charge out of this exchange, brought to you by Terry Teachout at About Last Night. It's an excerpt from Robert Birnbaum's interview with Camille Paglia. Now, Paglia is nothing if not a loose cannon. I probably disagree with her as often as I agree. But she's always immensely entertaining, never more so than when she's going off on the arts-and-croissants crowd, as she does here:
CP: I'm on a crusade—it's to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn't vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of [a] sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—
RB: They started it.
CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldn't have any opinions about art if it weren't for those big incidents in the late '80s to the '90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege.
RB: You're referring to Andrés Serrano?
CP: Yeah, some 10th-rate thing. It's always Catholic iconography, I might point out. I am atheist, by the way. It's never Jewish. It's never Muslim. So I am saying this is a scandal. The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We're avant-garde.” The avant-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell's Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avant-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avant-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”…Now, what is the result of this? Mainstream America looks at art and the artist as a scam and they don’t want to support government funding of the arts...I’m saying to the art world and all these coteries in Cambridge, San Francisco, Manhattan, “You have not been good stewards of art. You need to get out of this. You need to be apostles for art.”
Leave it to a self-described athiest to see through all the B.S. and tell it like it really is. As she says, it's always Catholic iconography. It's always provocative. Just because it's "avant-garde," they think that makes it art. I suspect they use it as an excuse to disguise the fact that they have, really, nothing to say.
As Terry says, read the whole fascinating thing here.