Such is the issue posed in a recent Wall Street Journal article written by Camille Paglia.
In “How Capitalism Can Save Art,” Ms. Paglia doesn’t actually ask “Can Capitalism Save Art?,” nor does she actually say how capitalism can save art. The article is more focused on a discussion of the insularity of today’s visual art scene with remarks on how she sees young artists ironically indoctrinated against an economic system which enables those artists to pursue their passion. This anti-capitalist indoctrination, she asserts, causes young artists to pursue their art from what she sees as a limited perspective. Her observance of this limited perspective, one which she classifies as “liberal secularism,” is based on her experience as a professor at the University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and through her contact with young artists.
Her point, I believe (the article is a bit “muddy” in places), is that since many visual artists are limited in their artistic perspective, i.e. an overzealousness to condemn capitalism at every stroke of the brush or flick of the sculptor’s pen, the works they produce are of limited market appeal, perhaps serving only to satisfy the needs and wants of the very small, capitalism-hating community that produces the works. (Her quote, “too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber,” speaks volumes.) With capitalism scorned, the blame for which she lays largely at the feet of arts faculty, visual artists, she asserts, not only produce polemic work, but also lack the necessary entrepreneurial skills to succeed in the marketplace. (Maybe this lack of entrepreneurialism is at the root of all the angst-ridden work we see?)
The production of art, like other products (many of them intellectually based such as music), succeeds and builds upon itself when not only the artist’s spiritual needs are fulfilled, but also when those of the marketplace are met. Such an outlook on the production of art, that of a healthy, and perhaps selfish, respect for capitalism, may serve to prevent what Ms. Paglia characterized as fine arts from evolving into a further wasteland.