America’s most daring, abstract, and tradition-destroying modern art connected on a human level with great, enduring force. Painters—yep, painters—like Jackson Pollock and (Jay-Z-approved) Mark Rothko moved people on such a universal level that the CIA secretly bankrolled their international promotion as almost literal posterboys of America’s creative prowess and intellectual freedom.
Can you imagine anyone spending a dime to do the same with today’s art stars? Today, of course, there’s no Cold War to clarify the role of creativity in modern life. Capitalism may have helped unleash art’s full potential. But today, at the top of the art world, art has become a repository for capital first and a repository for culture a far distant second.
Today, art attracts money because it attracts attention. That much is clear—and fair enough. But it’s not at all clear why today’s “serious” art attracts that attention. Perhaps that’s why such art is a small game, its market value aside. Only a tiny slice of humanity really cares—and many of those who do care do so on a level whose shallowness might be deeply appropriate, but which deprives those who associate with it of the shareably human depth that defines our most beloved musicians.