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Empire Follows Art

I have spent my entire adult life exploring an enigmatic environment: the fine arts. I’ve come to understand a great work of art can serve as a microcosm for human existence. Likewise, the art world, the cultural institutions and practices I observe and interact with, serve as a useful leading indicator of the current state of the social order.

That current state is catastrophic.

William Blake “Job’s Evil Dream”
William Blake “Job’s Evil Dream” Photograph: [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

If anyone had been paying attention to how badly elitist mismanagement was damaging art for the last hundred years or so, we might have been better prepared to counter all the other forms of carnage they are now unleashing. What they did to the art world has become their default operating system across the board.

“Empire follows art and not vice versa,” warned the great English artist William Blake. Think of empire in this context not as a geographical entity, but more as the various ideas and modes unified under a belief system, so ingrained we largely aren’t even aware of it.

In this comment, Blake foreshadowed American journalist Andrew Breitbart’s observation, “Politics is downstream from culture.” These two visionaries knew art plays a bigger part than we realize, a subliminal ripple through our communities. Art shows us who we are, and it shows us how to be, in ways that can’t even be put into words. Art influences.

Study the historical trajectory. Traditionally art was something to aspire to; it emphasized admirable displays of skill, creativity and meaning. Civilizations provided art to the people as a means of uplift and advancement; the people returned the favor to their civilization. Such a wondrous form of communication, a universal human experience, brought everyone together.

The elites sowed the seeds of destruction in our culture to reinforce their own prestige. They established a pattern of behavior that now reaches far beyond the art world. Real art was something they could not control. It taps into something beyond human hierarchy. So those who maneuvered themselves into becoming gatekeepers redefined art.

Top Artist Damien Hirst Posing With Expensive Generic “Art” He Did Not Make But Takes Credit For Photograph: [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

It was quite a cunning plan. They gave us something else instead, and called it art. Art no longer transmitted recognizable mastery and significance. We now had to submit to the authority of the experts to understand art, instead of relying on the innate instinct humanity developed even before we left the caves. The disruptions caused by the dawning of the Modern era helped hide this power grab.

For a century the establishment performed a bait and switch in the arts. Gentry class funding and promotional choices slipped dissonance, obscurity, and division into what was once an inclusive field of communal joy. Those who objected to the ridiculous offerings were written off as stupid and unsophisticated. No one concerned with upwardly mobile social status wanted to be That Guy: the nobody who is not admiring the Emperor’s new clothes.

That template, where we have to submit to the assertions of would-be rulers, and disregard what we can plainly see and experience, now dominates our society. Empire followed art away from reality and into a fantasy world generated by the New Aristocracy of the Well Connected, where they reign supreme. Art for them is just another form of propaganda to propagate their power.

Art is a space where the powerful are vulnerable. In the arts and elsewhere, they’ve networked themselves into fortresses, and weaponized our cultural institutions to defend their corruption. However, the human need for, and response to, real art remains. What the elites provide instead of art is so unappealing in general it can exist only as a monopoly. Creating a compelling alternative to establishment art can break the authoritarian spell we are living under.

True art, reflecting our Creator’s example of creativity, skill, and meaning, initiates empire’s journey away from tyranny, and back towards liberty.

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