Douglas Wilson on humbling the arts:

Because of widespread relativism in aesthetics, it has come about that art cannot be evaluated in accordance with any objective criteria. Rather art must be evaluated in accordance with credentials of the artist. But these credentials are necessarily something other than competence in the field, for competence implies a standard. In order to bluff one’s way into the status of artist, therefore, the right subjectivist aura must be confidently exuded. This aura is what might be called “cape and beret” credentials. The cape and beret need not exist physically, but a certain white nimbus of artistry must surround the artist at all times, whether or not it flickers around the edges. Consider it a deeply spiritual cape and beret. An aspiring artist must exude his genius in this fashion, or he must be uncommonly lucky.

I have been privileged to know gifted artists who were not acknowledged as such simply because they lived like regular people and didn’t carry on like Lord Byron. (“Of course, he can draw , but he is not really an artist.”) All of us have received, as an important part of our cultural inheritance, this pernicious myth of the artist. He has soul, and perhaps even rich brown eyes. He is widely misunderstood. He lives in a garret. He feels deeply . He fights the establishment orthodoxies. This last part of the myth has become increasingly difficult for him since fighting establishment orthodoxies has become the establishment orthodoxy. But regardless of the details, anyone who wants to be admitted into the land of the artist has to show some version of these papers to the border guards. And while we are on the point, few things are more painful to watch than to see evangelical Christians (who have heard the phrase “redeeming the arts” one time too many) trying to bluff their way past the guards. If artists get to “produce art” then just call yourself a producer, or painter, or writer, or whatever, and hope they buy it. They almost never do, but the neediness of some Christians demands the risk be taken anyway. Repeatedly.


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Articles by Joe Carter

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