I write from Washington DC as the New Art Examiner opens a new chapter in the most powerful city in the world. Unlike most capital cities, Washington DC does not have a lively art scene. Political considerations dominate. American politics is in turmoil and the news media every day is breaking news of the deepening political drama. The question is will President Trump be impeached. Corruption, secret deals with the Russians, money laundering, obstruction of justice, proven lies control the attention of the nation and leave a residue of depression. In short, America is in search of a moral compass. Cultural and political confusion are joined at the hip. The undercurrent is the issue of how we expect power to be used.
The wind of fashion in art is changing or has changed. The avant garde culture has collapsed into a state of near vacuum. The trends of yesterday hold little definition and are given little respect from the contemporary generation. The new signals are coming through but have to find a shape or meaning. The new mantra is community art. A retreat from the usurped authority of museums, academia and the upscale market. The Washington art scene is defined by middle class mores and social acceptance. Washington is not a metropolis. There is not much social cultural diversity here. Formalism, originating with Clement Greenberg the supreme champion of American modernism, still lingers in Washington. Which means abstract art and formalism are the dominate mode, known as the Washington Color. The new voice, community art, emerges from the grass roots. So a class warfare will play out in the art world. Populism is the new battle cry and is playing out in the art scene.
Procedure is the process of politics and that has to be followed. The same for art mores. This was an easy fix for the avant garde, as the avant garde became Americanized the promise of formalism was well embraced and appropriated in DC as the dominate form of artist practice and expression.
Outsider art cannot become well groomed or formalized as when this happens it is no longer outsider art. Trump is an outsider who against all the odds became President. This President poses a dilemma for the body politic as the old rules no longer apply. The old assumptions are falling apart. History teaches that art can flourish and often does in a declining society. The US has been on an upswing since World War II. This is now history; whatever is to be is a fascinating proposition. The NAE is pleased to have a ringside seat. In this we are fortunate to be well placed.
Derek Guthrie is the Publisher and co-founder, with his late wife Jane Addams Allen, of the New Art Examiner and the energy and intellect behind its rebirth. He lives between Washington and Cornwall and if a private painter.
volume 32 no 5 May / June 2018 p 2