Popular Art And Folk Art

Popular Art And Folk Art

The commercial practices of the entertainment industry certainly constitute one of the most ominous aspects of the present cultural crisis; but really it is not so much the commercialization of artproduction which is so novel and important for contemporary interpretation; it is rather the present alienation and detachment of higher art, which, since the romantics, has claimed to exist for the artist alone, and takes or pretends to take no account of the public. This ostensible lack of regard for the public is no doubt usually a cloak to cover the artists’ desperate competition for public favour, but the ideal of an art that is disinterested, makes no concessions, is inevitably misunderstood by the present generation and appreciated only by future generations, is nonetheless a genuine ideal and basic for the world-view of the romantic. Before the day of romanticism, every art-product was recognized as being a commodity to a greater or lesser extent; every work of art had its price, though this was not necessarily paid down in hard cash. The artist accepted it, in one form or other, without any false shame, and scarcely ever had any feeling that he was giving way when he complied with his patron’s wishes. He realized that his true value was not enhanced by keeping up a semblance of independence; it was only the romantic’s bad conscience that attached such extraordinary value to that semblance. In a word, the new, queer feature about the modern artist’s relation to his profession is his unnatural, inhibited attitude towards everything material and practical, not the fact that he plies his art as a trade.

Since the romantics, the artist has the feeling of being faced, not by a friendly patron or a circle of well-known, well-disposed individuals interested in art, but by an indefinite, indifferent and often hostile public. He stares out at an expressionless mask and tries to imagine behind it a more sympathetic audience somewhere in the far future. Such imaginings are vain, unfruitful, and dangerous. The alienation of the idealist from the present entails no less of a risk than the materialist’s readiness to compromise; the former is in danger of developing a private language and becoming unintelligible, the latter of becoming in the end unable to speak anything but the impersonal, colourless language of the masses. Present-day art moves between these two dangers; in such a situation, in which neither of the extremes can be accepted with equanimity, no artist, be he ever so uncompromising, should ignore the requirements of popular art.

What marks the commercialization of art in the age of mass culture is not just the effort to produce salable, if possible the most profitable, works of art—apart from the romantics and their circle that was common enough in former times—but rather the notion of finding a formula by which the same type of thing may be sold to the same type of public on the biggest poss...

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