Purple Magazine
— S/S 2017 issue 27

Very Entertaining

by ÉRIC TRONCY

At the library of Éditions Gallimard in Paris, on Oct. 12, 2016, the writer Philippe Sollers told the journalist Léa Salamé: “Too many books are being published, on purpose, to hide the books that matter… We are living in an aggravated democracy, which means everyone has the right to write.” It’s true, after all. Perhaps writing demands special abilities and special knowledge, and perhaps not everyone has these abilities and knowledge, let alone the imagination, talent, or genius that, in the end, makes all the difference. I hope there are still two or three people who can get past the provocation of Sollers’s “aggravated democracy” — it’s just an observation, really, a brutal but joyous observation — and grasp the simple idea of useless overproduction intended to camouflage what is essential.

By now, everyone has heard of flooding, the Internet technique of drowning out information with “repetitive, nonsensical messages of no relevance to the subject at hand and no particular utility” (Wikipedia). This has great resonance, of course, in the visual arts; some day, we will be held accountable for the extravagant overproduction of visual artworks.

There are plenty of reasons to feel helpless before the hyperproduction of visual art and the acclaim often garnered by the most ordinary, banal, and “old hat” works. The commentators of “aggravated democracy” imposed criteria that have completely altered the architecture of judgment. In 2008, Alex Katz told me: “The fifth guy to take up action painting is a conventional painter. The first is avant-garde, the second is his disciple, and the third is still acceptable, but the fourth and the fifth are only bowing to conventions. All conventions are equal, whatever their origin. This is something that art and fashion have in common: there are very few inventors or stylists, and after them come more conventional makers, who only follow the previously blazed trail.” Inventors and stylists are no longer the keystones of the system. Miley Cyrus allowed me to understand how our industry was adjusting to the loss of the inventors, the extinction of the avant-garde. In 2016, Miley Cyrus was a judge on the The Voice in the United States. One phrase, meant as the highest compliment, kept cropping up in her comments: “It was very entertaining.” No one would ever have said that to Neil Young or the Ramones. I would never have dreamt of saying that the paintings of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock were “very entertaining,” but most of the works we are presented with today have essentially, or very nearly, only the one quality of being “very entertaining.” Our current period is the period of “entertaining art,” with its own demanding, hard-to-satisfy rules, which are more or less the same as those of the contemporary music industry. The visual arts have their own entertainment tycoons, their own Beyoncés, Miley Cyruses, Rita Oras, and Rihannas — although Rihannas are more difficult. There are, however, few Justin Biebers.

“Entertaining art,” too, has its public, its ever-vaster public, and its own frivolous and happy consumers. At bottom, what “entertaining art” is missing is a Pope to deliver speeches like those of Jude Law in Season One, Episode Five, of Paolo Sorrentino’s series The Young Pope. He puts off his first address as long as he can, explaining that the great artists are those of whom we know nothing, like J.D. Salinger, Stanley Kubrick, Daft Punk. Then, to the cardinals assembled in the Sistine Chapel, he says the following: “From this day forward, everything that was wide open is going to be closed. Evangelization? We’ve already done it. Ecumenicalism? Been there, done that. Tolerance? It doesn’t live here anymore. It’s been evicted. It vacated the house for the new tenant, who has diametrically opposite tastes in decorating. We’ve been reaching out to others for years now. It’s time to stop! We are not going anywhere… Brother cardinals, we need to go back to being prohibited. Inaccessible and mysterious. That’s the only way we can once again become desirable. That’s the only way great love stories are born. And I don’t want any more part-time believers… With the attitudes of the last Papacy, the church won for itself great expressions of fondness from the masses. It became popular. Isn’t that wonderful, you might be thinking! We received plenty of esteem and lots of friendship. I have no idea what to do with the friendship of the whole wide world. What I want is absolute love and total devotion to God. Could that mean a Church only for the few? That’s a hypothesis. And a hypothesis isn’t the same as reality. But even this hypothesis isn’t so scandalous. I say, ‘Better to have a few that are reliable than have a great many that are distractible and indifferent.’ The public squares have been jam-packed, but the hearts have been emptied of God.”

[Table of contents]

S/S 2017 issue 27

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