"All palaces are temporary palaces"
- Robert Montgomery

Last Saturday, Sofía Vázquez and I joined to discuss the laughable attempt of certain sector of conservatism, towards determining objective artistic standards. A long lost, absurd discussion, that those knowledgable enough to seriously approach it have already given up on.

Rather, we joined to discuss their laughable attempt to create a standard for the censorship of certain subjectivities. Conservatives, even those who cloak themselves in faux libertarian platitudes, are against the individual - a morally-loaded opposition to art that praises subjectivity as precious is an opposition to the free expression of subjectivity -. An interesting glitch in this disgust is that it is, at heart, anti-capitalist. Only under capitalism are the resources necessary to, for instance, make abstract oil paintings, available to every Dick and every Sue.

There are more artists than gallery-goers and more writers than readers, because everyone can, potentially, be an artist or a writer - of course, within a lax definition according to which one is merely by doing, independently of how one’s work interacts or fails to interact with any establishment.

Those who point at modern art and yell “Cultural Marxism”, and somehow try to trace a direct relationship between Marxism, communism, and modern art, suffer from a lousy understanding of communism, a lousy understanding of modern art, and a funny lack of historical references. If Marxism is the Soviet Union, Marxism is against modern art. Under the Soviet Union, the only art allowed and praised as True or Good Art was that which reflected a certain worldview or morale, and could be used as a didactic or indoctrination tool - The difference is a matter of political orientation, not of fact, indoctrination is the name you give to education you dislike. Socialist Realism was good art. Censorship, in the Soviet Union, was positive censorship. The hand of the artist wasn’t merely pushed away from certain topics, but forced to sink into certain others. Genius Liberaloid Vladimir Nabokov explained it well:

"...In the process of sketching a picture of the history of recent Russian literature, or more precisely in the process of defining the forces which struggled for the possession of the artist's soul, I may, if I am lucky, tap the deep* pathos* that pertains to all authentic art because of the breach between its eternal values and the sufferings of a muddled world---this world, indeed, can hardly be blamed for regarding literature as a luxury or a toy unless it can be used as an up-to-date guidebook.

For an artist one consolation is that in a free country he is not actually forced to produce guidebooks. Now, from this limited point of view, nineteenth-century Russia was oddly enough a free country: books and writers might be banned and banished, censors might be rogues and fools, be-whiskered Tsars might stamp and storm; but that wonderful discovery of Soviet times, the method of making the entire literary corporation write what the state deems fit --- this method was unknown in old Russia, although no doubt many a reactionary statesman hoped to find such a tool. A staunch determinist might argue that between a magazine in a democratic country applying financial pressure to its contributors to make them exude what is required by the so-called reading public---between this and the more direct pressure which a police state brings to bear in order to make the author round out his novel with a suitable political message, it may be argued that between the two pressures there is only a difference of degree; but this is not so for the simple reason that there are many different periodicals and philosophies in a free country but only one government in a dictatorship. It is a difference in quality. If I, an American writer, decide to write an unconventional novel about, say, a happy atheist, an independent Bostonian, who marries a beautiful Negro girl, also an atheist, has lots of children, cute little agnostics, and lives a happy, good, and gentle life to the age of 106, when he blissfully dies in his sleep --- it is quite possible that despite your brilliant talent, Mr. Nabokov, we feel [in such cases we don't think, we feel] that no American publisher could risk bringing out such a book simply because no bookseller would want to handle it.

This is a publisher's opinion, and everybody has the right to have an opinion. Nobody would exile me to the wilds of Alaska for having my happy atheist published after all by some shady experimental firm; and on the other hand, authors in America are never ordered by the government to produce magnificent novels about the joys of free enterprise and of morning prayers.

In Russia before the Soviet rule there did exist restrictions, but no orders were given to artists. They were ---those nineteenth-century writers, composers, and painters--- quite certain that they lived in a country of oppression and slavery, but they had something that one can appreciate only now, namely, the immense advantage over their grandsons in modern Russia of not being compelled to say that there was no oppression and no slavery..."

- "Russian Writers, Censors and Readers", read at the Festival of the Arts, Cornell University, April 10, 1958; published in Lectures on Russian Literature, Vladimir Nabokov

When conservatives try to determine what we should ask from Proper Art, they refer both to technical and thematic issues. Not only should the painting be of mimetic prowess, it should also picture beautiful things. Art, to them, is a reproduction of beautiful things. What are beautiful things? Things that they consider beautiful. Anything shocking, troubling, or not-beautiful, that they don’t like, is not good enough to be considered Art.

In terms of another man who suffered under this censorious strain:

"A poet must stir the soul, not nurture idolaters."
Mirror (1975), Andrei Tarkovsky

Lest I forget, something interesting happened yesterday:

Burning Notre Dame