Do the Masses Still Like Art in the US?
In his column today, New York Times columnist and, IMO, hack extraordinaire, David Brooks pines for the days when the popular newsweeklies, like Time or Newsweek magazines, catered to the "middle-class people across the country who aspired to have the same sorts of conversations as the New York and Boston elite." The pull-quote in the print version of the paper reads, " Once upon a time, the masses liked art." Brooks argues that the days of 6-page spreads on Abstract Expressionism and other such middle-brow fare were snuffed out by a two-flanked attack:
My knee-jerk reaction to this claim was to want to assert that there's now a specialization in the media that didn't exist in the late 50's (literally dozens of new art magazines offering the 6-page spreads he holds up as proof) and that there's no need for broader publications to do that sort of in-depth coverage any more...it would be redundant.
Middlebrow culture was killed in the late 50's and 60's, and the mortal blows came from opposite directions. The intellectuals launched assaults on what they took to be middlebrow institutions, attacks that are so vicious they take your breath away.
Clement Greenberg called the middlebrow an "insidious" force that was "devaluing the precious, infecting the healthy, corrupting the honest and stultifying the wise." Dwight Macdonald lambasted the "tepid ooze" of the Museum of Modern Art and the plays of Thornton Wilder. Basically, these intellectuals objected to the earnest and optimistic middle-class arrivistes who were tromping over everything and dumbing down their turf.
At the same time, pop culture changed. It was no longer character-oriented; it was personality-oriented. Readers felt less of a need to go outside themselves to absorb works of art as a means of self-improvement. They were more interested in exploring and being true to the precious flower of their own individual selves.
The more I though about that, though, the more I realized that perhaps Brooks has a point (as my father is fond of saying, "Even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then"...OK, that's my last pot shot...promise). Time and Newsweek are supposed to cover the spectrum of issues that affect our lives, including the topics that speciality magazines cover in more depth. Their decreasing coverage of more middle-brow art might indeed represent what Brooks calls a move toward "Less Rembrandt, more Me."
This would seem to be countered by the attendance at US Museums though:
There are now 16,000 museums in the U.S., drawing 650 million visitors annually, a 60% increase in attendance since 1997. Some of this growth is due to refocusing on local and regional visitation after 9/11/2001.A 60% incease over the past 8 years doesn't sound like the death of interest in art to me, but there may be other factors to consider, like what those museums are exhibiting (i.e., how many of those 650 million visitors included motorcycle enthusiasts jamming into the Guggenheim?).
So back to my question. Do the masses still like art in the US? And how can that be determined?