Why the art, literature, and science of decadent civilization is decadent

Gibbon called the art and literature of the latter days of the Roman Empire “the second childhood of human reason”.

Back in the days when European art was the greatest the world has ever seen, the wealthy and powerful Cornaro family patronized the artist Bernini because he was a great artist.  Because high status people like the Cornaro family patronized great artists, great art was high status, and, circularly, the Cornaro family gained status by patronizing great art, such as The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which features the Cornaro family as much as a Coca Cola advertisement features coca cola.

Similarly, in Restoration England, high status people patronized science because it was high status, and it was high status because high status people patronized it, starting with King Charles the Second.

Then the government gets into funding art.  But the large bureaucratic government funding organization inevitably gets captured by recipients, as Cornaro family could never be captured, as King Charles the Second could never be captured.  Funds are distributed for grantsmanship, not art quality.  The greatest experts in grantsmanship could draw no better than a small child.

So drawing like a small child comes to be deemed high status.

Neo reactionaries are fond of authority, but need to remember that there is lot that centralized authority cannot do, starting with operate a modern economy.  Large organizations suffer from diseconomies of scale, and a severe agent/principal problem.  Without aristocrats, kings are not much good.

80 Responses to “Why the art, literature, and science of decadent civilization is decadent”

  1. Carlylean Restorationist says:

    “Neo reactionaries are fond of authority, but need to remember that there is lot that centralized authority cannot do, starting with operate a modern economy. Large organizations suffer from diseconomies of scale, and a severe agent/principal problem. Without aristocrats, kings are not much good.”

    Jim’s been fighting the good libertarian fight for a long time by the looks of it.

    It’s reactionary, sure: he’s resisting Moldbug’s change from post-ancap to Carlylean.

    What’s the alternative to state funding of the arts? 19th&20th century USA?

    Ruth Crawford Seeger and Charles Ives? lol

    Sure from time to time there’ll be a John “Nixon In China” Adams but for the most part what you’ll get is The Monkees.

    State monopoly art provision is the guarantee that the culture’s controlled from the top down. Folk art is the humiliating reminder that the plebs are in their rightful place.
    Combine folk art with anarchic broadcast radio and you get globohomo. The arts need to be wholly controlled by the state, root and branch.

    The plebs can play their songs in their local pub but they can’t go on tours, make records or give concerts.

    Laissez-faire in all its forms needs to be eradicated if you want any culture at all.

    • jim says:

      Art is controlled by the state root and branch.

      If it was genuinely private sector, would be pursuing profit. Globohomo rock music videos depicting androgynous mixed race couples romancing in a thoroughly blue pilled politically correct manner with male and female roles absolutely interchangeable is not in fact what customers are demanding

      • Carlylean Restorationist says:

        Typical glib libertarian response.

        The fact is, capitalism has never produced anything of any cultural worth. Every single thing is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

        What useful idiots like you fail to grasp is that pandering to the queers and woggoes is just another part of the same strategy. If the numbers work, they’ll ignore normal people altogether, but in the meantime it’s mix mix and mix again because they know what you don’t know and I what never used to admit: advertising WORKS.

        • jim says:

          Compare the artistic output of genuinely capitalist societies, such as Athenian Greece, Venice in the time of its greatness, and England from the restoration to the early nineteenth century, with the output of any socialist society. All socialist art is utter dreck. Venice was controlled by aristocratic warrior capitalists, and was the nearest thing to the Marxist fantasy of rule by the capitalist class that ever existed.

          The problem with our artistic output today is that it is controlled by priests for priestly purposes, not merchants for the purpose of building brand identity, gaining status, and selling to customers. 1950s rock was great because controlled by Jews for the purpose of making money. Today, controlled largely by people culturally and biologically descended from the puritans, and to extent that Jews have presence in the pop industry, they are conversos.

          The difference is that formerly they were in it for the money, and today in it for the holiness. Jews that are merely trying to make money are not a problem. They were not a problem in fifties and sixties rock music.

          • Carlylean Restorationist says:

            “Compare the artistic output of genuinely capitalist societies, such as Athenian Greece, Venice in the time of its greatness, and England from the restoration to the early nineteenth century, with the output of any socialist society.”

            Total strawman. Venice was entirely patronage-based, not capitalist.
            I’ll grant you that biedermeier Germany/Austria was highly accomplished, but straight away degeneracy started to set in. You only have to read the early editions of the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik to see what Schumann and co thought of the Rossini-Meyebeer culture that capitalism was inculcating.

            “All socialist art is utter dreck.”

            Not so. Prokofiev’s best work was written after he returned to the USSR. His showy early work was based on sketches made under late Imperial and early socialist Russian control and he found it utterly impossible to get paid in America.

            The best musicians of the 20th century were all either socialists themselves or else lived under socialism of one sort or another.
            They were also mostly reactionaries by today’s standards of liberalism. Once again your libertarian mindset makes you frame the world as free markets vs socialism, not as global neoliberalism vs nationalism.

            “The problem with our artistic output today is that it is controlled by priests for priestly purposes, not merchants for the purpose of building brand identity, gaining status, and selling to customers.”

            Again libertarian. You assume the way to get rich is to serve customers. This is just a libertarian shibboleth and it’s never been true. When companies gain power in society, they behave like anyone else with power in society: they bend the public’s ‘taste’ to their will. The radio stations push the shitty records and the shitty record companies buy advertising. The customers are almost incidental.

            See Morgoth on the ginger creature, I forget the name.

            “1950s rock was great because controlled by Jews for the purpose of making money.”

            ROFLMAO oy veyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

            1950s rock was utter degenerate shite that hinged on female emancipation and laissez-faire ‘romance’. It was the first low point in musical and poetic dumbing down and while things continued to get worse as a trend, most of the time since then the content has been of superior quality, with troughs of ever worsening tripe.

            “Today, controlled largely by people culturally and biologically descended from the puritans, and to extent that Jews have presence in the pop industry, they are conversos.”

            You’re really showing your true colours here rabbi. Your gripe with the proddies (and I assume Moldbug’s too) is a pretext for increasing Jewish power!

            “Jews that are merely trying to make money are not a problem.”

            We’re only trying to make money goyim, it’s not poisonal it’s just business.

            G G G G G G G G G

            • jim says:

              > Total strawman. Venice was entirely patronage-based, not capitalist.


              Venice in the time of its greatness was the nearest thing that has ever existed to the Marxist fantasy of a society ruled by “the Capitalist class”. It was dominated by warrior aristocrats who paid soldiers and built ships with money obtained through their capitalist business ventures, which ventures were their primary interest, their primary activity, and their primary source of wealth, status, and power.

              They were part time warriors, part time aristocrats, full time businessmen.

              • The Cominator says:

                Venice and also the Dutch Republic were the two great examples of societies ruled by the merchant class.

                Given their small size (outposts notwithstanding) I think they prove that capitalists can only really rule when the leading capitalists all talk to each other face to face regularly.

                This closely resembles Moldbug’s idea with city states the problem is city states often are not militarily viable.

                Singapore if left undisturbed seems likely to also actually evolve from priestly rule (Lee Kuan Yew was a priest king) to merchant rule…

                • jim says:

                  I doubt it. We are always ruled by warriors or priests. For the merchant class to rule, need to be warrior merchants, as in Venice.

                  Priests are in the business of controlling what people think, warriors in the business of controlling people by hurting them and breaking their toys. So who else matters?

                  Merchants can control people by offering them value, hence get targeted due to envy and covetousness, but merchants have no substantial incentive to cohere into guilds, whereas priests naturally cohere into priesthoods (see the climategate files for this process in operation) because if you hear the same story from several different people it sounds a lot more convincing, and warriors naturally cohere into armies, because otherwise, likely to die.

                  And the rest should do as they are told, and if we make sure they get a wife, children, and a home by doing what they are told, they will surely do it.

                  If merchants group into a cartel, that would profit them collectively, but any one merchant has large incentive to defect on the cartel, and there is not much the cartel can do to stop him, whereas the priest does not profit by defecting on the priesthood.

                  The warrior sometimes has large incentive to defect on the army, but there is a lot the army can do to stop him.

                • The Cominator says:

                  Singapore has universal conscription for natives and I suspect that for natives your reserve rank (after your active period) and social status tend to be somewhat correlated.

                  So perhaps evolving to warrior-merchant society?

                  The problem with Singapore is that women aren’t owned making it an IQ shreddar and also it has a Muslim problem. It handles its Muslim problem well but eventually they probably will have to solve it or it will destroy them.

                • pdimov says:

                  Merchants have the same incentive to group into guilds as everyone else – to protect themselves. Otherwise, likely to die.

                  They only have no incentive if someone protects them. Usually a strong state.

                • jim says:

                  The army protects the warrior, but the guild does not protect the merchant.

                  For the guild to protect the merchant, has to be armed and dangerous, which is roughly what happened in Venice.

                • pdimov says:

                  That’s more or less what I said. If no existing army protects the merchant, need a(n armed) guild for protection.

  2. Koanic says:

    **** Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck (theatlantic.com) | HN | scientistry is a joke | why progress has slowed

    Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck (theatlantic.com)
    120 points by dsr12 14 hours ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

    madhadron 5 hours ago [-]

    I’m not sure where to begin on this, so I’ll resort to a brain dump.
    The Nobel prize has become steadily more political. More senior researchers in the field have had more time to accrue political power, so expect the awards to reach further back in time.
    Research productivity has dropped, though. Today a professor in biology has a more than full time job just to get money for their lab. So you go through gradschool, go through postdoc, and when you’ve got all this training, you stop doing science and become a grant writer. If you don’t bring in money, you don’t have a lab.
    For the postdocs and grad students, they live very insecurely. Their pay is poor, they live knowing they will probably relocate somewhere entirely different in three or four years, so there’s no point having links into the local community. They work for someone has no training in management and has no time to deal with them if the money is going to flow. And there are still lots of places where the postdocs aren’t considered full time employees of the university and don’t have, say, health insurance. These are hardly the conditions that you can expect to produce good work.
    Fields are mined down to the last details rather than looking at unexplored areas nearby. There are many reasons for this. As a grad student you work on what your advisor works on. As a postdoc, you work on what your lab works on. As a professor, you work on what you worked on as a postdoc and it requires multiple years and lots of luck to reorient a lab. You need a community to provide evidence of your competence in order to advance at each stage and get tenure, which you can’t easily get if you wander out of an established field. Nor is there any training on how to look effectively find things to work on.

    kuanbutts 8 hours ago [-]

    Quickly scanning comments I do not think anyone else has brought up: administrative bloat.
    More money is being spent on science, but is more money actually making it through the administrative bloat encumbering most institutions to the actual performance of research?
    Anecdotally, I have a colleague who has received funding from the NSF and the amount of regulations and paperwork and various travel and meeting-related obligations related to the funding soak up so much of the actual dollar amount supplied. (You have to use your funding dollars to satisfy the various required meetings, travel, and paperwork-filling.) The constraints are so ridiculous that satisfying them consumes nearly all the resources the NSF provided, and the little that remains is actually not sufficient to perform the research with. Worse, he has now wasted months of his time satisfying various oversight requirements administrated by both the NSF and the research institution he works in, leaving him an unreasonably small amount of time to actually achieve any significant progress on his work. Once this round of funding dries up, he will be left with no choice but to repeat the process in order to secure some more funding to continue to barely make progress on his stated research goal.
    If I had to make up a number to describe the dollar efficiency of research funding, in some cases I might assert it is negative: Not only is it just being soaked up by self-serving, efficiency-draining administrative requirements, it literally destroys the most valuable resource (time!), leaving the researcher with none to actually engage in their subject matter of expertise.

    buboard 7 hours ago [-]

    it’s huge. Similar in an european ERC-funded lab: the PI is constantly traveling, there is little oversight of the work let alone actual scientific output. It feels like a large portion of the funding is designed to keep a lot of people people busy doing nothing.

    nonbel 6 hours ago [-]

    At least the US government treats it like a “jobs program”, just like everything else.

    kiliantics 3 hours ago [-]

    Not to mention the fact that the academic institution usually takes a hefty “tax” on any grants awarded. Where I work, they take around 30-40% I believe.

    forkandwait 11 hours ago [-]

    > The big fundamental structures describing nature its working are more or less known. It’s about details nowadays and it takes more time and effort to get the details right.

    This (bullshit) is what they thought in the 1890s,and is why physics was considered boring, basically a dead field. Oops!

    pvaldes 3 hours ago [-]

    A lot of ‘money spent in science’ has not really been spent. Just offered with lots of requisites that nobody can reach and then recycled for other projects. If granted, the money can be blocked for months (instead to pay an entire year to scientists, you pay 7 months… for one year of work), and can be partially siphoned off again using bureaucracy. Some politicians are very fond of this ‘miracle of bread and fishes’ trick.
    “In the last ten years we spent ’10 millions’ in science projects”. Looks great.
    “In the last ten years we flashed the same million 10 times before to put it again in our pocket”. Not so great, often the real thing.

    Animats 6 hours ago [-]

    That observation is decades too late. Big companies set up sizable research labs in the 20th century. After WWII, it was expected that a big industrial company would have a sizable R&D operation.
    Then, in the 1980s, those big R&D operations stopped paying off. Gradually, the big corporate labs closed – Bell Labs, RCA’s Sarnoff Labs, Xerox PARC, Westinghouse Labs – gone. IBM’s labs are far smaller than they once were. The payoff wasn’t there. The easy hits from research were gone.

    marcosdumay 1 hour ago [-]

    My reading is that R&D facilities couldn’t compete with the sheer amount of small improvements that came from the uneducated labor force. Japan grew out empowering the employees to do development, and the entire world copied it. What leaded us on a path where people are making the Uber-for-X apps and some actually getting rich that way.
    And that is exactly the opposite of a sarcity of low hanging fruit.

    • jim says:

      It is far from obvious that this excessively lengthy comment is informative or relevant.

      The reason that science has stopped working is simply that the scientific method has become politically incorrect, and has been replaced by peer review.

      They stopped doing science, so science stopped yielding its expected results.

      • Koanic says:

        Ok. It was going in my notes, and I realized it was relevant to one of your theses. Won’t do it again.

        • jim says:

          It is a relevant comment, but it is the politically acceptable account of the decline of science, as you would expect from the source.

          The politically acceptable explanations of decline may sometimes be true, relevant, and important, but this is a reactionary blog, so politically acceptable accounts need to be placed in the context of, and in relation to, politically unacceptable accounts, rather than simply ignoring politically unacceptable accounts. If posted, need to acknowledge that there are other accounts under discussion.

          Would have been a great comment if you put it in the context of, and as a reply to, less PC accounts.

          • Koanic says:

            Ok. That would be superfluous work for me, since I don’t need the message repeated.

            I just clipped the interesting comments. Sometimes because they were amusingly PC and wrong, sometimes because they poked holes in the official explanation (such as the one that called BS on the “low hanging fruit is all picked” argument).

            Most often because they fleshed out the abstract idea of decline with its current appalling manifestation.

            The only part I wrote was the two | |’s at the end of the headline. The first summarizes my take: “scientistry is a joke”.

  3. Sam says:

    Here’s a good link that describes the degeneration of art and behavior based on the age of Empires. The US tracks very closely with other Empires in their degeneracy. It’s not too long. Very interesting, to me. I’m always interested in long cyclic type patterns. I believe two contradictory things. That most life, economics, etc are based of oscillating patterns but I also believe that one individual can change these patterns. Very difficult but possible. The old for the loss of a shoe, the horse was lost, which caused the loss of the knight, which lost the battle, etc…

    Written by Sir John Bagot GLUBB


    • jim says:

      He adjusts the facts to fit.

      Ottoman empire lasted five hundred years.

      He cuts the roman empire into two empires, starts one late, ends the next one early. The Roman Republic ruled an empire starting from 282BC at the latest, with the conquest of the Samnites and the Etruscans, and the Roman Empire was still collecting taxes from far flung provinces and spending them on the degenerate mob of welfare bums in the city of Rome in 410AD

      So, given how he has adjusted the history of the two best known empires, I don’t trust how he handles the others.

      • Sam says:

        Point taken.

      • Koanic says:

        > He adjusts the facts to fit.

        Glubb argues that one must do this, because the cycle is based on golden age causing decline, thus empire has a specific meaning of regional superdominance, not merely a political structure of government.

        You appear to be applying the usual definition of “empire”, whereas Glubb uses his specific one. So his model’s prediction that the US “empire” will end does not necessarily refer to the political structure, but certainly to the period of dominance.

  4. […] Why emperors cannot be traditionalists. Related: Without aristocrats, kings are not much good. […]

  5. oscar the grinch says:

    Boy oh boy. When it comes to art, you fellas are a bunch of bloody cavemen.

  6. Dan says:

    I find myself agreeing with Kgaard to a certain extend. Good on him for persisting with his point. Many art forms have declined, but cinematography is presently at astonishing heights.

    That said, the little village church in my mother’s hometown in Austria has more artistic value than anything I have ever seen that was built in my lifetime and I am 35 years old.

  7. Kgaard says:

    Not one good response to this argument but a lot of insults. This point has been obvious to me for 20 years. You guys seem very defensive …

  8. Kgaard says:

    Painting and sculpture are dead simply because they are exhausted. Every conceivable combination has been done. They died the same death as classical music for the same reason — the combinations had largely been exhausted. Ditto rock music, really. It came into being with the electrification of instruments in the ’50s and perfection of multi-track recording in the ’60s. But the best combinations were exhausted by about 1975.

    But long-form TV has never been better. That’s a new art form made possible by a new technology: the packaging of DVDs into bundles so viewers can binge-watch 12 hours of programming over a few days with no commercials. This advance allowed for all sorts of new ways of presenting drama. It’s today’s art. Tomorrow’s art is going to be some sub-set of virtual reality, which will grow out of video games. It’s almost guaranteed, no?

    So … I don’t see a conspiracy here. I see natural technical progression.

    • Aesop Jones says:


      • Kgaard says:

        Very erudite retorts. So you’re telling me that there are no sculptors/painters/classical composers than anybody’s heard of for the past fifty years because rich people stopped patronizing quality artists? That makes no sense. I don’t think many of the impressionists had sponsors, nor did the Hudson River School guys (though a few may have had teaching gigs). I don’t recall Led Zeppelin having rich patrons, and their tunes will be deconstructed in music theory classes 200 years from now.

        I have a great book on art theory written by a painter and art professor from 1924. In it he bemoans the ascension of the modernists. Basically calls them all charlatans and hacks. Now … on that point he may be right or wrong. But he gets closer to the mark when he attributes the modernists’ rise to the sheer BOREDOM of both painters and critics at looking at the same old landscapes and boats and blushing peasant women. People got tired of that stuff. It had been done. Over and over. New things were required. Art isn’t art if it’s just copying what had been done before. By 1960 you were down to Jackson Pollock splashing paint on canvas. That was the end. After that, painting merged with fashion in Damien Hirst and ceased to be a serious art form.

        Any theory of art has to account for the implications of technical progress on art forms.

        • nydwracu says:

          There have been classical composers that anyone’s heard of for the past fifty years. Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and so on. I saw Rautavaara’s Incantations once.

          Art goes through cycles. People get bored and start innovating with no regard to traditional criteria of quality, but the criteria existed for a reason. Eventually the innovations get assimilated back into the tradition, and the criteria reassert themselves. That’s just how it goes, and you can see it all the way back in the 14th century. Ars subtilior.

          The collapse of painting had political motives: abstract expressionism was a state-backed propaganda campaign against the state-backed propaganda campaign of socialist realism. It died in the Cold War — before then, you had the Futurists. What do you do when the camera has been invented and people are bored by the same old landscapes? Boccioni.

          (After Boccioni came Depero, who consciously attempted to fold art into advertising.)

          • kgaard says:

            Well with music there are always some nooks and crannies to be filled in. Somebody could still come along and add value in a Debussy or Chopin type style. But just like your example of a young artist doing a Roman-style fountain in a modern city, this would be something closer to decoration than art. Even Phillip Glass was well aware that music was on its last legs, as he went very minimalist for much of his career. One of his pieces called for tacking the scores up on the wall and having the musicians move around from place to place. Not exactly timeless musical values at work there. In a fantasy composer league I don’t think anyone would trade Glass for Wagner.

            I will give you the argument that classic artistic values re-assert themselves — but with the caveat that they are only revived with gusto when a new element can be added. My example here will surely drive you nuts but I think it is sound: The music of the band Yes can go toe to toe with a good portion of classical music — I would say 90+ percent — in terms of both intellectual and emotional engagement. That was extremely complex work on every level. To take another example, consider the lead guitar solo in the Allman Brothers’ song Jessica. Has all the hallmarks of a classic violin solo, yet put forth in a whole new medium. If you listen to Salieri after listening to Dickie Betts, you are liable to get very bored.

            The whole reason classical musicians had to write down their melodies is because they couldn’t record them. A guy like Beethoven worked out all his hooks sitting at the piano, just like Stevie Wonder. Once you could record the music — and once you could fill out the sounds you wanted with electronic instruments, that’s where all the talent went. Barriers to entry collapsed so the most musically ambitious fled classical for rock. I admit there were some artistic costs to this, but there were a lot of artistic rewards. I wouldn’t trade the Rolling Stones for some lesser known 17th-century spanish guitar composer.

            On painting… yeah I just don’t agree that abstraction was a plot by the socialists. I understand that the Italians loved their futurists, but it seems pretty clear to me that painters got sick of painting trees. Plus, the destruction of WW1 ushered in a post-modern intellectual climate and some sort of artistic change was needed to reflect that. (Poorly phrased but you get the idea.)

          • kgaard says:

            Meant “Wagner for Glass.”

          • Kgaard says:

            There’s tons of technical skill. Eddie Van Halen was a Lizst-caliber virtuoso on guitar. Ditto Jimmy Page. Even Keith Richards deserves credit here — what the Stones created were basically tone poems, which is why they are so durable. Crosby Stills and Nash … more tone poems, great virtuosity.

            Or how about the technical skill that goes into making great movies? If you put it on a scale, the collective talent needed to kick out something like The Godfather could easily match, and probably exceed, the talent needed to create a European cathedral circa 1600.

          • Kgaard says:

            Semi-retract Eddie Van Halen as an example of virtuosity. Not sure VH’s stuff will age well. Kind of schlocky. Led Zep and Yes are better examples.

          • nydwracu says:

            Classical music was undermined to some extent by the creation of recording technology, sure.

            Popular music before recording was written the same way classical music has always been written: the composer composed, the performer performed, and they weren’t necessarily the same people. Now that there’s recording, the composer and the performer are usually the same, outside pop music; and in pop music, composers associate each song with one performer. If a pop music composer writes a song for a pop singer, they write *for* the pop singer, and no one else will perform it — unless it gets covered, which happens rarely.

            But it wasn’t undermined completely. Some things can only be done in classical music. Bands rarely have more than five or six members, and usually three or four. You want an orchestra, you pretty much have to write classical. You want classical instrumentation, maybe you can find a violinist or whatever, but you’ll probably have to write classical.

            One loose end waiting to be mined here is the integration of the two styles. This has only been approached well by popular music — classical has tried, but I’ve yet to come across any that’s listenable. Can’t get into Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham; don’t see anything of value there. But from the popular music end, there’s prog rock, post-rock, neoclassical metal, and Michael Gira’s bands. (Swans will age well. They built an entire American style. No Swans, no Melvins; no Melvins, no grunge; no Swans, no Cobalt; etc.)

            You’re right about the new element. Pärt has tintinnabuli; Lou Harrison had the gamelan. But popular music is serving as an engine of innovation — plenty of new elements to mine. The problem is that classical music isn’t picking them up — isn’t doing much of anything. (Glenn Branca went from popular to classical.) But you see this problem even in popular music: Venetian Snares built his entire career around alternate time signatures, but you don’t see that very frequently in genres likely to have the potential to be influenced by him. (He might have gotten it from classical music — he’s familiar with it, at least. Rossz Csillag Alatt Született.)

            My impression is that people with classical training who want to innovate or absorb innovations go from there (to noise?) to popular. That’s what Dan Deacon did.

          • nydwracu says:

            Also, movie soundtracks. Can’t believe I forgot that, especially since Glass did the Mishima soundtrack.

            (There have been a few instances of movie soundtrack people going into popular music. Globus, for one.)

          • Steve Johnson says:

            Danny Elfman – scores movies, lead singer and songwriter for Oingo Boingo.

          • Kgaard says:

            Yeah this is the crux of the matter right here: Why did a rock/classical merger not go farther? Why didn’t rock just keep getting better and better … ever more sophisticated and spectacular? Why did it peak out in 1975 and then just degenerate into Brittany Spears and Miley Cyrus? Several thoughts. First, I’d propose that the peak of rock sophistication came with Queen, Zeppelin, Yes, the Doors the Allmans and Steely Dan. These guys all grew up deeply enmeshed in both the blues and (in most cases) classical music. So their beings marinated in both forms for many years. When they went to create music, they had an instinctive grasp of what could be done — and what quality music WAS.

            Some other factors: There were no video games, synthesizers or computers to district young people, so they practiced more. Everything was analog … you had to be GOOD at your instruments. Synthesizers came in I guess around 1980. From then on you could create something that sounded like music without having any talent. I was very conscious of this change (was in my teens at the time). Music just collapsed. It became trash almost overnight. Punk was a travesty.

            I’ve always felt that Zeppelin just sort of scratched the surface of where their genre could have taken them. But here’s the thing: Combining classical and rock into something that SOUNDS good — that you actually want to listen to … something that grabs you the way rock does … is incredibly difficult. I think the talent just ceased to be there. The best people ceased to be drawn to the field. Today, really no new musicians have that intuitive feel for what classic rock is supposed to sound like because they are three generations removed from hardcore blues and country, and most never listen to any classical. Plus they don’t have the patience to master complicated musical forms. And their ears have been destroyed by computerized drums and synth-ed baselines.

            Somebody made the argument not long ago that human capacity maxed out in the 1970s with the Apollo program. You could argue both sides of that but I instantly thought of music in that context. The sheer intellectual firepower of Jimmy Page at his peak … Sometimes it seems like it’s just gone.

          • Kgaard says:

            Just checked out Boccioni. Good stuff! I could absolutely see having some of those paintings around the house. I see your point as to how he may have moved a step beyond the impressionists and early abstractionists.

    • jim says:

      Consider sculpture.

      Pretty sure that not all that can be said has been said.

      • Kgaard says:

        But what would a new sculptural form even look like? The Greeks perfected the sculpting of humans out of marble 2500 years ago. Rome’s Trevi Fountain was about as big, dramatic and spectacular a realist project as you can get and that was done in 1762. There is more post-modern sculpture out there than you can shake a stick at. What’s left to do?

        For a truly living art form, you can give an elevator pitch of where that form could go from here. (With virtual reality it’s quite easy.) But with sculpture, I just don’t know what you would say.

        Let’s suppose some ambitious young dude decides to devote his life to sculpting YET ANOTHER big beautiful fountain in Rome. Okay fine. He gets it done. The media covers it. People clap. But is anyone’s life affected? Won’t people actually wonder why he spent his whole life copying what people did 250 years ago? What will people do when they go back to their hotel rooms in Rome? Probably turn on Game of Thrones or watch a movie …

        • spandrell says:

          Dude, just shut up.

        • nydwracu says:

          Let’s suppose some ambitious young dude decides to devote his life to sculpting a big beautiful fountain somewhere that isn’t Rome. He gets it done. The media covers it. People clap. And then there’s beauty in a place where there wasn’t any before.

          What’s left to do? That.

          Architecture, urban planning, etc.: there’s a place for art as long as there are still cities being built. Brutalism has failed: just look at the Hoover Building in DC. The self-consciously innovative nonsense spewed forth by the increasingly insular and status-obsessed art world is failing. There’s plenty of abstract crap in New York, and none of it is as famous as the statue of Atlas. Does anyone outside architecture and outside the ultra-rich give a damn about Zaha Hadid? And yet plenty of people still give a damn about cathedrals and mosques.

          • kgaard says:

            Yeah I will give you architecture. I sort of deliberately left that off my list of dead forms. I live in northern Virginia and the arlington area is even worse than DC in terms of the putridness of the designs of the new buildings. For the most part it just comes down to money. They can slap up generic apartment buildings with paper-thin walls very cheap and as average IQS decline the pushback from the populace falls away to nothing.

            On the issue of the retardation of NYC post-modern art, I agree but that really just makes my point: dead art form, has now merged into fashion. Buying a Hirst for $2 million is just status signaling, like buying a Ferrari. Morons on both sides of the deal in the modern art world now. As an aside, really good late-19th century american art by guys whose work is in many of the museums in the country is often going for low 5 figures at auction now. Possible arbitrage opportunity there.

          • nydwracu says:

            “On the issue of the retardation of NYC post-modern art, I agree but that really just makes my point: dead art form, has now merged into fashion.”

            Right. But it didn’t merge into fashion because it died; it died because it merged into fashion.

            Umberto Boccioni blew open painting, and then died in the Great War. A few minor Futurists stepped up to continue his style, but it was simplified, kitschier, and eventually folded into Fascist propaganda — which was markedly better than Soviet or American propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. (Depero was hardly an artist; if anything, he was a graphic designer. Sometimes he made things that didn’t suck — but nothing I know of that wouldn’t be out of place on a KMFDM album cover.)

            Then the Fascist regime fell. After that, did anyone pick up what Boccioni started?

            (Jim: comments that contain HTML don’t post — the submit comment button throws a 404 error.)

            • jim says:

              (Jim: comments that contain HTML don’t post — the submit comment button throws a 404 error.)

              I don’t know what is causing this, and unable to immediately fix it.

              I tried changing my spam filter, but that did not work.

        • jim says:

          But what would a new sculptural form even look like? The Greeks perfected the sculpting of humans out of marble 2500 years ago.

          And most of their stuff has been lost, and never replaced.

          • Kgaard says:

            There’s lots of it being replaced in Vegas. It’s not considered art, but rather kitsch, and I think that’s the correct classification for it.

      • kgaard says:

        A simpler way to think about this is just to say that static art forms were displaced by active ones. If you are 16 and an ambitious artist, why be a sculptor or painter when you can make movies? It doesn’t make sense, as movies have far greater potential to move the needle in terms of our understanding of the human condition. 500 years from now people won’t look back and marvel at some currently obscure artist. They will marvel at The Godfather and The Deer Hunter and think, “Damn… what a creative explosion occurred in the 20th century.”

        Movies sucked up all the talent that otherwise might have gone into older forms. If somebody wants to link to a post-1960 painter or sculptor whose work they think is superior artistically to what the best movie directors of the 70s did, i’ll be curious to see it. I don’t think it can be done.

        • jim says:

          Movies are produced for the masses. Movies that are supposedly produced for the elite are not very good.

          The best art produced today is produced for Joe Sixpack. I don’t think art produced for Joe Sixpack will last the ages.

          • Kgaard says:

            That’s a tough position to defend, Jim. Who were the great cathedrals of Europe built for if not Joe Sixpack? I can give you 10 historical examples right off the top of my head of individual artists who were famous in their day — revered by the masses (or something close). Mozart and Wagner were both rock stars. In painting, Michelangelo, Cezanne, Renoir … all rock stars. In literature, Hemingway, Camus, Zola, Kerouac … all rock stars. I think it’s a lot of the inside baseball stuff that tends to fade. Alexander Pope comes to mind. Or that guy with the bandana who wrote Infinite Jest and then killed himself. He just wasn’t that good but the college professors loved him.

            • jim says:

              I am pretty sure the great Cathedrals of Europe were not built for Joe Sixpack. Las Vegas is built for Joe Sixpack.

          • Kgaard says:

            How about opera? Massively popular, thoroughly middlebrow in 19th century Europe. Maria Callas, Mario Lanza … total rock stars. Or how about Shakespeare. Even in his own day he was fairly popular and also considered pretty much middlebrow.

            Anyway … basic point is that a high percentage of what we consider great art was popular with the masses pretty much right out of the gate.

            • jim says:

              Observe that when Shakespeare ridicules socialism with Jack Cade, ninety percent of his jokes go right over the head of today’s audiences, even though they are today far more relevant than they were in his day. He was not targeting our masses.

          • Kgaard says:

            Well, your Shakespeare point brings up two things. Part of it is that artistic works do age. You’ve gotta update the language and motifs for each generation. That’s why there is always a place for new art works. I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare myself. The old English and his now-obscure references are tiring.

            And to the extent what you’re seeing is a function of people ceasing to be repulsed by socialism, that’s probably a function of hippie doofuses taking over the education system as much as anything. Thirty years ago you couldn’t find a kid anywhere in middle america — black or white — who thought the soviet union had a good thing going. (That probably wasn’t your point but now that I’ve typed it there’s no use un-typing it …)

            • jim says:

              Part of it is that artistic works do age. You’ve gotta update the language and motifs for each generation.

              Jack Cade and Dick the Butcher have not aged. They have become more relevant and clearer. In particular the class war trial is rendered clearer by recent examples of punishing people on the basis of real or imaginary class membership

      • The Cominator says:

        Jim what about music?

        I know the stormtards hate everything jews regardless of guilt or innocence but I personally think American popular music was at it’s zenith precisely when Jewish control of the music industry was the most absolute, in the 1950s and early 1960s.

        What made popular music go so far downhill? Jews aren’t the answer (because it declined as they lost power over the music industry) and government bureaucrats do not appear to be the answer?

        • jim says:

          My girlfriend, born in 1989, sings songs of the 1950 and 1960s. I go to a party full of working class IQ 100 normies, and they want some music videos, and the music videos they want are, for the most part, video remakes of 1950 and 1960s pops.

          So, your view is widely shared. Clear that music for normies peaked 1950s and 1960s, and music for the elite peaked a whole lot earlier. That music for the elite is now dreck is well explained by grantsmanship and bureaucracy, but as you say, that fails to explain the collapse of pop.

          So, to research this question, went to you tube, and asked for top pop hits of 2018, and, lo and behold, the first music video has a blonde white girl depicting a very wealthy highly upper class white girl telling us that all her privilege is ashes in her mouth without her black sex partner of the moment.

          Pretty sure that this is not, in fact, what customers actually want, that what is being pushed is pushed without regard to end user preferences. Obviously people would prefer a song about a girl longing for her high status lover. White girls do not in fact hunger for low socioeconomic status black males – particularly as black male was depicted as completely lacking in any signs of toxic masculinity. Now if they had depicted a black thug, that might represent consumer demand. But the guy was depicted as an Obamalike gay mulatto, a counterstereotypical black.

          A brief skim through suggested that they were all political – all about class, race mixing, casual hooking up, polyamory, and countering toxic masculinity. Leftist music is always bad music, as leftist representational art always depicts ugliness and demons. They are mostly about sexual relations, usually interracial sexual relation, and the reactionary account of courtship (men conquer and women surrender, but men display and women choose) was entirely invisible. An alien life form that reproduced by spore pod explosion looking at the videos would believe thjat sexual relationships and courtship were completely symmetric with the sexes being interchangeable and relationships transient.

          That is not in fact the subject matter that the audience hungers for. A side effect of politicizing art, is that artists are not selected on merit, artists not promoted on merit, and audience preferences are disregarded.

          • The Cominator says:

            “Leftist music is always bad music, as leftist representational art always depicts ugliness and demons.”

            Leftists of the non-puritan hippieish pursuasion made some good music in the late 60s (but 50s and early 60s was better).

            But I think in summary basically you think that the Cathedral covertly subverted normie music the way they have very recently subverted comedy to be a source of relentless poz propaganda.

            You are lucky that you have a girl who likes good music… women much more so then men normally like whatever awful crap their peer group thinks is fashionable.

            • jim says:

              And their comedy is unfunny for the same reasons as their pop is no good. Remember Chris Rock’s wonderful “We hate black people too” rant. And “how not to get your ass kicked by police”. They cut his balls off, and he stopped being funny.

  9. Adolf the Friendly Wolf says:

    So, is good art still being produced, but in low-status obscurity. Will people 500 years from now look back at 2014, and remember artists we’ve never heard of?

  10. Merovan says:


    Heh–I was just checking the thread thinking to say, this post deserves more comments.

  11. spandrell says:

    It appears your readership isn’t interested in art, Jim. You gotta talk about Jesus and Jews to get any comments.

  12. Brian says:

    Conquest’s third law seems to work here.

  13. Hidden Author says:

    That’s part of it but another part is that photography makes most picture art obsolete, picture art being the lion’s share of art.

  14. Someone says:

    “the second childhood of human reason” what a patronizing statement.
    Gibbon just as Jim could not stop the urge express his hatred of God here and there.

    Don’t be fooled by Jim’s delusions.

    The late empire works of theology and philosophy are much greater than any statue of an idol or pagan literature.

  15. spandrell says:

    Indeed. But aristocrats and kings have competing interests, and ever since the Qin kings and Shang Yang, the king and a working bureaucracy have had the upper hand. Though it can regress over time, modern technology seems to give bureaucrats an edge.

  16. Thomas says:

    Art is arbitrary. But perhaps not that arbitrary as Picasso/Warhol wanted it to be.

    What about science? Much of what people today think it’s a science, would not qualify. It is not only the Global Warming cult. It is “the scientist are trying to prevent Ebola to spread further”. They are no scientists, they are medical doctors, nurses and cleaning ladies and some other profiles who do that currently in Africa.

    Everybody is a scientist now, as everybody is an artist. Yes, you can call this a decay of science. It is masked as a democratization of it, in fact it is a decay. But your point is, that it is the same thing anyway – democracy=decay.

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