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It is not necessary to read these two books together, but they really do compliment one another and it is when taken together that they make the most powerful case.  The case is that, just as each of us has always secretly suspected, modern art is crap.  In fact, not only is it crap, it is intentionally so, more or less as a calculated insult to our middle brow tastes.  Indeed, while most of us would consider it the purpose of art to convey beauty, modern artists consider art to be merely a tool for political expression.  Logically then, since most of them are, and were, opposed to our middle class, democratic, capitalist, protestant values, modern art is antithetical to virtually everything that most of us believe in.

I say that we have all always intuited that this is true, but it was left to Tom Wolfe, naturally, to declare for one and all that the emperor had no clothes.  He does this most forcefully in the opening lines of Bauhaus, which deals with modern architecture, when he says:

    O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth
    where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they
    detested as within they blessed borders today?

But the reasons for the sorry state of the arts are most clearly explicated in Painted Word.  The essay therein was occasioned by a Hilton Kramer review of an exhibition of Realist artists.   On the morning of April 28, 1974, Wolfe picked up the New York Times and read the following by Kramer:

    "Realism does not lack its partisans, but it does rather conspicuously lack a persuasive theory.  And
    given the nature of our intellectual commerce with works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to
    lack something crucial--the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our
    understanding of the values they signify."

Kramer's words brought about an epiphany:

    All these years, in short, I had assumed that in art, if nowhere else, seeing is believing. Well - how
    very shortsighted! Now, at last, on April 28, 1974, I could see. I had gotten it backward all along.
    Not `seeing is believing', you ninny, but `believing is seeing', for Modern Art has become completely
    literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.

Painted Word is an extended riff upon this theme--the idea that art had become wholly dependent on theory.  His case builds to the stunning dénouement when an artist named Lawrence Weiner presented the following artwork in the April 1970 issue of Arts Magazine:

    1. The artist may construct the piece
    2. The piece may be fabricated
    3. The piece need not be built
    Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with
    the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.

Concludes Wolfe:

    And there, at last, it was!  No more realism, no more representational objects, no more lines, colors
    forms, and contours, no more pigments, no more brushstrokes, no more evocations, no more
    frames, walls, galleries, museums, no more gnawing at the tortured face of the god Flatness, no
    more audience required, just a "receiver" that may or may not be there at all, no more ego projected,
    just "the artist", in the third person, who may be anyone or no one at all, not even existence, for that
    got lost in the subjunctive mode--and in the moment of absolutely dispassionate abdication, of
    insouciant withering away, Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher until, with one last erg
    of freedom, one last dendritic synapse, it disappeared up its own fundamental aperature...and came
    out the other side as Art Theory!...Art Theory pure and simple, words on a page, literature undefiled
    by vision, flat, flatter, Flattest, a vision invisible, even ineffable, as ineffable as the Angels and the
    Universal Souls.

And it is upon reaching this final state of pure theory that C.S. Lewis pessimistic prediction in The Abolition of Man comes to fruition.  When we as a people, no longer capable of forming coherent judgments about quality, no longer confident enough to differentiate what is good from what is bad, end up being forced to accept any old garbage that is hailed by the critics and forced upon us.

Wolfe is at his wickedly funny, subversive best here, pricking the pretensions of the Art world--artists, critics and patrons alike.  If you want to know why the establishment reacts so angrily to his novels, you need look no farther than these two dissections of the tastes, or lack of such, exhibited by the intelligentsia in Modern Art.  When you pronounce to the world that the opinion makers live in ugly, uncomfortable buildings ands decorate their homes with art which is at best a hoax, at worst a pile of trash, you sort of have to expect that the opinions they deliver won't be all that favorable to you.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Tom Wolfe (7 books reviewed)
Tom Wolfe Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Tom Wolfe
    -INDEX: Tom Wolfe (Harper's)
    -INDEX: Tom Wolfe (Esquire)
-ESSAY: Tom Wolfe Appreciates "Studs Lonigan" (Tom Wolfe, Top Ten Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Studs Terkel and Tom Wolfe discuss architecture and Wolfe's book, From Bauhaus to Our House (Studs Terkel Radio Archive, BROADCAST: Nov. 16, 1981)
    -ESSAY: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Tom Wolfe, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: The Marvelous Mouth of Cassius Clay: The year before he became Muhammad Ali forever, legendary writer Tom Wolfe spent a week and a half with the legend (Tom Wolfe, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’; Eyewitness Report (Tom Wolfe, New York)
    -ESSAY: Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s (Tom Wolfe, New York)
    -ESSAY: The Building That Isn't There, Cont'd: One of the most important buildings in the history of 20th-century architecture will soon be vaporized. (TOM WOLFE, 10/13/03, NY Times)
    -AUDIO: A TimesTalks Event: Tom Wolfe (NY Times, 3/08/03)
    -QUESTIONS: Tom Wolfe: Following his participation in the TimesTalks series on March 8, the author answered readers' questions. (NY Times, April 24, 2003)
    -ESSAY: REVOLUTIONARIES: how the Manhattan Institute changed New York City and America (Tom Wolfe, January 30, 2003, NY Post)
    -ESSAY: Idea Fashions of the Eighties: After Marx, What? (Tom Wolfe, January 1984, Imprimis)
    -ESSAY: Stalking the billion-footed beast: A literary manifesto for the new social novel (Tom Wolfe, Harper's)
    -ESSAY: THE LAST AMERICAN HERO IS JUNIOR JOHNSON. YES! (Tom Wolfe, 3/01/1965, Esquire)
    -AUDIO: The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!
-PODCAST: The Wolfe in the White Suit (w/ Osita Nwanevu): Writer Osita Nwanevu joins to discuss the life and work of novelist and "new journalist" Tom Wolfe. (Know your Enemy, 7/05/24)
-ESSAY: The Electric Kool-Aid Conservative Tom Wolfe was no radical. (Osita Nwanevu/January 5, 2024, New Republic)
    -ESSAY: Why does no one write like Tom Wolfe any more?: In a polarised culture, appetite for the late writer’s brand of wry conservative satire has waned – and he is partly to blame. (Nick Burns, 12/28/23, New Statesman)
    -TRIBUTE: The Statustician!:Tom Wolfe was death on intellectual pretension, and he mocked those who always sought out the worst in America. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, May 24, 2018, Weekly Standard)
    -PROFILE: Status Reporter: Tom Wolfe's advice: Escape the "parenthesis states" and explore America (JOSEPH RAGO, March 11, 2006, Opinion Journal)
    -INTERVIEW: Mummy Wrap: an interview with Tom Wolfe (George Neumayr, 1/10/2005, American Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The author in full: Tom Wolfe: Wolfe excelled at capturing human foibles and petty vanities; anything deeper than that escaped him (Chilton Williamson, Jr., 11/11/20, The Spectator)
    -INTERVIEW: Tom Wolfe on how speech made us human (Steve Heilig, March 16, 2008, SF Gate)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: Tom Wolfe and The Painted Word (Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr., Episode S0191, Recorded on July 9, 1975)
    -PROFILE: The Ice Cream Man with the Clean White Suit (Alex Belth, The Stacks Reader)
    -EXCERPT: Wolfe and Breslin and the Birth of New York Magazine (Richard Kluger, From The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune)
    -ESSAY: Tom Wolfe: The Satirist Whose Wit Hardened into Contempt 1930-2018 (KEVIN BAKER, December 30, 2018, Politico)
-ESSAY: Bush's Official Reading List, and a Racy Omission (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 2/07/05, NY Times)
-ESSAY: Against De-Materialization: Tom Wolfe in the Age of NFTs (Julia Friedman and David Hawkes, 09 Mar 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: ‘Radical Chic’: Still Cringey After All These Years: Like author Tom Wolfe's caustic take in 1970, radicalism is being cultivated today in the best penthouses and corporate suites. (JAMES PINKERTON, 6/10/20, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of The Purple Decades: A Reader by Tom Wolfe (James Walcott, NY Review of Books)
    Modern, All Too Modern: Tom Wolfe's new novel, largely reviewed as a satiric report on the sexual mores of today's college students, is fundamentally about the nature of the human will.: a review of of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Tom Wolfe - A Clear Eye for Human Biodiversity (Steve Sailer, January 02, 2005, V-Dare)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Dana B. Vachon, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (Ken Masugi,
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Priya Jain, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (S. T. Karnick, Books & Culture)
-REVIEW: of The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe (Andrew Zwart, Books & Culture)


    -REVIEW: of Radical Wolfe (Stephen Silver, Splice Today)
    -REVIEW: of Radical Wolfe, directed by Richard Dewey (John Tierney, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Tom Wolfe’s Worldview Came Into Focus In New York (Christopher Bonanos, September 2023, Vulture)
    -PODCAST: Richard Dewey, John Tierney: Discussing the New Tom Wolfe Documentary (City Journal: 10 Blocks podcast, 9/15/23)
    -FILM REVIEW: Radical Wolfe (Titus Techera, Religion & Liberty)
    -TV REVIEW: Less Than Half ‘A Man in Full’: One of US television’s most experienced and talented writers has made a mess of Tom Wolfe’s second novel. (Kevin Mims, 13 May 2024, Quillette)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY: Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, and Modernism
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Tom Wolfe (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: TOM WOLFE, MATERIAL BOY (Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of From Bauhaus to Our House (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  of From Bauhaus to Our House (Paul Goldberger, NY Times Book Review)
    -Bauhaus Weimar (1919-25) and Dessau (1925-33)
    -Bauhaus: History Ideologies Achievements Typogaphy
    - Bauhaus School: 1919 - 1933 (Germany Today)
    -Article: A century in the Arts:  From Modernism to Madonna, and beyond: 'All that is solid melts into air.' (Ed Siegel, Boston Globe Staff)
    -Tom Wolfe: A Man in Full
    -ESSAY : FREDERICK HART, b. 1943 : The Artist the Art World Couldn't See : His Vietnam War memorial was like his other work - a success  with the public and thoroughly ignored by the critics. (TOM WOLFE, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Disciplines: What do a Jesuit priest, a Canadian communications theorist, and Darwin II all have in common? (Tom Wolfe, Forbes)
    -etext: THE LAST AMERICAN HERO by Tom Wolfe
    -ESSAY: TOM WOLFE (Richard A. Kallan)
    -ESSAY: Don Dapper: Tom Wolfe conquers windmills on Brown's battlefield (Amanda Griscom)
    -Caricature from The Atlantic
    -CBC Interview
    -INTERVIEW (Steve Hammer NUVO Newsweekly)
    -Tom Wolfe: The Satirist of Society (Caitlin Allen, Brighton High School)
    -Creative Nonfiction: Writers and Their Works
    -NEW JOURNALISM by Dave Selden, Jr.
    -Parajournalism II: Wolfe and The New Yorker (DWIGHT MACDONALD, NY Review of Books)
    -Profile: Tom Wolfe, in 'Full' flower (USA Today)
    -REVIEW of Ambush at Fort Bragg (Salon)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's sour note (Timothy Noah, US News and World Report)
   -REVIEW: of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ROY COHN By Sidney Zion Dangerous Obsessions (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CECIL BEATON A Biography. By Hugo Vickers SNOB'S PROGRESS (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of THE LAST LAUGH By S.J. Perelman THE EXPLOITS OF EL SID (Tom Wolfe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's Rooftop Yawp His crackling novel deserves to be news. But America is better than Wolfe's Atlanta. (George F. Will, Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: A Man in Full (Tom Walker, Denver Post Books Editor)
    -REVIEW: Georgia on His Mind: Tom Wolfe takes on the New South in 'A Man in Full' (Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek)
    -REVIEW: Wolfe takes full measure of 'Man' (Deirdre Donahue, USA Today)
    -REVIEW:  of A Man in Full (Sven Birkerts, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: A Riot of Egomania  (Ty Hudson, Yale Review of Books)
    -REVIEW of A Man in Full: From he-man to holy man (Salon)
    -REVIEW of A Man in Full, The White Stuff (jeffrey eugenides, Voice Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: A Man Half Full (Norman Mailer, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of A Man in Full By Tom Wolfe. (Michael Lewis, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: J. Peder Zane: Far from empty, not quite full (News and Observer)
    -REVIEW: BookBrowser Review
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic (Jordan Hoffman)
    -REVIEW: Tom Wolfe still has the right stuff, despite snub by left-wing literary set (Chuck Moss, Detroit News)
    -REVIEW: The culture's lone Wolfe The chronicler of radical chic and trophy wives captures the nineties in his new novel (Gene Edward Veith, World)
    -ESSAY: TOM WOLFE (Richard A. Kallan)
    -ESSAY: Don Dapper: Tom Wolfe conquers windmills on Brown's battlefield (Amanda Griscom)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Stuff (USAF site, Eric D. Brown, Capt, USAF)
    -REVIEW of Ambush at Fort Bragg (Salon)
    -The Birth of Way New Journalism (Joshua Quittner,  HotWired)
    -In Gonzo We Trust: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as Popular Culture Icon An Essay for Popular Culture: Explorations in Theory and Practice SoSc 4990.06 By: Rev. Dominic Ali for Professor Joe Galbo April. 26, 1993
    -REVIEW: of  Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism. By T. J. Clark (Robert W. Jenson, First Things)
    -ESSAY:     Video Junk Is On Its Way to the Whitney Biennial (Hilton Kramer, NY Observer)
    -ESSAY: Bauhaus: Design or Dogma? (Hugh Aldersey-Williams, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: The Architect as Totalitarian: Le Corbusier’s baleful influence (Theodore Dalrymple, Autumn 2009, City Journal)