Steiner, Patronage, Journalism, Art Market

As I mentioned, I have been spending time with George Steiner (his ideas and books, not the man himself). The following is from his work Real Presences:

“Serious art, music, writing is not interesting in the sense in which journalism must be. Its solicitation and governance of us are those of a patient necessity. The appeal of  the text, of the work of art or music is, radically, disinterested. Journalism bids us invest in the bourse of momentary sensation. Such investment yields ‘interest’ in the most pragmatic sense. The dividends of the aesthetic are, precisely, those of ‘disinterest’, of a rebuke to opportunity. Above all, meaningful art, music, literature are not new, as is, as must strive to be, the news brought by journalism. Originality is antithetical to novelty. The etymology of the word alerts us. It tells of ‘inception’ and of ‘instauration’, of a return, in substance and in form, to beginnings. In exact relation to their originality, to their spiritual-formal force of innovation, aesthetic inventions are ‘archaic’. They carry in them the pulse of the distant source.

“Why then the prodigality of journalistic notice expended on the aesthetic?

“Strictly considered, the claims of journalism to men’s works and days are totalitarian. Journalism would ‘cover’ the sum total of happenings. In so far as they do ‘happen’, although in this context the very notion of occurrence is fundamentally impertinent, art literature, music, dance are grist to the paper-mill. The mass media employ marriage counselors and astrologers. Why should they not employ art critics and music reviewers?

“But this is not the full answer by any means. Manifold accommodations between aesthetic consumption and political-social power, between leisure and industrialization, are relevant. The assumption of parliamentary and bureaucratic control by the educated bourgeoisie in the 1830s and 1840s dissociates the greater part of literary, artistic and musical patronage from the aristocratic and ecclesiastical elite of the ancien regime. Art, letters, music must now compete for response in the emporia of middle-class taste. Such competition compels notice and publicity.”

 

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