It is a strange, inside-out, self-loathing world that would define “good art” as incompatible with making an audience feel good about themselves for having seen the show.

Nevertheless, that’s what this article suggests about audiences at the Hirschhorn’s exhibit of work by Ai Weiwei:

With Ai, one wonders where the political dissent ends and the artsy attitudinizing begins. At least that was what I found myself wondering at the Hirshhorn, where Ai marries his somber subject matter with a slyly luxurious less-is-more aesthetic. I suspect that this synthesis is part of what museumgoers find so satisfying about the show. Some visitors seem awfully pleased with themselves, as if by coming to see Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn they are doing the right thing and killing two birds with one stone: acquiring both art cred and political cred.

We need to dispense with our false ignorance on this point: there is no legitimate or sensible argument that defines the boundaries of art as anything other than a reflection of audience interests. And to suggest that anyone’s aesthetic values are meaningfully, empirically distinct from their political values is…well…just dumb.

Update: And let me add, for those of you playing along at home, that there are some great examples of elitism in the review. Witness this for example:

Ai may be a hero when it comes to speaking out for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake, but when he talks about his art he is jeeringly manipulative. It is hard to have patience for an artist who justifies his work with references to Mickey Mouse.

So, sorry to all you fools who love Mickey Mouse, who see movie and comic illustration as an art, and who don’t have access to or interest in the benchmark arts–SORRY, but you’re an embarrassment. We don’t have any patience for you.


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