Without Ardor . . . No Art / by Chris Hall

Why is the contemporary art world afraid of the romantic myth of the artist as solitary genius author?  Reason has killed the mysticism and emotion of art, killed off the artist’s celebration of mystery and magic.  In its place is pure rationalism.  Rationalism is both frightened and embarrassed by the artist’s assertion of imagination and emotionalism in art, frightened and embarrassed because emotions and the imagination are by nature, personal and unquantifiable.  

Back in 1950, Lionel Trilling forecasted future art practices when he wrote in the preface to The Liberal Imagination, “[liberalism’s] vision of a great enlargement and freedom and rational direction of human life . . . drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination . . . in the very interest of affirming its confidence in the power of the mind . . . inclines to constrict and make mechanical its conception of the nature of the mind.”

Today the rationalists rule the art institutions, the schools, the critics, the galleries and museums.  For the most part, these institutions refuse to acknowledge that an artist can lay claim to some irreducible mystery and magic. Contemporary art must be logical, responsible, and well-behaved.  Who will champion the artist now, if not the art institutions?  The visionary artist is without a home.

In an article for the New Republic, Jed Perl writes, “It is all well and good to say that cool heads should prevail.  Art, however, is by its very nature overheated, hot-headed, unreasonable – and, dare I say it, sometimes illiberal.  Without ardor there is no art.”