Art as a Religion
In the era of hyper-sensitive special snowflakes and first world slacktivists, it's become far to easy to confuse good old fashioned skepticism with cynicism. Skepticism is a fundamental element of the scientific method. Refutation of skepticism on it's face is a fundamental element of religious dogma. How it has come to be that Art, with a capital 'A', escapes a healthy level of skepticism is a poisonous mixture of genuine art-believers, unscrupulous speculators, the idle insanely rich, and the rich insanely idle. Just as religions mature through different phases, from creative inception, to volatile periods of establishing differences/boundaries, to calmer periods in which the major factions have firmly established territories and then pivot to act primarily in a political fashion, Art as a religion has matured to this final phase. Unfortunately, political maintenance is inextricably tethered to finances so as religions and larger cults have become industries, so too has Art.
Art as a religion, as opposed to a science, is problematic. Science, rooted in the Latin word meaning “to know,” is about the forwarding of human knowledge. In that regard, Art certainly has always been science-like. In the past, Art was also required to disseminate information or a story reliably, and criticism of Art could be grounded in primarily objective observation. Together, the effort to forward knowledge and the evidence in the work to support that that concept was indeed present, resulted in a vast body of works that provide genuine value to humanity. However, the evidence aspect of Art as a science has recently been greatly diminished. In it's place we have “feel,” “looks like,” “activates the space,” and any number of other droll expressions distinctly designed to fill the air with nothingness masquerading as somethingness. Much of what people have to say about Art after the abstract expressionist is faith based. They observe something in a subjective way, and then commit the ultimate disservice to the work, the artist, and the audience, by sharing their experience. As social creatures, we're hard-wired to want to agree. Some agree so vigorously as become members of the faith themselves, and then a cult or religion has formed.
Art critics can better serve all involved by proscribing opinions and subjective observations, by remarking primarily on formal qualities, and providing evidenced conjecture as to potential meanings. Works that evade criticism of concept by being excessively opaque ought to be viewed in turn with skepticism. Those works not meant to be gotten are likely décor or senseless utterances. That both of those types are featured prominently in galleries across the world is an indication of incompetent criticism which itself exists only because of public disinterest. When the public is heavily invested in some aspect of humanity, we invariably find that that aspect undergoes relatively rapid development. Art, like religion, has lost it's relevance to society at large because instead of bending towards science, it has bent towards religion and faith-based reverence. The best way to course-correct is through some hard skepticism wherein we require the artist to validate the work and not make such credit automatic just because it's in a gallery or museum.