The Middle-Class Artist / by Chris Hall

In a 2002 article for New Statesman, former London ICA chairman Ivan Massow described modern concept art as "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat" and "the product of over-indulged, middle-class [...], bloated egos who patronize real people with fake understanding.”

While all that, arguably, might be true, I would like to focus on one word he included there . . . middle-class.  I don’t know exactly what Massow meant by including middle-class, but I will tell you what questions it raises for me.

Could it be that the reason why a lot of what passes for fine art these days seems so apolitical is because it is the product of a middle-class mentality that has no motivation for change?  Often times an arts education is a luxury.  I was fortunate enough to have supporting parents who allowed me to follow my dreams (or my folly, depending on your point of view) and so I took out massive loans and worked my way through school to finance my education; I took a chance that I hope will one day pay off for me.  But at the risk of sounding classist, I do sometimes wonder about my more financially secure peers.  Do they have any sympathies at all for the working-class?  Can they ever relate or truly understand to what it is like to have to struggle financially?  What is their motivation to create any artwork that challenges societal and political norms when they themselves work from a place of privilege?  While I don’t think it is fair to assume that a struggling artist has a monopoly on making socially valid art, I do think that these are valid questions.

Perhaps, since the middle-class in America is rapidly shrinking, more revolutionary art of substance will be made.  

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830