Enlightened Elitism, Enlightened Classicism Pt. 1

Living with the remnants of the twentieth century, and twentieth century culture, still around us (in the press, art press and otherwise, and even online to an extent), it is easy to see in what manner my art (and the work of the other Philly Free School artists) can and will be dismissed. For reinstating a demarcation between low and high art, against the imposed confines of post-modern theory, thought, and practice, and radically against the grain of what is acceptable to the American press corps; and for reinstating, also, a historical sense which deals with art century by century, rather than living in a radically circumscribed, perpetually "present" moment; the Philly Free School/Neo-Romantics must needs be attacked by accusations of extreme/extremist classicism and extreme elitism simultaneously. I would like to opine, however, that what we have built into our body of work is a highly advanced, thoughtful, scrupulous, and one might say "enlightened" form of elitism and classicism. Neither I nor my friends had any problem looking the twentieth century, and twentieth century culture, dead in the face; its just that we were catholic enough in our tastes not to limit ourselves. Not working at the behest of spurious, frivolous motives, directed in our tastes by authentic impulses, proclivities, and sympathies, it was obvious to us that the high/"haute" art in century XX seemed constricted, narrow, and vulgarized in its essence into tiny forms and expressions. Maintaining a historical sense, and an ability to make choices owing not to circumstances but to our individual temperaments, we migrated back to the nineteenth century over the twentieth and tended to stay there, judging century XX to be mostly a cultural regression, while having, by sheer proximity and "body heat" (like ekphrasis), to allow some twentieth century influence in regardless.

Thus, the language of our symbolizations and significations is polyglot; and if I am forced to answer accusations of elitism and classicism, simply owing to historical depth and diversity of influence, I will state that we made our aesthetic choices very carefully, and had the courage of our convictions to assimilate what moved us the most, from the inside out, rather than acquiescing to internalize what was presented to us as what was most contemporary, representative, and praiseworthy. The pejorative connotations of "classicism" and "elitism" have to do with retrograde, reactionary attitudes, bent into stuffy dismissiveness of anything new; what Neo-Romanticism has to offer is set at a perpendicular angle to those definitions. We, all of us, have lived and created under intense, group-centered pressure to conform, if conventional, substantial rewards (publication, sales) were to be ours; always with the knowledge that the adjacent post-modern group norm, to stay grounded in a twentieth century ethos at all costs, against any form of historical sense which would challenge this group norm, was configured to delineate what was and what was not acceptable, either theoretically or in practice; and our collective response, from Philadelphia in the Aughts, was to rebel, and to do so publicly, which we did, with panache. As of the initiation of our practice, enlightened classicism and enlightened elitism were both (and largely remain) rebellious stances; and the tyranny of the "present-minded," the vulgar, the thoughtless, the formless, the formulaic, and the insubstantial (to our eyes/ears) has been both a terrible weight for us to bear and heavy shackles for us to attempt to cast off. In the realm of the post-modern, what's "new" is never really new anyway- just as Koons reprises Warhol reprising Duchamp, it is a fraudulent simulacrum of the "new," which disguises the essential nature of genuine artistic innovation (that which creates new formal-thematic contexts, nexuses, and matrixes) in order to advertise its own inversion-heavy (nothing into something) paucity.