I've been thinking about our second concern according to our syllabus, the status of the subject within the postmodern. In our readings last week, the individual's role cropped up in authors' considerations of art in the modern (or the straining-against-the-modern) era. For example, I've been thinking about how we define art and how this includes or precludes the individual. According to Benjamin, "one of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later"--that is, the creation of new art forms. (p. 237). Art is expected to take on a forward momentum; artistic novelty is a function of art. With this definition, average or mediocre art, un-innovative art, is either the ultimate failure or simply does not exist. Although we're fascinated with "bad" art (kitsch, for example), you're never going to find a gallery dedicated to blah, mediocre art (I mean, as a curator's specific objectiveâ€¦I bet someone's going to argue with me here).
So a scare arises when the masses, the average Joes, participate in the art world. Although Benjamin expresses hope for the democratization of art, he notes that the relationship between politics and aesthetics can actually lead to greater control. Adorno and Horkheimer are outright damning, however: the radio, for example, "is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same." With "the misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them," joined with the interwoven power of industry sectors (and etc.), we have a "constant reproduction of the same thing" (134). The dichotomy between artistic innovation and repetition apparently goes hand-in-hand with the artist and the public, the great and the mediocre. Above all, they view mediocrity as a symptom of mass-culture.
So it's odd, then, that postmodern (?) art is so interested with "mediocrity" as a subject: consider, for example, Warhol's soup cans. But then there are earlier examples of art's interest in the averge, the norm. I'm thinking here of Gotthold Lessing, the German author known for his bourgeois tragedies--he championed the use of "middle characters" and being average as a measure in its own right. Also, there are the Dutch realist paintings of the everyday from the 17th Century, taking the average folk as subject. Perhaps there generally was a 19th C European introduction of the bourgeois into art, culture--so, not only the introduction of the middle-class, but also of the capitalism A+H condemn in its devaluation of art. Concerns about the destruction of art and the rise of the mediocre also existed before Adorno + H + B. Nietzsche is the prime example here: he's well-known for damning the mediocrity of the herd animal, but he also, for example, castigates David Strauss, a then-popular German author who he compares to mediocrity incarnate, a cultural philistine (in Unconventional Observation...I think...).
So: can we consider the artistic glorification/consideration/obsession with the mediocre a postmodern development? Perhaps art is obsessed with the average because it's the one thing that art cannot be. This links to the debates on mass culture's status as "art", a hot topic in media studies classes.