Last week, Ed Winkleman had a typically excellent, if somewhat exasperated, post defending the role of commercial galleries in contemporary art, in this case from an attack in the Guardian on them by Germaine Greer. In his post and its follow-up, Ed gave all the reasons why Greer's article consists of just so much chin music, so I won't bother with that. I'd just like to note that his frustration, though understandable, is misguided. Ed takes Greer to be advancing an argument about art and the artworld in this vale of tears that we inhabit, and so gets annoying at her generalizations and cliches. What he doesn't seem to have realized is that she's actually engaged in an exercise in utopian social thought. Consider this comparison between Greer's words and what I'd take to be their intellectual origin. First Greer:
The work of painters for whom painting is a part of real life rather than art - Australian Aboriginal painters, say - has no frame, is painted in the sand, on a rock or a body, and is continuous with the painter's reality. Until, that is, a dealer brings along a canvas, which the painter paints flat on the ground, moving round it rather than standing before it. When the dealer decides the work is finished, he grabs it, drives back to the city, frames it and puts a price on it, usually many times more than what he paid for it. Only then does it stop being life and become art. The work of art, or, as we now tend to say, the artwork, is first of all a commodity.
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying "This is mine," and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. Humanity would have been spared infinite crimes, wars, homicides, murders, if only someone had ripped up the fences or filled in the ditches and said, "Do not listen to this pretender! You are eternally lost if you do not remember that the fruits of the earth are everyone's property and that the land is no-one's property!"
She even refers to artists as "incorruptible" later in the piece, as if to tip her hand--or inadvertantly demonstrate an unavoidable trope of this particular vein of discourse. Little things like reality rarely got in Rousseau's way, so no reason to think they would in his heirs.