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Damien Hirst with his diamond-encrusted skull. Photograph: HO/Reuters

Jonathan Jones writes for the UK-based Guardian, and more often than not I find safe harbor in his point of view. He’s not a complexifier or a critic caught in the po-mo net of obfuscation (my exhaustion with that gamey approach to art is showing, isn’t it?) He speaks with an Everyman simplicity about issues that are often parsed and minced ad infinitum, ad nauseam. I like his proclivity to speak straight.

Jones is an art critic equivalent of food writer Mark Bittman. Bittman’s approach to cooking (in his New York Times column “The Minimalist” and in his many excellent cookbooks) consistently focuses on simple recipes that produce delicious feasts without 20 pages of directions or a reliance on exotic ingredients. It is a simple soulful approach that has no pretense or artifice.

In a recent posting, Jones addresses the segment of contemporary art making that is focused primarily on providing commentary on contemporary culture. A reasonable question can be asked: Is it possible for something to be brilliant as culture, yet rubbish as art?

Jones defines “culture” in its broad anthropological sense as “a whole way of life, plus the forms of art—elite and popular, readable and abstract—that represent that way of life to itself. British culture, in other words, means not just museums and Jane Austen but sports events, newspapers, hairstyles, going to the shops and falling in love.”

As Jones phrases it:

The works of art that make most impact on most people are the ones that directly address and even participate in this larger culture. Art, since the 1980s, has become very good at doing that. It stands to reason that if a work makes a cultural impact it is good – doesn’t it?

Well, obviously not. There’s a long list of works of art that have made a spectacular cultural impact with little or no critical approval as art. Diamond skull, anyone? Myra Hindley portrait?

But a diamond skull is manifestly a cultural symbol: an artist who presents one is acting in culture, playing with collective meanings. Does artistic merit in the old sense actually matter, in the age of potent cultural intervention chronicled by Tate Modern’s exhibition Pop Life?

I think it does. But I don’t think it is the only truth. A work of art can be both horrible and effective. That happens again and again—often on the fourth plinth. But we desperately need a quiet space where art can be enjoyed in itself, for itself. A cultureless museum.

Yes, yes, yes.

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