Collecting fine art remains a duty for a dwindling aristocracy, and a trophy hunt for the money-laundering nouveau-riche, but its larger purpose in the culture has come to be formed in an arena fenced in by the professional discourses of academia, the taste-crafting marketing elite, and the reputation economics of semi-public cultural cathedrals—where bits of art trickle down into the assessment machines and mission statements of nonprofits and educational institutions. These competing agendas have drowned out any clear extrinsic purpose for fine art, much like the cacophony of social engineers and population managers that have for so long made of education such a murky affair. Fine art has, in turn, acknowledged and responded to its crisis with a certain amount of vigor, changing from a specialized tradition with a stable patron base to a massive cultural space in which innumerable unseen performers partake of the shared magic of erudite transcendence.

Bert Stabler