There are a few things in life that can be safely taken as givens. Death and taxes, famously, but also opprobrium about the state of modern art.
In the United Kingdom the lightning rod for this is the annual Turner Prize, held in Tate Britain.
Each year an unholy alliance of Sunday painters, would-be avant-guardists and tabloid journalists attempt to whip-up a frenzy of meaningless 'public' outrage of a 'that's not art', 'my three year-old makes better art' or 'they're taking the piss' bent. Such voices of the common-folk as one finds employed by a billionaire tycoon and Knight Commander of St. Gregory (I kid you not) and hereditary peer of Kent (for example) speak out on our behalf saying that, god damn it, we just don't like this rubbish.
There's nothing new in this. Edouard Manet's 1863 painting 'Olympia' was considered scandalous and pornographic in its day.
Personally I have mixed feelings about it all. Truth be told, much art is nonsense but, frankly, 'twas ever thus. How the word 'art' has grown, blancmange-like, to make 'great art' a tautology, is beyond me. The term 'art' does not necessarily imply quality, even if the Oxford dictionary does hint in that direction:
noun: 1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power : the art of the Renaissance | great art is concerned with moral imperfections | she studied art in Paris. • works produced by such skill and imagination : his collection of modern art | an exhibition of Tibetan art | [as adj. ] an art critic. • creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings, or sculpture : she's good at art.
Seemingly forgotten is that the success of a venture is not to be found merely in the action of its undertaking...
I do rue the day when the avant garde became merely the cutting edge, but that's a discussion for another time.
So, neatly side-stepping the issue of what's good or bad art, it does occur to me that our increasingly visually-aware and media-literate population looks more and more to graphic design for visual culture.
Yes, yes, design is not art and we shouldn't pretend that it is. Design, unlike art, is an inherently commercial activity – though fine art is pretty commercial itself these days.
Leaving aside the intellectual impulse behind an artist's apparent desire to plate his own faeces in gold, it seems that if the art world has little to offer the non-art buying public - on the surface level at least - design can fill the gap. After all, at some level most people have some kind of innate comprehension of design, no matter how inchoate.
So what, then, is the value of design as art? This remains unclear. It is difficult to separate design from its commercial underpinnings, and should one do so, the risk is run of undermining its actual meaning.
Even the best design is unlikely to challenge the true high points of great art, but it's a lot more interesting than most of the mediocre stuff that it trundled before us on a regular basis. The only reservation I have is that some designers, when out from beneath the yoke of commercial work, seem to make up for a lack of intellectual rigour with craft skills.
Or perhaps it's not. Who can say? Most of us have become accustomed to thinking of cinema as art and it is fair to say that most, if not all, film-making is based on a commercial proposition.
Of course, most films in the cinema aren't trying to sell us more crap. At least it wasn't in the past.