The tendency of art toward conformity is one of the themes that seems to surface in the critiques of the Frankfurt School philosophers. Benjamin argued that the mechanical reproduction of art resulted in the work losing its aura, the uniqueness and original expression of the art. Horkheimer suggested that mass reproduction of art, of appealing to the masses, meant appealing to the lowest common denominator, which resulted in diminished quality and potential. He argued against formulaic art and for quality over quantity. Adorno suggested this much as well. He felt that mass reproduction of music, for example, resulted in a cheapened standardized version of it and turned it into a commodity. They seemed to suggest that the potential for something unique, authentic, and true is squandered by conforming to expectations about what is aesthetically pleasing or commercially popular.
The philosophers implied that human beings willfully succumb to this conformity, as well as consumerism, to feel happier and to escape the bleak reality of a world that is “nasty, brutish, and short”. According to the members of the Frankfurt School the point of art is not to make us happy, but to force us to confront the reality of our suffering in this world. Art should be avant-garde, experimental, against the status quo, and always testing individuals’ preconceived notions about what art is and should be.
I suppose few things ignite the fire of debate more than trying to discern whether or not something counts as art. In 1917 Marcel Duchamp took a men’s urinal, plopped it on its side, and presented it as art. What do you think; is it interpretative avant-garde art...or is it just a pisser?