It wasn’t long ago that painters were celebrities; when Picasso died in 1973, it was big news to everywhere. Paul McCartney wrote a song about it. In the 70s, painters and paintings were still a part of mainstream culture; around that time, though, the art world moved from modernist and abstract-expressionist painting, though pop-art, to post-modernist and post-beauty painting. Unsurprisingly, the man on the street lost interest. Desperately cutting-edge art critics were free to call half-dissected sheep and giant balloon dogs beautiful, but it was obvious to everyone else that they were wrong. Confronting this irreconcilable difference, popular culture and “fine art” parted company. If you had to put a date on it, you might say the split happened in 1981 when Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc”—a rusted piece of steel 12 feet high and 120 feet long—was installed in a public plaza in Manhattan. The big metal wall forced the thousands of people who walked across the plaza every day to take a time consuming detour, which gave them a chance to contemplate the wall’s tremendous ugliness. In 1989 it was removed, and the divorce was final. read more