The art world, never a place for the linear-minded and logical among us, seems to be in an exceptionally strange way these days. Here a woman “performance artist” makes a career of doing vile things with yams while squeaking about phallocentrism; there a young man, presumably in the same spirit, castrates himself before a camera. (To paraphrase comedian Bob Goldthwait, pity the Fotomat clerk who loses that roll of film.) Some blocks away, another young man immerses a crucifix in urine in order to make, as he says, a statement about the commercialization of religion. All of them, of course, have exercised such ecstasies of the creative imagination through government funds. And all of them want still more public dollars.

A person endowed with a sober brain may well be inclined to post a letter to Washington to request that funds for such nonsense be diverted to more useful ends. A rank philistine may question why the government should be in the art racket in the first place. A real boor may even suggest that artists undertake not to outrage public sensibilities with the help of public largesse, reasoning—as so many artists seem incapable of doing—that the one who pays the piper calls the tune.

These good citizens have strange allies, it happens, in a wobbly coalition of artists and “cultural workers” who have pledged, as of January 1, 1990, not to lift pen or chisel or burin. Instead, they’ve called an Art Strike. Only unknown artists are participating, while the tills of the Mapplethorpe estate and the SoHo-Tribeca set happily fill up. But as the strike wears on and crowds of revolutionary post-neoexpressionists wrest state power away from Sotheby’s and MOMA, they may lure their more impressionable seniors into the movement.

Let’s dismiss the cynical notion that the strikers, by withholding their art from the world, are merely drumming up demand, thereby contributing to the “inflationary commodification”—as one of them, schooled in Marx and French critical theory, put it—that allows a nondescript be-dribbled canvas to fetch six figures. Poor souls, they may mean it. The strikers may even have to seek their living in gas stations and convenience stores and factories. There are, after all, as Oscar Wilde said, moments when art attains to the dignity of manual labor.

The Art Strike has a sort-of-official organ in Yawn: A Sporadic Critique of Culture, which I commend to those in want of amusement or annoyance. Perhaps to co-opt would-be scabs, some of the strikers have opened a sale outlet in San Francisco, where prices range from a nickel to a ceiling of thirty-five dollars. Don’t anyone tell the Japanese.

The art strikers pledge to continue their strike against the elitist commodity market until the first of January, 1993. In the manner of our Department of Agriculture, I wonder whether we could subsidize them to even greater ends—offering, say, a stipend of twenty thousand dollars for every year in which they produce nothing whatever. It’s too late for Mapplethorpe, but can we enroll the Serranos and Finleys right now? Dare we prevent still more duotone castrations? If we act now, we may be able to see to it that the Art Strike is never settled.

In the idea- and ideal-less world of modern art, we may have hit upon a notion whose time has truly come.