saw no reason to stop the escalation.rnThey steadily raised estimates on paintings,rnplaced high reserves on paintingsrnbelow which they were not allowed tornsell, and started the bidding at high levels.rnThey created an inflated atmospherernin which auctions would containrndozens of paintings estimated at over arnmillion dollars. There simply was notrnenough money to buy them all. Paintingsrnwere priced out of the market, andrnmany went unsold. People who hadrnpaid good money just a few years agorncould no longer liquidate their “investment.”rnThis sent shock waves throughrnthe art market, which shook confidencernin buying art in general.rnThe critics are also culpable for theirrnpart in creating a helter-skelter “anythingrngoes” aesthetic environment. There isrnno longer any unified body of aestheticrnknowledge to which values can be assigned.rnEverything and anything cannotrnqualify as a work of art lest art losernall sense of definition. Critics are busyrncultivating their own aesthetic orchards,rnand no one dares trespass to pluck hisrnneighbor’s fruit. This fragmentation ofrnaesthetics leaves no foundation on whichrnto justify the dollar values of the art market,rnallowing dealers the opportunity tornpromote anything without discretion.rnThe highly esoteric and obscure naturernof contemporary art criticism offers thernenticement of entry into a private andrnprivileged club; this is manna for dealerrnand snob alike. The magazines that disseminaternart criticism today arc therndealers’ trade journals, which depend onrnadvertising dollars, and their purpose isrnto promote sales. The critics welcomernthis scenario, indeed look favorably uponrnworks of art attaining astronomicalrnprices.rnUltimately, it is the artists themselvesrnwho must assume responsibility for thernpresent state of affairs. They have abnegatedrntheir role as propagators of thernaesthetic message. The decades of thern1950’s and 196(ys were the age of therncritic. The 1970’s and 1980’s were thernera of the dealer. During these years thern”aesthetic ball” was taken away from thernartist. Without anv sound criteria forrnvalue judgment, artists allowed their aestheticrnchoices to be made for them andrnwere finally left with no choice of theirrnown. Artists today are working naked inrna barren wilderness. They have nornmeans of providing for themselves, andrntheir surroundings offer them neither directionrnnor comfort. This is the symptomrnof spiritual separation. Artists arerngroping, hoping to become the next importantrndiscovery. Works of art designedrnto shock the sensibilities are fedrninto a system that has become anesthetizedrnlike an addict in need of a morernpowerful fix. And like the addict, whornat the center of his discontent fails tornrecognize his own problem, so must thernart world reach rock bottom before itrncan come to its own rescue.rnlimothy Taubes is a former director of thernArtists’ Choice Museum in New YorkrnCity and author of the forthcomingrn$$$ and Aesthetics (Prometheus Books).rnCOMMONWEALrnOur Lady of ThernPrice Is Rightrnbv Stephen ProvizerrnLet the Buddhists have their mandalas;rngie the Muslims Mecca; wernhave I’he Price h Right. Five days a weekrnat 11:00 A.M., soaring audio and videornlevels, howling graphics, and dizzyingrncamera shots herald the appearance of arnministry as fervent as any in the world.rnThe names of the chosen few are calledrnout in demographic perfection—a blackrnor two, Latins, perky coeds, Marinernsergeants, and Sun Belt retirees. Exhortedrnto “Come on Down!” they springrnfrom their seats like human Pop-Tartsrnand race to take their places at the biddingrnrostrums. Released from purgatory,rnthc)’ have taken the first step on the pathrnto ultimate redemption in the ShowcasernShowdown.rnWhen they have settled in, the namernof the All-Powerful One is finally intoned;rnthe stage doors part, the congregationrnrises, and Bob Barker—HighrnPriest of the temple of ConspicuousrnConsumption—strides on stage, his impeccablyrntailored suit fluttering lightlyrnin the breeze. His crop of snowy whiternhair lends him an aloof vet benevolentrnair. I am touched bv the transformationrnof the man from the cynical, satanic personarnI once saw on Truth or Consequencesrnto this present magisterial incarnation.rnHis canonization marks arnminor triumph of one of America’srngreatest inventions: thc reinvention (seernReagan and Nixon).rnNow, the emotion heightens anotherrnnotch as ravishing models emerge tornserve as Guardian Angels of the SacredrnTreasure. Their semi-erotic enthusiasmrnfor the first item—a trash compactor—isrnso compelling that it seems to lead thernfirst group of bidders astray. Priest Barkerrnsubtly chastises them for their waywardrnbidding, and finally a devout Latinrnshopper triumphs and ascends to thernaltar. To prove that she is worthy of thernChurch’s redemption, the HeavenlyrnI lost demands she recite her catechism:rnhow much is this sunscreenhotsaucemiraclcgrowsnugglefabricsofterrervclamint?rnShe displays a woeful ignorancernof the sacred pricing structures,rnbut skillfully manipulates one of thernChurch icons—a golf club—to make arnlong putt, propitiate the gods, and win arnred Subaru.rnTwo bidding rituals ensue and it’srntime for a major Church sacrament—rnthe spinning of the Praver Wheel. Manipulationrnof a giant wheel inscribedrnwith numbers will determine which penitentrnhas thc best relationship with thernGods of Eate and will thus proceed tornthe Showcase Showdown. A hyperventilatingrnBlack Priestess, a stoic thirtyishrnmale Initiate, and a pert Vestal Virginrnin a short white dress all spin, underrnHost Barker’s supervision. They spin forrnour sins, but regardless of whether ourrncontestant wins—like the Vestal Virginrn—the Host still wants us back; he bellows;rn”Write for tickets! Join me inrnSouthern California—dream capital!rnSpiritual locus!”rnOur next devotee arrives wearing arnscxv halter-top, and a concupiscentrngleam lights up Priest Barker’s brow.rnLeering affably, he’s thc People’srn46/CHRONICLESrnrnrn