Commenter thebyronicman has already stolen some of my thunder on this question, though I'll press on, undeterred. I'm not quite so negative about popular artistic forms/media/genres as about the culture considered as a totality. The culture as a totality is irredeemable, beyond even a glimmer of a hope of transformation. Partially, this is a reflection of the inexorable degradations of mass culture, particularly in an age of religious declension; partially, it is a reflection of the inevitably coarsening and anti-aesthetic impulses of commodification for mass markets; and finally, this is a function of the (contingent) nature of the industry itself, which not only facilitates commodification (the nemesis of all artistic sensitivity), but is, quite plainly, as thebyronicman indicates, a form of legalized racketeering. Even the so-called 'Christian' labels often engage in this racketeering, imposing extortionate contracts upon artists, who are often thereby compelled to produce schlock in order to continue in the industry.
Nevertheless, I don't regard popular aesthetic forms themselves as beyond redemption, at least not necessarily. The arts in the Western world were soundest and most vital during the ages in which there obtained a broad continuum between folk or demotic culture and high culture, the monuments of which we still revere. To a large degree, we perceive an irreconcilable tension between them - which tension does exist at some level - but err in identifying the causes of that rupture as lying solely or largely with the decadent partisans of Dionysian rebellion- "those fool kids", in fine. Somewhat provocatively, I think, I would suggest that even those black-metal artists I mentioned in the earlier thread are less destructive of the tradition than, say, Schoenberg. The music of the former, to the extent that we're acknowledging it as music, still presupposes the Western traditions of harmony, melody, intelligible rhythm, and so forth, whereas Schoenberg more or less razes all of this to the ground, salting the earth behind him. In other words, the tradition wanted for conservators at a certain stage of our history, and instead of these, it received destroyers, who sought to eliminate the remaining vestiges of intelligibility in music. Analogous things could be said of the plastic arts.
Answering the question Why? allows us to grapple with the further question of why the artists who shape popular consciousness tend not to be conservative.
Donald Davidson wrote, in his 1930 essay, A Mirror For Artists, one of the twelve essays comprising I'll Take My Stand, that
Romantic writers from William Blake to T.S. Eliot (I'm not certain that I'd accept this categorization, but, oh well...), are not so much an advance guard leading the way to new conquests as a rear guard - a survival of happier days when the artist's profession was not so much a separate and special one as it is now. Romantic writers - and modern writers, who are also romantic - behave like persons whose position is threatened and needs fresh justification. The rebellion against tradition, so marked in some kinds of Romanticism, is thus an abandonment of one untenable fortress in order to take a new position that the artist hopes will be unassailable. In turn it too is besieged, and a new maneuver must be attempted. Yet every time it is not merely Neoclassical art or Victorian art that is invaded. It is art itself, as art, that is being attacked by an enemy so blind and careless that he does not know what citadel he is approaching.
Mr. Babbitt, Mr. More, and other critics of the Humanist school have dragged the weaknesses of Romantic art into the light, but seemingly fail to realize that if there is to be any art at all under the conditions of modern life, it must probably be Romantic art, and must have the weaknesses of Romantic art, with such excellences as may be allowed to the unvictorious. (Snip)
The Humanists commend us to Sophocles and God, in vacuo. Their thinking stops where it should begin, with the social conditions that shape the artist's reaction. (Snip)
Unpredictable though the great artist may be, no study of the past can fail to reveal that social conditions to a large extent direct the temper and form of art. And many though the varieties of Romanticism may be, their origin is probably always in an artificial or maladjusted relation between the artist and society.
The artist, if he remains true to his vocation and calling, articulates a metaphysical intuition of Being, of things in their essences, their wholeness, their interrelations, and the union which binds them to and through one another. The aesthetic mode of perception is integral, unitive, organic, portraying man in relationship with the universe under some species of analogy; at its highest, art therefore depicts, at least implicitly, man as a microcosm of cosmic order. Political theology and practice, at their highest levels, are also animated by such metaphysical intuitions, as indeed are all aspects of life, both when left to their pre-reflective, 'mythological' levels and when articulated at their highest levels of elaboration. Without such intuitions of being, metaphysical dreams, in Weaver's phrase, we perish. Art, therefore, in healthier periods of history, was an integral element of the social order, from remotest prehistory down through early modernity, and patronage was the traditional social expression of this relationship.
With the emergence of industrialism, and a commercial-consumerist socio-political order, however, the artist, in his deepest ontological orientation, is thrown into contradiction with society; for such a social order, predicated as it is upon calculation, quantity as opposed to quality, instrumentalization, commodification, and that type of bureaucratic-managerial regimentation which wars against the regimentation of traditional hierarchies, is the antithesis of the aesthetic mode of perception, and the social conditions in which it flourishes. While the average person may be able to forge some compromise between the two - though on a societal level, this is dubious - persons of a sensitive, intuitive, perceiving disposition - artists particularly - find this intolerable in its seeming impossibility. Man possesses only a finite degree of potencies, and to the extent that these must be harnessed to the attainment of material, calculable ends, to that extent they are unavailable for spiritual and aesthetic ends. Art and religion, even asceticism, are integrally linked, though we have largely lost the awareness of this reality. The rationalizing, calculating, passional - with reason the slave of mere desire - character of the modern commercial society, imposing as it does the requirement that the artist compete in the marketplace and satisfy the mass, providing what is wanted rather than what is, attempts to make of artist what he can never, ever be, if he remains true to his gift.
Romanticism sought to preserve art by retreating to the inner fastnesses of the soul; a piece of Romantic music is a sort of voyage into the profundities (or bathetic wastes) of the composer's soul, for example. If art could no longer reflect a common societal intuition of being, at least it might reflect one man's intuition. Alas, even these grand gestures could be betrayed into the hands of the commodifiers and vulgarizers; the mass could learn to appreciate such things; and, educated as they were the ways of the commercial society, they would seek out what they liked rather than what was necessarily noblest. And they did. The revolution was co-opted and commodified. And so artists pushed ever further out into the waste lands, even attempting to produce an art appropriate for the sort of quantification-based society that cannot abide the artistic calling itself - the lowest prostitution of which an artist is capable.
While many of the resultant artistic gestures, down to our own time, have been grotesquely perverse, the origins of the phenomenon do not lie with the perversities of the artists; artists have not railed against commercial society out of spite, nor the avant-garde against the bourgeoisie out of vengeful ingratitude. To be certain, there are cases of such things. But they do not penetrate to, and disclose, the essence of the matter, which is that an intuition of being cannot be commodified, but rather demands assent and faith, while a commercial society - which is all we possess any longer - can only grant the former. To commodify such an intuition is to profane it. One cannot purchase the Spirit.
This reality has been obscured by the ideological irruptions of the modern age, which, manifestly, engulfed most artists along with most everyone else. However - and this is the answer to the question concerning conservatives and the arts, at least the influential ones - the culturally dominant explanations of the ills of modernity, of the unhomelikeness of the modern world, are of the left. This, because the deepest sort of conservatives have been on the losing sides of all the major socio-cultural conflicts of the past centuries, and the sort of conservatism with which we have been left offers, essentially, a defense (or extension) of the status quo, on the grounds that it is at least better than what the left is selling. Which is largely true, but no comfort to the artist, who is a man born out of time in our type of society, and so rebels against it using the impoverished and incoherent leftist weapons which lie to hand. He does not perceive that these expedients will only worsen his existential plight; but we should not fault him in this regard: he is an artist, after all, and not a philosopher, and his intuition is of the unnaturalness of things as they are, of life as we live it. As for most conservatives, they are either - as I have indicated - at peace with our commercial society, profoundly confused (imagining, as do the neoconservatives with their dreams of national greatness, that one can graft certain heroic virtues, even mottled ones, upon an utterly antiheroic sort of society, self-sacrificial ardors upon a base of consumerist crapulence), or quietly resigned, perhaps despairing, perhaps merely keeping their heads down and pursuing vocations locally, unrecognized. But the conservative and reactionary diagnoses of the out-of-joint status of the true artist are not widely known, and are taken seriously by fewer people than know them. It is the leftist doctrines which are known - because they are the natural offspring of a commercial society, at once, complexly, both its fulfillment and its nemesis - and artists therefore gravitate to them.
Conservatives can produce great art, whether or a grand scale or in miniature. Doing so, however, requires that they become - if implicitly - more reactionary, eschewing commercialization and pursuing, not a self-conscious political programme - for this is a contradiction, a betrayal of art - but a metaphysical vision, one that will have, as incidents, social consequences, for all social order is enacted metaphysics. Modernity is what it is, and has scant place for the artist, because its vision is impoverished; a dream of a calculating society, a utilitarian society, begets a crabbed and grasping world.