A friend of mine once told me how she sees the art world as a much shallower place than people usually give it credit for. "It's always looked at as some intensely profound and personal arena, but the way I see it, it's very trendy and image-oriented--like fashion," she said. She cited the concurrent rise of painters John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage as examples. Both artists create crafted, kitsch-realistic paintings of highly sexualized women. Mining art history for its more embarrassing moments, the artists blend naughty, amateur eroticism with Old Masterly high-mindedness. Looking at their simultaneous rise to art world stardom, it was easy to see my friend's point, and difficult to imagine that these two artists had genuinely struck a cord of profundity in the legions of admirers who were all hailing the two artists as the painters of the decade.

My friend bolstered her case by pointing out a profile of an aspiring painter in the New York Times Magazine who was trying to get her career going in Manhattan. Describing her work, the young painter said that she loved Currin and Yuskavage, and that she, herself, loved to rifle through art history for its kitschy, classically sexualized moments and to appropriate and exploit them. Only the most generous reader would have concluded that she was plugged into a subconscious cultural zeitgeist, and not simply hopping on a trendy bandwagon, trying to cash in on the art world's flavor of the month.

Another prime example is Matthew Barney, he of the Cremaster cycle of films and sculpture. Few people can interpret Barney's work on a personal level without citing the oblique symbolism that Barney attributes to the work. I don't know anybody who cares about Freemasonry, Gary Gilmore, Vaseline, and fancy pigeons, but curiously, I also don't know anyone willing to stand up in a crowded room and say that Barney's films bore them to tears.

I hated to hear what my friend was telling me that afternoon, but only because it rang so true. A brief flip through the catalog for last year's Affair at the Hotel Jupiter illustrated how suddenly, all at once, everybody's into the doodle. Funny how that happens. It's like we're all living under the same sign, our moods, tastes, and aesthetic preferences all shifting in tandem. How very deep. How very profound.