Before I start; Many words have already been wasted elsewhere on the argument "what is Art?" - rather than trying to redefine Art (which I suspect would be beyond me in any case) I'll skip neatly over that tripwire and assume that for the purposes of this manifesto at the very least we can all agree that, whatever it is, Art exists.
I do not pretend to be a great artist - which is fortunate because I am not one and I'd look pretty foolish in the pretence. However I don't see why any shortcomings in my ability or lack of a definition of Art should be a barrier to addressing what I consider to be the divide between what Art should be and what it's become.
Opinions vary as to where Art fundamentally changed its nature. For me Art's great turning point, its industrial revolution, came along when Duchamp signed a urinal and submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1917. The intention of the piece was partly to stress interpretation rather than (bourgeois) appreciation. The entry was rejected for "not being Art".
This dismissal, often repeated, baffles me: saying "It's just a toilet !!" makes as much sense to me as someone looking at a Rembrandt and claiming it's not Art because "It's just paint."
The ongoing objection seems (at least in part) to centre around the notion that it shows little in the way of talent or craft, the seemingly obvious conclusion - any idiot could buy the same style of toilet and have an almost exact reproduction. (Duchamp himself did exactly this several times to recreate the piece. Expedience or not, for me, it makes that argument moot.) So the question I am left with is how can something which has a fixed, relatively low, cost and is easily reproduced be Art?
Part of Duchamp's intent with "readymades" was to make us question how Art gets its value, a question that I believe should be at the forefront of any Artist's mind. Success as an Artist has become defined by the sale of your work. The days of patronage are long gone and even in the heyday of Fine Art most works were produced almost exclusively on behalf of the rich. If we assume Art has value, but then gauge that value in monetary terms it turns the sacred to the profane. Art is thought of as an aesthetic pursuit but gallery ownership and private collecting mean it more resembles a business gamble.
The recognised talent of old masters and the finite nature / rarity of established works partially explain this: supply and demand creates the inflated cost of Art. The byproduct of this is that the cost of Art is then mistaken for its worth. The financial value becomes the aesthetic value & thus the primary benchmark by which "good" Art is discerned from "bad".
Art in the 21st century has mutated, Art as plumage for cities, Art as cultural heritage, Art as tourist attraction and - god help us - Art as investment. The galleries and collectors impose inflated cost on both Fine Art and Modern with ever inflating budgets, the critics tell us which of the newer Artists is worthy and use the word "collectable" without blushing; thus creating Art driven by product and commerce. A change is needed, more than a change an entire paradigm shift.
Digital music is a prime example of this impending change: record companies (and some performers ) are expressing unease with the advent of a system in which recorded music can now be duplicated and shared at virtually no cost to the consumer. The scare scenario is that the recording industry will lose business, and less investment will be made in the industry so new musicians will no longer be able to record due to the drop in profits. The reality: Music as an art now has a delivery system which can in theory bypass the multinationals - recording music is simpler now than ever. The casualty here will be the business, the money-making infrastructure, the industry not the Art. Music will have to find a new way of sustaining itself and a new (perhaps broader) audience.
If Art as we know it follows this trend & becomes digital then the (bourgeois) Art establishment that inspired Duchamps to create the fountain will also suffer in the way that the music industry is beginning to.
Imagine Art fully digital, constructed to not imitate light but as a light source, with the pre-requisite that it will not be a canvas but displayed on a screen factored into its design. The original piece would not be a finite commodity, it could be readily available to download - each cloned copy just as much an original work as the first. Art liberated from the tyranny of galleries, collectors and critics. Pure in execution and intent, Art with no intrinsic value other than its own subjective worth. An ideal.