a) “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
b) I think it all depends on where you look. I know there are Christian artists not named Thomas Kincaide whose work is breathtakingly beautiful and original–but also usually expressly religious. I’m sure the same is true of Western artists in the mold of Remington and Russell, though I’m not as familiar with what’s current in that scene. On the other hand, there’s fanart. Some, like the work of Alan Lee, is authorized and professional but still not likely to end up in hip LA galleries. Other artists may or may not be professional artists but do fanart for the love of it. My cover designer, Christine M. Griffin, is one. Polish artist Katarzyna Karina Chmiel-Gugulska is another. Yet just as most of the really great composers these days, like Howard Shore, are working in films, a lot of these talented fanartists who are pros are working in sci-fi/fantasy, especially book/magazine covers, illustrations, and game graphics.
I could wax theological about the uglification of culture, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, it seems to be part and parcel of the chronological snobbery and rejection of all things traditional that kicked into high gear in the ’60s. Now, in culture as in academe, those rebels have become the gatekeepers and appear to be actively denying entry to those of us who find their revolt… well… revolting. The problem for the art scene, I think, is that the indie option doesn’t seem to have any meaning there. Not being a professional artist myself–calligraphy’s still more hobby than (fifth!) job for me at this point–I don’t really know how it works or what the solution would be aside from allowing oneself to be pigeonholed in genre work.
(Bring back the patronage system, that’s what I always say….)
ANYWAY. Yes, talented people doing non-ugly work do exist in the art world. The next question is, how do we get them out of the shadows and past the Vogon gatekeepers?