I do not think that it is a necessary result of the social conditions and institutions of democracy to diminish the number of those engaged in the fine arts, but they do exert a powerful influence on the manner in which these arts are cultivated. Since most people who had a taste for them have become poor, and many of those who are not yet rich begin, by social imitation, to develop a taste for them, amateurs in general become more numerous, but very rich and discriminating amateurs become more rare. So much the same takes place in the case of the fine arts as we have seen happening in the case of the useful arts. Quantity increases; quality goes down.
Unable any longer to conceive greatness, they try for elegance and prettiness. Appearance counts for more than reality. . . .
I doubt if Raphael made such an elaborate study of the detailed mechanism of the human body as do the draftsmen of our own day. He did not think strict accuracy in this matter as important as they do, for he claimed to surpass nature. He sought to make of man something better than man and to add beauty to beauty. . . .
Renaissance painters generally looked for mighty subjects over their heads and far away in time so that imagination could have ample play. Our painters often employ their talents in the exact delineation of everyday life whose details are always before their eyes; they copy trivial objects from every angle , though nature provides only too many originals.
Alexis de Tocqueville, From "Democracy in America"m