Let's get this out of the way early: I do not think that art sucks now. I am not That Guy. I do not think that rock peaked in 1977 and video games have been going downhill since Mario 3. If anything, I'm too eager to bury the past. Honestly, if I put together lists of my favorite stuff, most of it would be recent, or sequels, or both, because if you ask me, shit never rocked back then like it does now.
Why? Because art is getting better. Because the more that's out there with each passing decade, the more refined and/or novel art has to be to stand out. But when it sucks, it sucks for consistent and modern reasons. So for the sake of debate, here's another angry list (THESE COLUMNS SUCK NOW).
#5. This Title Tells You Nothing Because It Was Trimmed Down From a Longer One
Take a look at the history of video games with "Shock" in their title for an example of one way art sucks right now:
The issue here is simplification, i.e. the removing of allegedly superfluous features or details (press x to use/interact/mantle/jump/give orders/pay respects/place C4/skip cutscene/defeat final boss). Setting aside the contemptible rationalization of this being done so as to not confuse a mass audience, it's not bad in and of itself -- it's bad because simplification has become a minor trend in art, and, like with every trend ever, once it's popular it stops getting seen as a technique and starts getting seen as the ideal, which has always been the source of everything shitty in the arts.
The other reason this is bad: a piece of art is like a face, and a face is unique because, unlike other stuff, when you remove even a small feature it ain't the same face. You can't take features out and always call it streamlining -- what you're doing is making it into a different experience. Details are there for a reason, if only so we can tell things -- and each other -- apart. But so much art now is the equivalent of using desktop icons everywhere instead of where it makes sense. It removes all but the information aspect to art. Art is subjective, of course, but surely one of its strengths is to be able to dress information up a bit.
One reason art gets worse is the fallacy of assuming that the audience likes something in spite of its superfluous details rather than in part because of them. We don't need two eyes and ears, but that doesn't mean you should gouge one out with a dessert spoon until it stops working.
#4. Because EPIC
Conversely, a lot of art has gone to shit by going in the other direction -- blockbusterization. That quote about how one death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic? That's all you need to know about writing, because going bigger in no way means having a bigger impact on the audience.
That time in Star Wars when millions of voices cry out and then are silenced? I doubt you felt much. That time in Star Wars when Ben/Obi-Wan/Whoever Kenobi gets killed? That one you probably remember in detail. This is the problem with a lot of art -- the trend toward "epicness," toward the huge story with endless characters, toward media franchises. The more that happens, the less you remember, and let's just say I could remember every part of the Star Wars story when it was only three movies and like a couple of novels. And then it wasn't.
It's not that less is more (see previous entry on list), it's that more is less, because as the limited animals we are we can take in only so much before it becomes meaningless -- and that refers to the length of stories as well as the breadth of the events therein, which is why at this point the epic, sweeping Star Wars saga is just a statistic.
#3. This Column Has Drawings to Distract You From the Weak Writing
Often, the creation of the work itself is too epic. The fewer mediums you have going at once, the stronger each must be -- if all you're producing is literature, then, uh, you'd better not skimp on the writing. But the more you're combining, the weaker each can be, and, moreover, one starts to see them all as equally important -- The Writing equal to The Music and The Visuals and The Crotch Shots. But this is why The Writing is often The Worst: because it's the engine of the car and thus both disproportionately intricate and important, yet it's so often treated as equivalent to the paint and the sweet rims and the kickin' stereo and the other shit that isn't in any way equivalent ...
The features that are endemic to the medium will get polished and carry the experience, and the rest need be only an afterthought. Music once had only notes, so they had to be in a damned fine order -- introduce lyrics and a marketable image and power chords will do just fine. And, yeah, books just have writing, but they have ideas too, so even a book that reads like it was written by a cat walking across a keyboard can succeed if the ideas it presents to a mass audience aren't being presented elsewhere. Why not ALSO make it well-written? Because it would be really hard? Then you're in the wrong business. Or you're just in business period. Speaking of which ...