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Tucker

"Why is Modern Art so Bad?" ...true?

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I find this take on modern art interesting:

 

 

...but I also find it troubling. It seems rather easy to find works of great beauty from a particular era and proclaim that era as good, and conversion find ugly works from other eras and proclaim those eras bad. It's true there is some ugly modern art, and yet I find many works of modern art extremely beautiful, even works labeled ugly by some arbiters of taste. In general I find the video oversimplifying both modern (and pre-modern) art, as well as the narrative flow of ideas. But am I right?

 

So... what's right and what's wrong with this video? I'm curious as to what others think.

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he does over-simplify, but that is to be expected (and excused, imo) in a 5 minute video.  I think he does miss a lot of the "why" though: why did objective artistic standards suddenly decline?  Of course, they did so in conjunction with (and as a reflection of) a broader trend in all of society to question and undermine objective standards (i.e. postmodernism, etc.).   In that context, modern art offers just as many strengths as the modern (or post modern) version of any subject - and there definitely are strengths.  My own field of theology, for example, has made many of what can only be called advancements in reaction to the challenges of post-modernism, and post-modern theology is in many way superior to its pre-modern counter-part (and vice versa).   In other words, I couldn't accept wholesale his rejection of modern art - I'd give the standard baby and bathwater response to that.  But he does nevertheless make a good point about how art must be something more than merely self-expression.  I don't see how "art" as a field, however, could be renewed outside of a general renewal of all of society.

 

That, and I'm glad this thread wasn't about the 2009 Jonathan Parker film "Untitled" new_rofl.gif

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I find this take on modern art interesting:

 

 

...but I also find it troubling. It seems rather easy to find works of great beauty from a particular era and proclaim that era as good, and conversion find ugly works from other eras and proclaim those eras bad. It's true there is some ugly modern art, and yet I find many works of modern art extremely beautiful, even works labeled ugly by some arbiters of taste. In general I find the video oversimplifying both modern (and pre-modern) art, as well as the narrative flow of ideas. But am I right?

 

So... what's right and what's wrong with this video? I'm curious as to what others think.

 

 

I think the same things you do, Tucker.

 

There's a certain irony in a professor who delivers five minute video lectures for a virtual university founded by a conservative radio talk show host mounting this argument. A sense in which his podium is the academic/critical quintessence of the free-for-all he sees in art - of eroded standards and traditions. (I don't mean that's my view; only it seems like having his ideological cake and eating it too.) And as this is a talk about taste, the irony seeps into design: his captions and illustrations &c.

 

I don't love the Impressionists. I like certain Impressionist figures very, very much but on the whole I love the Naturalists. That's petty but typical of how I see his thesis, as an elephantine over-simplification made up of many more:

Since the 19th c., only abstract art or art as statement has flourished - much of it scatological; before the 19th c., art was apolitical and authentic, uncontroversial and majestic, consisting of Michelangelo's Pieta and like masterpieces; art is like figure skating, and the critics and consumers of art are like judges of a competition; beauty and transcendence are only present in realism; incoherence and fakery in abstraction; expression and merit are reducible to technique; the ugly cannot be beautiful; the shocking and repulsive, disorderly and radical cannot be (good) art; they have not shaped art throughout history.

 

I like the idea of the video. I like knocks to complacency and being made to step back and wonder how differently the course of art (or science or philosophy or geo-politics) could have run. I'm personally drawn to classicism and naturalism and realism, from Caravaggio to Hammershoi to Andrew Wyeth. My taste isn't exploratory or adventurous or political. But there are works of modern art I can't get over, that I too find extremely beautiful and stirring, sculptures he could have juxtaposed with David. I think any such juxtaposition is pointless and specious, but his counter-examples seem especially so. So I agree:

"It seems rather easy to find works of great beauty from a particular era and proclaim that era as good, and conversely find ugly works from other eras and proclaim those eras bad"

 (Though I was interested to see Levitated Mass, because it's the subject of a documentary that Darrel Manson and I think Ken Morefield reviewed.)

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Link to our thread on Art Renewal International.

 

FWIW, it seems to me that any critique of Modernism that reduces it to "individual expression" without taking into account the massive social and economic changes that gave birth to the movement is seriously flawed. I'm not an art scholar, but I do know that many of the innovations of the artists during this period were heavily influenced by "objective" scientific discoveries. The other thread mentions color--also psychology and atomic theory [Dali, for instance]. So a critique that leaves such an important observation out in favor of mocking "self-expression" is highly suspect.

 

Ditto any critique that boils down to "it's ugly" or "it doesn't deal with uplifting classical themes" [presumably including the morally improving tale of Leda and the Swan].

 

Ditto any critique that seems to confuse "Modern" with "contemporary," especially when Modern art covers about a hundred years, give or take.

 

Ditto any critique that thinks art can be lumped into "good" and "bad" without paying attention to the schools that produce the given works. Here's a good selection.

 

Of course, for me, art only really gets interesting once it abandons the representational [exception: I'm a sucker for 19th C book illustrations]. So grain of salt and all that.

Edited by NBooth

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Why is any art bad? Lack of sleep?

 

Joe

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Link to our thread on Art Renewal International.

 

FWIW, it seems to me that any critique of Modernism that reduces it to "individual expression" without taking into account the massive social and economic changes that gave birth to the movement is seriously flawed. I'm not an art scholar, but I do know that many of the innovations of the artists during this period were heavily influenced by "objective" scientific discoveries. The other thread mentions color--also psychology and atomic theory [Dali, for instance]. So a critique that leaves such an important observation out in favor of mocking "self-expression" is highly suspect.

 

Ditto any critique that boils down to "it's ugly" or "it doesn't deal with uplifting classical themes" [presumably including the morally improving tale of Leda and the Swan].

 

Ditto any critique that seems to confuse "Modern" with "contemporary," especially when Modern art covers about a hundred years, give or take.

 

Ditto any critique that thinks art can be lumped into "good" and "bad" without paying attention to the schools that produce the given works. Here's a good selection.

 

Of course, for me, art only really gets interesting once it abandons the representational [exception: I'm a sucker for 19th C book illustrations]. So grain of salt and all that.

 

 

I didn't look at all the links yet and hopefully will come back to them. But I read part of the Art Renewal thread and it made me want to say much more.

 

To speak plainly, I don't actually take this man for a teacher, nor Prager for a university, nor his subject for art history. Instead, I think he revives early identifications of modernism as degenerate and amoral. I've glimpsed that before, probably through links in A&F, and I know, dimly, that it's socio-political/-religious in motivation.  Here it seems at once breathtakingly naive (shot through with fallacies and fabrications) and calculated (not letting the actual record spoil a good dichotomy, taking the measure of its audience). Except that I care - I'm dismayed - when someone who's either unapologetic in his ignorance or pedagogically dishonest postures as an authority, because of how hard it might be to see through that.  Imagine little contact with art, no loose grasp of Modernism, no more lucid narratives from other sources. In good faith, the complex stage of visual art divides into a before of old masters and an after of naked emperors. The Renaissance ushers in integrity and succeeding generations abolish it.

 

 - "Ditto any critique that boils down to "it's ugly" or "it doesn't deal with uplifting classical themes" "

 

I want (and know I fail) to imagine past my own distortions of art and history, received and self-made. I'd like to take the thread's question seriously: copping to verdicts of edifying/debasing, beautiful/ugly, which I pass all the time; admitting that the reputation of modern art (which in the video is essentially art after Expressionism) as fake, cryptic and ugly is hard-won.  

 

 - "any critique of Modernism that reduces it to "individual expression" without taking into account the massive social and economic changes that gave birth to the movement is seriously flawed."

 

In a way, pure abstraction and unmooring from the 'real' is impossible. No matter how abstract or representational their work, artists try to do - describe - what only they can, both as individuals and as denizens of a unique historical moment.  

You can call the 'ugly, bad' examples in the video their own defense, art liberated from decorum and formalism. But that's still incomplete, as if freedom and the shock of the new weren't also achieved within restraint and through convention and fidelity. I can't furnish good examples right now. But in the late Renaissance, Arcimboldi concocts human faces from fruit and fish and books: bizarre portraits filed under but not really explained by Mannerism. A century on, while Vermeer paints the good, edifying Girl with a Pearl Earing, his contemporary paints the carcass of an ox, as numinous as his overtly religious subjects. And other artists are accused of profaning the holy because, e.g., their Christ is paradoxically too real, too radically human.

 

 - "So grain of salt and all that."

 

One of my own is to value the unschooled personal response, however snubbed, without denying that taste and appreciation are accretive and cultured. Sometimes my dislike for an artwork is matched only by my sympathy for the conditions that produced it or the horrors that it strove to describe. Like I learn to see European avant-garde, Dadaism, Surrealism &c., as art of trauma, borne of the conviction that nothing could ever be the same. I lament the lost works, destroyed in the Nationalist Socialists' frenzy of purification. But I still cringe at Hans Bellmer's oeuvre and still find so much from this period clinical, dehumanizing and repellant. It can happen that you're handed the key or cypher (science, psychoanalysis, protest, sweeping revolutionary trends) that makes art intelligible, deeply analyzable, even fascinating. And something, maybe your heart, stays obdurate.

 

 

Chesterton believed that the non-realistic art of the Middle Ages was superior to much of the realistic art that followed it. He believed that the medieval artists' interest in transcendence meant that they had the freedom to diverge from the "literal" reality to portray things in abstracted, altered ways. As a modern artist, Rouault embraced this Chestertonian vision.

Modern Christian philosophers like Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson echoed this vision: they pointed to the fact that "realism" paralleled the rise of modern materialism and empiricism -- the sense derived from scientism that only what we can observe is real. The rise of modern art, according to Maritain and Gilson, made it possible once again for art to explore transcendence and the inner truth of the heart rather than make art the slave of the camera. 

 

 

 

This defense from the earlier discussion is perfect. To supplement (not contest) it with another trajectory: the abstract, idealized art of the Middle Ages gives way to the realistic impulse of the Renaissance, which far from being extinguished, persists through the 19th c. and in a sense, ultimately calls photography and then cinema into being. New technology records what people see, precisely. But there's also excitement over capturing what the naked eye can't: whole new realms of perception. (The hoaxes with fairies illustrate this, if also its gullibility and abuse). There's this great, fecund interplay between the traditional arts and the newcomers. And the 'machine eye', the camera, also shoots the surreal, in montages and still lifes and altered negatives.

 

I think why I love some of the realistic art of the same period (and find it quietly revolutionary in its own right) is for its embrace of the ordinary, what Whitman called 'common lives'. One of the defining changes after the Renaissance is that the landscape comes into its own - it moves from the background to the foreground of the canvas. But I've felt those landscapes as remote and grand as the mythological or historical tableaux that once upstaged them. (In America, maybe they stand in for mythology and history.) The movement I find transcendent and beautiful is really away from the spectacular - metaphorically, it's zooming in on details that were hidden. Not in condescension, as idealized or diverting spectacle, but with respect and compassion. Lewis Hines and his photographs are exemplary for me, because they are both art and explicit social document - his 'Ellis Island Madonna' and many of his portraits of immigrants and workers.  

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I've read over your post twice now--once quickly and once slowly--and, though I don't know that I can add anything to continue the conversation, I want to say that I find your response tremendously interesting and helpful. Thank you.

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I didn't look at all the links yet and hopefully will come back to them. But I read part of the Art Renewal thread and it made me want to say much more.

 

 

 

Sadly, from what I could tell, at least two of the (very well educated) voices in that thread are missing. Both, from my weak recollection, provided striking points we can only infer at best. Too bad.

 

Joe

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I've read over your post twice now--once quickly and once slowly--and, though I don't know that I can add anything to continue the conversation, I want to say that I find your response tremendously interesting and helpful. Thank you.

 

Thank you, that's very kind and heartening (especially because I tend to compact ideas and leave out connections and can end up just muddying a conversation). 

I can reciprocate. I've found the discussions you and J.A.A. Purves sometimes hold interesting and helpful too!  

 

 

 

 

 

I didn't look at all the links yet and hopefully will come back to them. But I read part of the Art Renewal thread and it made me want to say much more.

 

 

 

Sadly, from what I could tell, at least two of the (very well educated) voices in that thread are missing. Both, from my weak recollection, provided striking points we can only infer at best. Too bad.

 

Joe

 

 

 

But you are still here and your own posts had insight and vestiges of one missing (and clearly knowledgeable) voice.  One of the refrains in that thread was the economics of art, the narrow channels of funding and support and the pressure to earn. I hope things went well for your daughter, whether she stayed with dancing or moved on. I was thinking that 2009 (?) was a tough year to graduate.

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These days when this topic comes up, I try not to be cynical. I go back to the introduction of a book I have titled _The Story of Art_ by E. H. Gombrich. In his introduction he starts off with:

 

"There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. Once these were men who took coloured earth and roughed out the forms of a bison on the wall of a cave; today some buy their paints, and design posters for hoardings; they did and do many other things. There is no harm in calling all these things art as long as we keep in mind that such a word may mean very different things in different times and places, and as long as we realize that Art with a capital A has no existence. For Art with a capital A has become something of a bogey and a fetish. You  may crush an artist by telling him that what he has just done may be quite good in its own way, but it is not 'Art'. And you may confound anyone enjoying a picture by declaring that what he liked in it was not the Art but something different.

 

Actually I do not think that there are any wrong reasons for liking a statue or a picture. Someone may like a landscape painting because it reminds him of home, or a portrait because it reminds him of a friend. There is nothing wrong with that. All of us, when we see a painting, are bound to be reminded of a hundred-and-one things which influence our likes and dislikes. As long as these memories help us enjoy what we see, we need not worry. It is only when some irrelevant memory makes us prejudiced, when we instinctively turn away from a magnificent picture of an alpine scene because we dislike climbing, that we should search our mind for the reason for the aversion which spoils a pleasure we might otherwise have had. There _are_ wrong reasons for disliking a work of art."

 

I have come to the current thinking that there are two discussion that get mixed that are related, but quite different. Money changes everything. The only artist I can think of that is free to create whatever they want is the artist who is self-funded. I don't mean to say that the artist by necessity has to create strictly commercial work or otherwise be untrue to who they are. But If one is working as an artist, one needs to find a way to put food on the table, a roof over your head, shoes on the feet, etc. That means we, our work, need to be noticed. We have to create something that makes our work rise above the din of everything else out there. Mozart, in a letter to his father, mentioned of one region where he was working that everyone composed quick finales. So he decided to compose a slow introduction to a finale. Novelty is not new.

 

I was watching an interview with Jason Bateman the other day. The interviewer asked him why he accepted a role in the movie they were discussing (I can't remember which, maybe the new one out). He essentially said an actor takes what is offered. Few actors get to choose the projects they want. It is about staying employed.

 

My daughter is in NYC dancing and tutoring math. Dancing is frustrating right now. No one is working regularly except a couple/few companies. Touring is down for just about everyone. It's one thing to be a beautiful, talented dancer. It is another thing to be a talented, beautiful dancer someone is looking for.

 

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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These days when this topic comes up, I try not to be cynical. I go back to the introduction of a book I have titled _The Story of Art_ by E. H. Gombrich. In his introduction he starts off with:

 

"There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. Once these were men who took coloured earth and roughed out the forms of a bison on the wall of a cave; today some buy their paints, and design posters for hoardings; they did and do many other things. There is no harm in calling all these things art as long as we keep in mind that such a word may mean very different things in different times and places, and as long as we realize that Art with a capital A has no existence. For Art with a capital A has become something of a bogey and a fetish. You  may crush an artist by telling him that what he has just done may be quite good in its own way, but it is not 'Art'. And you may confound anyone enjoying a picture by declaring that what he liked in it was not the Art but something different.

 

Actually I do not think that there are any wrong reasons for liking a statue or a picture. Someone may like a landscape painting because it reminds him of home, or a portrait because it reminds him of a friend. There is nothing wrong with that. All of us, when we see a painting, are bound to be reminded of a hundred-and-one things which influence our likes and dislikes. As long as these memories help us enjoy what we see, we need not worry. It is only when some irrelevant memory makes us prejudiced, when we instinctively turn away from a magnificent picture of an alpine scene because we dislike climbing, that we should search our mind for the reason for the aversion which spoils a pleasure we might otherwise have had. There _are_ wrong reasons for disliking a work of art."

 

I have come to the current thinking that there are two discussion that get mixed that are related, but quite different. Money changes everything. The only artist I can think of that is free to create whatever they want is the artist who is self-funded. I don't mean to say that the artist by necessity has to create strictly commercial work or otherwise be untrue to who they are. But If one is working as an artist, one needs to find a way to put food on the table, a roof over your head, shoes on the feet, etc. That means we, our work, need to be noticed. We have to create something that makes our work rise above the din of everything else out there. Mozart, in a letter to his father, mentioned of one region where he was working that everyone composed quick finales. So he decided to compose a slow introduction to a finale. Novelty is not new.

 

I was watching an interview with Jason Bateman the other day. The interviewer asked him why he accepted a role in the movie they were discussing (I can't remember which, maybe the new one out). He essentially said an actor takes what is offered. Few actors get to choose the projects they want. It is about staying employed.

 

My daughter is in NYC dancing and tutoring math. Dancing is frustrating right now. No one is working regularly except a couple/few companies. Touring is down for just about everyone. It's one thing to be a beautiful, talented dancer. It is another thing to be a talented, beautiful dancer someone is looking for.

 

Joe

 

 

I'm sorry for not responding to this much sooner. I saw it days ago and meant to, but I'm really bad at keeping up with internet conversations. (Evne this afternoon I was searching for this thread, and got sidetracked) 

 

Actually, I think there could be wrong, deplorable reasons for liking works of art. But they're beside Gombrich's point. I also think he touches on capacities of art and reasons for liking it that are vastly underrated and under-examined. 

 

I'm sorry that things are so discouraging for your daughter but impressed she's still dancing. I have a great deal of sympathy for artists whose medium is essentially performative (like dance) or costly (like sculpture or film) because the money/work pressures seem to hit so much harder, and to be imbricated in simply practicing and developing your art. I know everyone can struggle to be published or the equivalent, or to find an alternate source of income that gives their art room to breathe. But there are still these gradations.

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An article that, to me, says not only is "Why is Modern Art so Bad" a bad question, it is the wrong question.

 

As quoted by IAM:

 

"Christians can recognize even the most seemingly profane of contemporary art as a kind of prayer, a venture on the possibility that someone, and Someone, will visit, observe, and respond with grace. But to hear this prayer, Christians need to recognize their own vulnerability and fragility rather than expecting art to affirm our piety and power."

 

My quote: "I knew my students were tempted to retreat into abstractions like the Good, the True, and the Beautiful when we talked about art. But even apart from the temptation to turn artworks into illustrations of philosophical abstractions, why go all the way to MoMA—or any contemporary gallery? Much easier to use television shows and movies, easily accessible and far more popular. What could we learn, if anything, from these strange artifacts?

My career as a scholar, educator, and curator of modern and contemporary art has been animated by the belief that “all things” are made in and through Christ, as the apostle Paul says in Colossians. Is it possible that “all things” includes not only Renaissance altarpieces but also plaster sinks?"

Joe

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This probably would go here:

EDIT: Woah, is this moderator-approval thing new? And does it only apply to this section of A&F? I mean, it's no real matter to me one way or the other, but I've literally never seen this happen before.

 

Edited by NBooth

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Neither have I. I wonder how this happened and how to turn it off.

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I've been checking other threads, it seems the "moderator approval" is only required in the Visual Art, Architecture, & Design thread.

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Interesting. Maybe an old setting put in place by someone anxious about what sorts of visuals might get posted???

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Went poking around to see if I could turn the moderator approval off but couldn't find where to control that. Maybe Evan or Opus could help out?

My thought is that we keep a fairly tight lid on members here so I'm inclined to shut off moderation in the Visual Art and Architecture section....

Let me know if someone can help out with that setting.

Thx. 

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