Original Posting At http://gloria-deo.blogspot.com/2019/05/why-is-much-modern-art-so-bad.html
As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve run across Brian Holdsworth recently, a web designer, graphic artist, and lay Roman Catholic apologist. I’ve really been enjoying his thought-provoking videos on various topics, which are his attempt to do his part to help renew Christian Civilization.
Here is one really insightful example:
I must hasten to add, as with all things, there are exceptions to this generalization – there are works and styles of modern art that are quite good (indeed, numerous different styles fall under the heading of ‘modern art’). But a great deal of modern art (contemporary abstract art in particular), and a great deal of modern architecture really is…ugly. And for that reason, is loathed by the masses of common men who have not taken college courses on appreciating modern art.
I believe the intuitive reaction is quite instructive: A ‘common man’ intuitively understands that a gothic cathedral is beautiful; the same with the ancient Greek Parthenon in Athens, or Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo’s Pieta, or the Mayan Pyramids of the Yucatan, or the knot-work carvings of the ancient Scandinavians. No one needs to take a university class be taught to appreciate these things.
We all see immediately they simply are beautiful; in some small way they share in and communicate the reality of Heavenly Beauty and Harmony.
On the other hand, I have certainly had the experience of visiting a University Art School’s exhibition or (worse still) standing in a museum, looking at some crumpled up pieces of metal or some random smears of color across a white canvas, and said “Why is this considered art? I could have done that when I was 4…”
Maybe you’ve had that experience as well. Why is it that so much unintelligible rubbish passes for art among wealthy or well-educated elites?
I suspect part of the issue may indeed be elitism itself: ‘We who have taken courses on modern art are insiders, we get the reference, we are in on the joke, while the poor uneducated folks on Main Street just don’t get it.’
But despite the ridiculous prices that some of these works can fetch at auction, it seems to me that more people are waking up the fact that the emperor has no clothes.
|Cy Twombly’s “Untitled” sold for $46,437,500 in 2017.
It was created by putting a brush on the end of a pole.
I think Holdsworth, in his video above, puts his finger on the core of the issue: there was a shift in our culture from Artist as expressing praise to the glory of God, or even praise to the nation, or even celebrating another human being, to the Artist as practicing self-expression. In many (obviously, not all) cases, art has gone from looking out at the world and celebrating something ‘other than me/bigger than me’ to a kind of navel gazing.
But then the question has to be raised, why is this artist’s self-expression so exceptionally valuable? If there is no objective artistic excellence in the work itself, then why should I pay money to go see this work in a museum or to buy it to hang in my home? After all, I am every bit as much a ‘self’ as the artist, and I am more than capable of crumbling up my own tin-foil if that is what I feel like doing to express my own angst or whatever…and it is much cheaper than paying for the expression of some other person I’ll never meet.
On the other hand, the more public nature of the classic understanding of what art is all about (not only my own expression, but also celebrating real objective beauty) necessarily puts an emphasis on excellence, which gives such art wider appeal. The result is that Michelangelo has produced something that I most emphatically could not have done myself – there is a wonder to the fact that another human being created this kind of excellence.
I’ve heard glad rumors of a renewed interest in representational painting in European schools in recent years, and I expect time and the changing of generations will sift out the more bizarre forms of modernist self-expression. I also expect quite a few cities will in decades to come begin to wonder how they might be able to remove the huge pillars of polished twisting metal from in front of their otherwise beautiful courthouses. But people will still travel across the world to crowd shoulder to shoulder in the Sistine Chapel and behold timeless art, and that is a hopeful sign.