In Defense of Modern Art

Here is a video by Prager-U, which a number of people have shared to Facebook. It attemts to show how aweful modern art is. The speaker however, really has no clue what modern art is about. I suspect, Prager too - like many of his followers, don't support such views because they really care about preserving the cultural quality of Western Civilization (as the video argues,) but are rather philosophically opposed to the public funding arts, period. And are looking for any to delegitimize them. I've answered such posts on a number of occasions. But I've finally decided to write a blogpost where this argument can live, so I don't have to keep recreating it.  So you think modern art is awful?  Here is why I disagree.

To begin with, you need to know a little bit about history.  The invention of the camera pretty much destroyed classic realism as an artform. Before photography, painters strove for realism because, as far as visual representation went, they were the only game in town. When photographers began to establish themselves as visual artists in competition with painters - artists began to look for things to distinguish their art from photography. What you have in modern art is a succession of movements as artists find new ways to creatively explore perception. What the casual observer simply sees as "weird", actually has (if it is truly art,) some a philosophy behind it - and a method.

The impressionists like Monet, Renior, and Degas who, tried to capture not the objects but the light in the scenes which they painted.

The cubists, like Picaso, who tried to capture a more complete representation of three dimentional subject than the two dimensional surface of the canvas would allow.  

The Surrealists like Dali and Magritte who used paintings to present the normally hidden world of the subconscious.

Mondrian of the De Stijl movement tried to break an image or landscape down into its essential form and color. He only used primary colors and strait lines.

Abstract Expressionists like the much maligned Jackson Pollock. Often ridiculed as a talentless fraud, do you know what he was trying do do with his splatters and drippings? He famously said, the was trying to "Defy the accident." In other words exploring the boundary between what he, as an artist, had control over - and what he did not.

Very few people have respect for the Da-Da movement but, even here there is profundity. Duchamp's famous work "In anticipation of a broken arm" is simply a snow shovel like any you might pick up at the hardware store. He hung it on the wall as a piece of art. Do you know why? Because he was cynical and despised the people who came to see his work? No. It was because he was asking the question "What makes something Art". Is it the great skill of the artist? Some famous art forgers posess skills as great as the masters - producing indistinquishable replicas. Is it the person who created it? The answer is that it becomes valuable when we give it value.

The same is true of one's judgement of the whole western art movement in general. You can choose to to dismiss it as a degeneration of our western aesthetic - or you can look at it as a playful inquiry into how we perceive the world.  

No comments: