Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Defense Of Modern Art

I was recently checking out a post at TYWKIWDBI, one of my daily must read blogs (mentioned here when Brain Rage was added to the blogroll there) written by an elderly yet prolifically posting fellow who goes by the name of Minnesotastan, wherein he repeated a common lament that he just did not "get" modern art. One of his commenters echoed his dirge and linked to the following commentary by the similarly elderly and also perpetually whining 60 Minutes icon Andy Rooney:

Now I can somewhat understand Stan's and Rooney's worldviews as they pertain to this subject. Both of these men most likely came of age in a culture that celebrated the traditional "masters" of the art world, growing up in a time when most credible "art" meant a skillfully constructed painting or sculpture that actually looked like what it was supposed to be portraying. True, the modern art genre has existed for over a century now but outside of the artistic community the views of those like Stan and Rooney have largely persisted as the mainstream of American society.

I've often heard the similar opinion from many other people that modern art is just not as meaningful or well done as that of the traditional masters but I must respectfully disagree. Now this is not to say that I don't appreciate great traditional works. In fact, as I type these words in my humble abode I'm looking at framed prints of "Ancient Rome" by Giovanni Paolo Panini (which I viewed at the Louvre in Paris) and "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai (which I viewed at the Met in New York City) but at the same time they hang across the room from "Lucifer" by Jackson Pollock (which I viewed at the MOMA in San Francisco), one of my absolute favorite works of all time.

So, which of these is the best painting of the bunch? Which is obviously the most artistic? They are each as radically different from each other in form and style as art can be yet I have an easy answer to this largely academic question: They all are. I say this despite the fact that one of the originals is obviously the most expensive while another has almost certainly been deemed the most important and meaningful by the artistic community but I say it mainly because I love each of them for very different reasons.

Now of course I would never assign myself the title of "Arbiter of All that is Worthy and Artistic in the World" (although that would certainly be a kick-ass addition to any resume) but I do know what I do and do not like as far as the art world is concerned, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some curmudgeonly old commentator like Andy Rooney dictate to me what is and is not "art" as if I were some wholly uneducated bumpkin uncomprehendingly staring at an amorphous splash of paint on a largely unmarked canvas. Rooney's certainly entitled to his opinion on this score (as is Minnesotastan) but I'll be the final arbiter of what I find worthy of artistic praise and merit.

It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is often said because it's true. I myself refer to various pieces and installations as either "good" art or "bad" art on a routine basis but I realize that my personal opinions and designations hardly make these judgements true for others and the same applies to those critics within the art world with educations and personal collections far in excess of my own, and it especially applies to serial scolders like Rooney. If you personally like a piece of art, it's good; if you do not, it's bad. Don't ever let someone else tell you what to think about any particular piece of art just because they claim to have some mysterious insight into said piece, but at the same time don't presume to judge anything as "non-artistic" for everyone else just because you don't appreciate it personally. I enjoy living in a world teeming with art even if I'm not always particularly fond of every piece I come across and unlike Rooney, I'd rather have "bad" art than none at all.


Anonymous said...

very well said.....we just watched this video last week in my art criticism class and i was researching for more opinions on the video and i came across this...
rooney blew me away (in a bad way!), and his reaction was so close-minded and naive that I started laughing at one point. He was mocking the woman who was explaining the artistic meaning and aesthetic value in the "urinals"...when really the symbolism and deep meaning was tied to aids the the struggle for gay rights. The video was so one-sided and extremely edited...what a sad thing too, because had the artists and critics and collectors not been cut off and then bombarded with rooney's criticizing voice making fun of them in the background, people watching really would have gotten a true insight into modern art and gained appreciation for it.

JBW said...

Thanks a lot, Anon. I really like modern art myself and I'm glad that someone else with an appreciation for it enjoyed what I had to say on the subject.

Wesley said...

I'm sorry, but some of those sculptures are just not artistic and lack any ounce of creativity. If placing a rusty metal wall in front of a building constitutes as a work of art, then taking a crap in a cardboard box should also earn the same merit.

While I don't agree with everything Rooney says, I do think there should be at least a shred of creativity or artistic talent to what we deem as "art." If that is not the case, then I suppose I'll get my 3 year old to wipe his nose on a napkin and then submit it to the Museum of Modern Art.

The other thing is that most of these "artists" don't even do the work. They just come up with a simple-minded idea, then hire a crew to actually put it all together.

Unknown said...

Shut the fuck up

Unknown said...

Shut the fuck up

Unknown said...

I think the issue is that people are trying to define what is art, and whenever something people dislike is put into a museum or something, people say it's not art. But pretty much anything really can be art. What they mean is that it's not good, because something can be bad while still being art. A kindergartners drawing, while it might be good for someone that age, is unlikely to be what most people consider good. But it's still art. (Also, I feel the need to state that obviously not all modern art is bad, obviously, and in my opinion, modern art is hardly the only era to have an issue with famous works having easily disputable value. Quite frankly I've always hated Jackson Pollock paintings for the same reason I feel some famous modern works might not deserve their fame. They're nothing. The artist did nothing that made the work appealing. And I feel I should add, symbolism does not determine if art is good. The art does that)

Unknown said...

My gripe is that many artist spend years and years studying and developing the skills of Representational Classical art and struggle to find buyers on pieces that have taken them months or years to complete; while some get Rich quick artist paints a single white line on a blue canvas (likely with tape and a roller)in likely less than 4 hours (tops) and gets in excess of 60 million for it. Where I'd the logic and justice? I have read where even Picasso laughed about people buying stuff at enormous prices some of his own work.