It’s Okay Not to Like Modern Art
Eve Bigaj
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I loved how you started. But then you went on this long diatribe that took you the direction that you criticized contemporary art proponents for, your points 1 and 2. Frankly, I’ve heard those same arguments used by classical artist proponents

(1) A dislike of classical art is a symptom of insufficient education. Given enough art-historical and philosophical background, anyone should appreciate classical art. Furthermore, such background is worth acquiring.

(2) Classical art is preferable to non-representational painting in some objective sense: Classical art is serious and timeless; Modern painting is shallow and du jour. It’s fine to create and appreciate art which is merely trendy, but in this day and age we ought to aim for something more.

But art that we consider Art, whether from a classical perspective or a contemporary perspective, is about something more. That’s why van Gogh’s sunflowers are more compelling than the pablum that decorates so many hotel walls. There is something more.

What I hate about the “beauty” argument from classical proponents is that Beauty is defined once and for all, as if beauty can be confined to a single definition. In a debate about Britain’s position on beauty between the likes of Roger Scruton and Stephen Baylay and a couple others, I fall into Baylay’s side when he asks Scruton and Starkey:

“Why is it I like what you like (which is to say: medieval, renaissance and Victorian), but why you are so limited and snitty and crabby you see no value in what I like?”

There is bad art every where. There are well crafted representational works that are as vapid as the trendiest contemproary. I disagre that well crafted is better than nothing. As Rothko points out, there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. If the only thing one can say about a work is that it is well crafted then the artist has missed the point and wasted everyone’s time including his or her own.

“But beauty isn’t dead. It’s safe and sound in its proper home: the world of the art lover.”

I agree. And neither is beauty restricted to classical or representational forms. As Makoto Fujimura once responded to someone who asked how to view his non-representational work, view it as one would view a display of fireworks.

Personally the argument between Modern art apologists and Classical art apologists is pretty moot, and I mean that literally—it is academic. As such largely irrelevant.

There is the artist, the creative trying to make something meaningful, either for themselves, for others, or both. Some want to continue the conversation started by other artists, some are looking for a new vocabulary to address new questions in search of new answers. Often at the same time trying to make a living from their work. There is the curator trying to come up with a reason why someone should come see their selection instead of, or at least in addition to, another curator’s selection. And there is the viewer, who just wants to be moved, whether from a pre-modern, modern, or post-modern work.

Instead of skirting on the surface (as, sadly, many propoenents of Modern art do as well as the detractors), I think you might find Suzi Gablik’s book Has Modernism Failed? an interesting read, a critique of the mid-20th century modern art movement from someone who was a part of it.

Great article,

Joe