Regarding Modern Arts

Check out Let God sort ’em out, from Terry Teachout’s About Last Night. She was reviewing a book by Paul Johnson: Art: A New History. Her comments are “…it is fabulously energetic and violently opinionated, and thus as a result irresistibly readable–you can open it almost at random and find gems.”

More quotes from TT’s article:

Since there is, after all, so much about the modern era that is worthy of loathing, why not simply loathe it all and be done with it? The problem is that I¡¯ve never been able to reject the evidence of my senses, which tell me that Stravinsky was a great composer (usually) and Picasso a great painter (sometimes).

She went on and talked about how some people rejected all modern arts non-discriminately, without first getting to know any of them.

I found this interesting because I myself do have a strong opinion regarding modern arts. I used to call those floors at SFMOMA that contains lots of art installment the “insane asylum”. Just the other day, we happened to walk in Philip Guston Retrospective, which earned plenty contemptuous remarks from me. But I don’t reject ALL modern arts. For example, I fell in love with this chair by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata during SF MOMA’s grand opening back in 1995. I saw it again this past weekend. The picture here didn’t do its justice, when light shine on it from above, you would be able to see the shadows of those frozen roses on the floor as well. It was dream like. Pure beauty.

I reject “ugly” art.

My sister didn’t agree with me, she thinks there are plenty great arts that are not shy to show ugliness. I started to understand that after I saw Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) again this Spring at MOMA Queens, NYC. It was a painting I used to dismiss as ugly. But that time, I saw more than just the hush lines and confrontational forms. There was something deeper in it, something humane, and…true.

So maybe most modern arts’s main purpose is no longer to show beauty, but to show “truth”, or to “provoke” thinking. If that is the case, then everyone must have an individual upper limit when facing a thought-provoking piece of art. Right now, my limite stops with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

2 thoughts on “Regarding Modern Arts

  1. Time for some more ranting …

    I’m taking a drawing course this fall at CSM (College of San Mateo). My prof is pretty conservative about art. He abhores Van Gogh, Matisse, and many Impressionists. He doesn’t know what to say about modern, abstract art because he feels there is simply nothing there to criticize.

    One student said, “But I love Van Gogh’s Sunflowers”. His reply was that he thinks Van Gogh’s (and others) ability to draw and paint is bad. He also said, “I can’t argue with you when you say you like a painting. That is a fact. What I can argue is an artist’s specific problems with form, color, lighting, etc.”

    My take on his comments is that there is the craft of painting and drawing and then there is the art of taking your technical skills to produce something that is more than a technical exercise. His definition of technical skills involves creating a representation of your visual perception.

    I read the book on Guston in SFMOMA while waiting for you guys after the Chagall exhibit. In there, Guston and his cohorts were not trying to paint anything real. Not even an abstraction of something real which is, in a way, real. They were simply creating art that explored the act of creating art. A totally self-referential creation. Of course, then Guston got into his re-exploration of representational art with Head on Glass Bottle and other monstrosities.

    Just some random thoughts …

  2. heehee, feeling better? 🙂

    Your instructor sounds like an old stiffy guy. I wonder whether what he cares about is not even just technic, but one particular kind of technic. Because I think Van Gogh’s brush stroke was rather good. But it is not the classical refined style that your teacher preferred.

    It is almost like the classic geeky comparasions, is c better than java? (Please! don’t mention M$’s .Net)


    But art really is not about the means, is it? I always thought art is about the end. It’s an expression, it is trying to communicate something special from the creator to the viewer. My problem with Guston is i don’t think he is trying to say anything interesting. Or like you said, he is trying to explore how to “say”, more interested in the act than the words that came out. In a way he is kind of similar to your instructor.

    Or maybe whatever Guston wanted to say simply doesn’t interest me. 🙁

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