(Smarticle) In Defense of “Modern” Art (No, You Couldn’t Have Done That)

Convergence by Jackson Pollock, an artist often attacked for being easily replicable

(COVINGTON, La.) — In today’s world, specifically in southeast Louisiana, there exist three unmentionables: veganism, California, and modern art. People like to be victims and this sentiment seems to have extended to several parts of the United States where the people feel as if their cultural identity is repressed in modern society and, more important, modern media, which is all-encompassing in its scope and iron-grip on American culture. Displaced localized cultures see where most media is flowing from, California, as seizing their cultural identity and warping it. Many are under the impression that the media diverts what American culture is defined as, and in an attempt to escape and separate themselves from the kale and the quinoa, innocents are caught in the crossfire of intranational cultural warfare, most notably, contemporary art.

First of all, modern art is certainly not modern. The modern art movement existed in the late 19th century to around the early 1970s with notable contributors including Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Salvador Dali. Art today is frequently mislabeled as modern art, and while it is certainly “modern,” we have a different term for it: contemporary art. Now that we know that Picasso’s reputation is safely out of harm’s way, let’s continue.

When people attack contemporary art they often misunderstand its purpose. If they see a statue of an ordinary object raised on a pedestal or a painting that is merely clumps of paints thrown onto canvas they think, “I could have done that, it takes no skill at all. Where is my 10 million.” The issue lies within critiquing art upon how difficult it was to make alone and whether or not a non-artist could recreate it. Another extremely important area for judging the quality of a piece is the thought behind it, an area where art today excels.

Sunrise by Claude Monet made him one of the bad boys in the art world of the 1800s

Contemporary art in a lot of ways is a rebellion of thought. Art today is rebelling off of the ideas of postmodernism, which was a rejection of modernism which in turn was a rejection of romanticism (this goes on for a while). Renaissance art is beautiful, pious, and sophisticated, but that doesn’t mean that art that rejects it isn’t as well. As the years progressed, artists became bored of the establishment telling them to paint the same things the same ways over and over. People started to paint wildly and loosely as an act of open rebellion, and this trend caught on like a wildfire. It hasn’t died yet either. The 20th-21st century is chock full of talent and innovation, it just so happens that sometimes it isn’t present in the composition of the art itself.

Yes, we all agree, that dead shark in a box probably wasn’t as difficult to make as Michelangelo’s David, but that’s not the point. The point comes into what defining what art even is; it’s not just about photo-realistic paintings and being aesthetically pleasing (which is subjective, anyway), it’s about challenging the medium and the viewer about what their perception of art even is. Sometimes the meaning of the piece is that it has no meaning. Some people may hate that this is the direction that art seems to have taken, away from realistic portraits and into the realm of urinals, yet have no fear! There are still countless numbers of talented artists who conform to more traditional styles of art.

the swing after fragonard
The Swing (After Fragonard) by Yinka Shinobare is proof that art today is more diverse than ever in its motifs

With the birth of the internet came the birth of the information age. No longer is artwork confined to stuffy museums and the mansions of billionaire collectors; art became a free modicum that anyone could view and take inspiration from whenever they wish. Today many artists harken back to more traditional styles of painting and sculpting while others challenge the medium. Art has become much more prevalent and much more diverse in recent years, meaning that the term contemporary art is as enveloping as ever.

So no, you couldn’t have done that. Yes, we are all sure you can splatter paint just as well as anybody else, and yes, you can arrange lightbulbs on the floor like a pro, but that’s not what makes it special. Does that mean that you have to enjoy this art? Of course not. Like what you want, support what you will, but, before you critique contemporary art for being “too easy,” think for a bit.

“Smarticle” is the regular column by Paper Wolf writer and editor Hal Fox, in which he addresses issues from media to politics to whatever he feels like.


One comment

  1. Hello, Hal. I’m sitting about two miles from St. Paul’s in Cov. (having left Germany recently and heading for Mexico), and I think you might like a couple of my related blog entries — we come at it differently but are exploring the same ground 🙂

    The Problem with Modern Art

    A digression on abstract art



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