Modern Art and Visions of Values
January 24, 2003
Two weeks ago, the Battalion featured a photo of a life-like ultra-realistic human sculpture in the local gallery. The model clearly showed great talent in its construction – although I did not see it in detail, I will grant that the artist has better skill in the reproduction of a human body than I ever could. However, which specimen of the human race did he choose to portray? Did he decide to create a beautiful woman entranced by some book (or perhaps a lover)? Did he create a strong hero that gave the audience a sense of courage, pride, and confidence? Perhaps, he showed a wise man (or woman) lost in though over some crucial problem? No, the artist portrayed an old woman, deeply wrinkled, and with a smiling, yet meek expression, as if to tell the world “fate has tossed me this way and that, and here I am at your mercy.” This typifies an approach to art that is known as “modern art.” As I will explain however, modern art is such a complete failure as art, that there is no term to describe it other than anti-art, the epitome of what art is not, and should not be.
The last art museum I went to was the Dallas Museum of Art. I brought along my digital camera, determined to find some good art to add to my (photo) collection. I spent about four hours in that museum, and only took three photos. I deleted them after I downloaded them into my computer at home (but kept the photos I took of skyscrapers next to the museum.) As I left the museum, I thought that my seventh grade art class had better samples of art than the entire Dallas Museum of Art. Let us see why. I clicked on the website of the current exhibitions page, and see the following image:
This is the latest masterpiece of “renowned German artist Sigmar Polke.” Mr. Polke “has refined his continuing investigation of popular culture imagery through experimentation with "printing mistakes" - technologically marred images culled from various printed media.” What does this mean in plain English? Besides the collectivist implications of the term “popular culture imagery” – implying that art is a product of a society, rather than individual creativity, Mr. Polke’s goal is to explore what art is. In short, his work is art for the sake of art.
It is not art designed to project any particular ideals or values of the artists (at least, consciously). It does not attempt to reproduce or project the artist’s conception of the world. It is art designed simply to explore art. It does this by reducing every single element that real art holds as a value: there is no subject, because that limits the “freedom” of the artist to portray whatever he may like. There is no realism, because that prevents the artist from exploring the medium. There is no perspective, illusion, dimension, or any other sense of space because the artist would be “restricted” to recreating three-dimensional space. There is no attempt to create a harmony of composition, color or tonality, no attempt to balance white space, no effort whatsoever to create a painting that appeals to the audience, because all these things limit the artist’s “freedom” in exploring art for the sake of art.
But what is the nature of this “freedom?” By throwing out all the elements that make a painting an inspirational, appealing, eye-catching, and romantic piece, the modern artist defines himself out of art is, and into something equivalent to the palette of colors the painter mixes to get just the right shade. But again, I give modern art too much credit – the artist’s palette has a purpose – to produce harmonious and appropriate colors, whereas the modern artist’s work has no purpose, no meaning, and thus, no value. This then, is the true nature of modern art, and it is an exact reflection of the philosophy that created it: subjectivism. Modern art rejects all the principles that make art good because it rejects the notion that there are absolute standards by which to judge art. Hand in hand with subjectivism, modern art is nihilistic in that rather than attempting to present an ideal, value or inspiration to the viewer, it abhors things like “gender bias,” “western imperialism,” and “ethnocentrism” and attempts either “realism” or pure abstractionism, devoid of subject or theme.
Realism, of course, is not a random sampling of reality: no one can “sample” the world without bringing in his personal values. Rather, the “realists” usually choose the lowest, most pathetic, weak, and degrading elements of society or primitive tribal art of non-western cultures – not realizing that their choice of subject is the message itself. Their choice of the lowest and worst elements of humanity typically presents their view of man as a weak being, living a life full of suffering and sin, alleviate only by acts of pity and self-sacrifice. Don’t take my word for it however, – go to your local museum of modern art, and see for yourself.
Imagine if instead of a meek old woman, the local art gallery presented a man in the image of Michelangelo’s David, or a woman in the image of the goddess Diana, rather than a suffering Christ, a glorious God in the form of Man, proud and confident of his own existence, in control of his actions, and successful in his exploits. Such a sculpture would truly be a depiction of great art – by its selection of a subject that seeks to inspire rather than demean and degrade, by its successful exploitation of the principles of color harmony, dimension and tone, it would serve as a source of inspiration rather than degradation. By choosing an inspiring subject matter and a masterful use of technique, it could serve as a source of inspiration, concretizing values in a physical creation, giving our goals and ideals concrete form, and inspiring us to better ourselves.
Art is essential to man’s spirtual life as savings and investment is his material life. If subjectivism manages to drown great art in the sewage of meaningless scribbles that passes for art today, they will also take away our most vital source of inspiration. If romantic realism (the presentation of man as he can and should be) once again replaces modernism as the dominant from of art, it will inspire our society to a new renaissance. Ayn Rand once said that “the purpose of all art is the objectification of values.” It is only such a vision of art that man must adopt if he is to survive qua man.