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Modern art: it is all bollocks

Well, that is the view of this guy, anyway. I must say I never got very hung up on elaborate theories as to why bits of sheep in tanks or rows of rubber tyres were not, in some profound sense, “art” or not. There are almost as many theories of what art is as supposed art objects themselves. For me, art has to enhance my imagination in some way and has to appeal to my emotions as well as my rational faculties. I like my art to be strongly stylistic but also grounded in some kind of reality (I am a sucker for 1950s comic art, for example).

This writer, David Thompson, is obviously not impressed by the incoherence of those who defend or propound much that goes under the title of modernism:

If some readers find it hard to believe that academia has actually been churning out people who can no longer distinguish between coherent argument and vacuous patois, it’s worth casting an eye over some of the more fashionable quarters of art theorising and cultural study. A cursory scan of Mute magazine (issue 27, January 2004) revealed the following nugget, from an essay titled Bacterial Sex written by Luciana Parisi, a teacher of “Cybernetic Culture” at the University of East London: “This practice of intensifying bodily potentials to act and become is an affirmation of desire without lack which signals the nonclimactic, aimless circulation of bodies in a symbiotic assemblage.” If you think you misread that sentence, try reading it again.

Thanks to the website of Stephen Hicks for the link.

Anyway, that is pretty much me done for 2007. Off to Malta with Mrs P at the weekend, assuming the fog does not interfere with the flights. Wishing everyone a great Christmas and prosperous New Year. I’d like to thank Perry and the other members of the Samizdata gang for taking this blog through to its fifth year. Now for the sixth!

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9 comments to Modern art: it is all bollocks

  • RAB

    Art is whatever you can get away with.
    I usually point folk in the direction of
    The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
    written back in the days when he was a kicking
    Journalist not a wannabie novelist.
    It is old, and probably out of print
    but still on the money.
    The essence is-
    Without the words, the bollocks of above, the object itself in undecipherable.
    Right! so I will let you all get back to hanging tinsel on your Christmas tree. That’s all the art I’ll be needing for now.
    Dammit Johnathan! It will almost me warm over there.
    Lucky bugger!
    And a happy Christmas to all our Islamic readers too.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    There is art and there is Art, such as Modern Art.

    Lower-case art is something different to everyone, and is what one would traditionally think of as art. If you love Mozart or Magritte, that’s art to you. If you like shit in a can (literally), that’s art to you.

    Modern Art is an industry, almost a religion. You have your High Priests who decide what is good and what isn’t; what is new and what isn’t, etc. Tremendous prestige and wealth can be delivered onto those who please the clergy. It actually has nothing whatsoever to do with what one would traditionally consider art–it is a vehicle for social climbing, ego gratification, and just plain snobbery. Unlike music, which requires some popular appeal to make money, Art is completely insulated from most market forces, since if one of the High Priests declares an artist’s work to be the new thing, the acolytes will buy it.

    In essence, Art, especially Modern Art, is a cult. The followers will accept the leaders’ statements without question, no matter how absurd, and act accordingly. For me, anyone who would suddenly like something they initially hated, or dismiss something they had first thought was really striking, based on their leaders’ opinion, is a complete follower.

    I have great contempt for followers, so the whole Art thing (and Fashion, too) has no appeal for me.

  • ResidentAlien

    To paraphrase Frank Zappa, “art is anything with a frame.” If you put a frame around something and call it art, then it’s art. It can still be bollocks though.

  • Robert

    That quote from Luciana Paresi put me in mind of Orwells’ essay on Marxism (from’Inside the Whale’ and other essays) showing how stock phrases such as “it can be seen from this”or ” victory of the proletariat” could be strung together in any order to make a speech which could be created and delivered without the necessity for thought.

    As regards ‘art’, if it is only art if Damien Hirst does it (horses hanging from the ceiling) but is ‘crap’ if you or I do it; then it fails the test.
    To be true Art, it must stand or fall on its own merits

  • Jim

    If you love Mozart or Magritte, that’s art to you.

    – That is something that I continually upbraid myself with, when I’m humming Handel to myself and some rice-rocket rumbles by with his stereo so loud the ground is shaking.

    The great composers hailed as classicism’s last gasp, were merely writing the “pop-music” of the day, with exactly the same motive as the imbeciles who scream, puke and smash guitars on-stage today. So how hypocritical is it of me to feel superior to him, just because my pop music is older?

    I wager Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al will still be in vogue many centuries after today’s cultural mores are no longer greeted with revulsion, or any other emotion. This will not make them any more artistic, except in the purest sense of meritocracy: the people will still be choosing what they want to listen to.

    And perhaps that’s the most accurate gauge of any art.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    RAB, I think you are being a bit harsh on Wolfe. I like his novels, particularly A Man In Full. Bonfire of the Vanities is good, if a bit over-rated.

    The Painted Word is brilliant. Also recommend the likes of “From Bauhaus to Our House” and The Right Stuff.

  • Of course modern art theory is full of bullshit. So is modern philosophy, economics, lit.crit. etc.

    Real thinking has been replaced by the ability to reproduce gobbledygook according to the latest fashion, by people who have received ‘professional training’.

    I’m a bit pissed off with my old mate David T, who nicked the quote by Mao (“There is no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics”) from my book Mediocracy, without bothering to give it a hat tip.

  • RAB

    Yes perhaps I was a bit harsh. I managed to finish
    Bonfire, but couldn’t get any empathy going for the characters in Man in Full, so I ditched it and went back to Peter Ackroyd.
    Funnily enough, one of the first things I wanted to be was an artist. I discovered that I could draw when I was about ten. At that age I always wanted to produce a masterpiece, but didn’t have a clue what one was.
    By the time I had done O level, I knew that my talent was mediocre not masterly so best left for a hobby.
    Rather like my guitar playing. Whilst struggling to learn a few chords and fancying myself a bit, I was introduced to the playing of John Fahey, Leo Kottke and John McLaughlin in short order.
    Right that’s it then you fumbling flange fingered fool! I said to myself. Put the box away. You are never ever going to come even close to those guys.
    A man’s got to know his limitations!
    Unfortunately artists never do! All the ones I have known, and I’ve known a few, however mediocre their talents seem to the rest of us, believe in themselves totally. It is the self belief that is the important bit in their success, not nessessarily the artifact that is the end result.
    I could have won the Turner a few years ago though, no trouble at all! Remember the bloke with the random light instillation, that even he couldn’t find any Painted Words to explain?
    I put that exhibition on every time I go away for a weekend. It’s called a Time switch to confuse burglars.
    The twenty grand would have been handy too!

  • The bloke who did the random light installation (Martin Creed) has now enriched world culture with his latest offering, a film about people throwing up.