We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“As for sneering at the bourgeoisie, it is a sophomoric grab at status with no claim to moral or political virtue. The fact is that the values of the middle class – personal responsibility, devotion to family and neighbourhood, avoiding macho violence, respect for liberal democracy – are good things, not bad things. Most of the world wants to join the bourgeoisie, and most artists are members in good standing who adopted a few bohemian affectations. Given the history of the twentieth century, the reluctance of the bourgeoisie to join mass utopian uprisings can hardly be held against them. And if they want to hang a painting of a red barn or a weeping clown above their couch, it’s none of our damn business.”

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate (page 416), hitting some practitioners of Modern Art between the eyeballs.

15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • David Crawford


    Rather ironic isn’t it that the only places on earth that modern art seems to thrive are those nations that are overwhelmingly “bourgioesie”.

    Not a lot of modern art was, or has been, produced in the Soviet Union, or Mao’s China, or in Iran, or in Nazi Germany, or in Fidel’s Cuba, or in Pol Pot’s Cambondia, or Taleban-era Afghanistan.

    It has been produced, in enormous quantities, in such reactionary, stultified, conformist, middle-class hell-holes like America, and Britain, and Germany, and Canada, and, well, just about any other western nation.

    Gosh, how did that happen? I’m confused.

  • John Rippengal

    Modern Art: a product of fashion and fad, devoid of any intellectual content and without skill or competence; will be treated with laughter and derision by future generations; a ‘no clothes’ type exercise in confidences tricks; bowed down to by the ignorant who wish to be ‘in the swim’; exploited by the unscrupulous equivalent of the fair ground showman.

  • Jacob

    What John Rippengal said !

    It is, also, mostly, terribly UGLY.
    The 20th century produced the cult of the ugly in visual arts as well as literature and phylosophy (linguism, decontructionism) – the ugly and the absurd.

  • “The coarsening is international, alas: Damien Hirst is celebrated wherever people have tens of thousands to spend on sliced and bottled animals. The same meretriciousness, the same overvaluation of the same Sensationalism, rules everywhere. The romantic conceit that originality is an artistic virtue in itself is everywhere accepted uncritically: which is why an artist called Marc Quinn, a Cambridge graduate, can be praised for withdrawing eight pints of his own blood over several months, freezing and storing it, and then using it to sculpt a permanently refrigerated self-portrait. It is good and worthwhile because no one has ever done such a thing before. When Damien Hirst was taxed with the fact that anybody could bottle a sheep in formalin, he replied, ‘But no one did it before, did they?’ And if originality necessitates coarseness, then so be it.”

    It was just last night that I read this 4700 bite from 1998 by Dalrymple at the City Journal. In this context of this matter, it’s like being able to take a breath.

  • Are you guys serious? To start with you haven’t defined your terms: modern art? Do you mean Picasso or Malevich or Damien Hirst or Joseph Beuys or… what? Secondly you appear to have forgotten the unprecedented modernist art that burst upon the Soviet people immediately after the revolution and which was eventually stifled by the completely bourgeois “social realist” dictates of the Stalinist regime. As Nabokov points out in relation to Flaubert’s social criticism, the term “bourgeois” reflects a state of mind rather than a state of financial security.

    Sure, modern artists didn’t do to well under Pol Pot, but then neither did history teachers. What’s your point?

  • I think it is a great mistake to simply dismiss all modern art as crap, though The Blank Slate hits that particular nail right on the head with great force.

  • syn

    Here in the US the process by which Art is created is restricted by Big Brother’s Politically Correct intrusion upon free creativity. How can one express outside the PC box when the art student is indoctrinated to believe that free expression is limited only to creativity based upon politically correct expression. For example, one reason why the Art community adores Christers as objects of humilation and ridicule or why black females who happen to believe in Conservatism can be subjected to the racial ugliness of declaring her an Aunt Jemima working as a lackey for the white man is due to the fact that the politically correct culture allows such expression. In other words, it is politcally correct to be a bigot or a racist as long as it fits inside the cultural box of collective expression.

    It is ironic that the Artist has destroyed Art through a strict adherence to remaining inside the cultural box.
    Speech codes and moral relativity, both created by the cultural collective community, is imploding upon itself and has taken with it the demise of free expression and all things Art.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Simon, I was not going to flesh out my “point” in the quote without it becoming cumbersome. I’d just add that by “modern”, in the broad sense, I would point to that school of art/architecture/literature that attempted to tear up centuries of tradition re things such as representational images, human-scale building, poems that rhyme, music with melodies, and so forth. It is of course a broad term as Pinker fully concedes.

    I am certainly not a blanket opposer of all Modern Art and I certainly can tell that Pinker isn’t either. The best thing to do is actually read his whole chapter on art, which is a pretty devastating critique.

  • RAB

    I always recommend people to read Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word on the matter of Modern art.
    It is rather old now, and may even be out of print, but is still valid.
    For those of you who cant find it, or can’t be bothered, the nub of his arguement is —
    “Without the words, you cant see the object , picture , instillation etc”. The art object does not and indeed cannot stand on it’s own. It needs the backup of bullshit explanation.
    Take our Daimian Hurst and his half a shark in a perspex case full of formaldehide (spelling?).
    Now we all know about it and have views about it, but what does it mean? Without the title it could have been an instructive display tool in the corner of my sixth form biology lab and cost very little.
    With that vital explanation of a TITLE and a WORDY title at that, it becomes a work of ART.
    So does anyone remember the title? I’ll wait. I think Simon probably does, but almost everyone else won’t, even if informed in the first place.
    It was something like this – “The impossibility of the idea of death in someone still living”
    So Damian put together a biology exibit with an insight most of us get when pissed at four in the morning, written down as being a great insight , but when read again the next day only elicits the response in the general populace, “Shit I was well pissed last night wasn’t I?” Ah but ARTISTS are different! I have never met a type of people who believed in themselves so much, but with so little evidence, as artists.
    As an antidote to all this I also recommend The movie the Rebel, starring Tony Hancock. A sixties movie that had our hero swap a clerks job in London for the bohemian life of Paris as the artist he felt himself to be. He was crap but suddenly became famous because of his flatmates paintings, mistaken for his but also for all the bullshit he managed to make others swallow.
    Classic line—At a press conference for his first one man exibition he is asked by a French reporter “Ow does monseur mix ‘iz paints?”
    “IN a bucket with a big stick!”
    Yes there is great modern art but in the main it’s a load of old Jackson Pollocks!

  • J

    That a great deal of modern art is rubbish is true, but isn’t very interesting, because a great deal of all art is rubbish. It’s just that the rubbish gets thrown away faster, so the older art that still exists tends to be the quality stuff.

    That a great deal of rubbish modern art commands high prices is also not that interesting, because rubbish (but fashionable) art has always commanded high prices since there was a market in the stuff.

    The renaissance was possibly the only period in European art history where people generally believed that the new stuff was better than the old stuff. Certainly the impressionists where regarded as boorish loons for their wilful disregard for accuracy, realism, and meaning in their paintings. I mean really, just creating an impression of something, that’s stupid – where’s the allegory, the story, the skill?

    I agree that conceptual art – a small but briefly fashionable section of art beloved of the YBAs, never really produced much of value. But that’s hardly all of modern art.

    Tearing up centuries of tradition seems perfectly reasonable. It has happened continuously thoughout the development of art. The fact that in one phase, the quality of art might be a bit poor doesn’t reflect badly on the general idea of tearing up traditions.

    Rhyming in poetry is a good example. It was not the major form of verse until around 1300, and then became dominant. Blank verse, far from being an affectation of modern poets, started to re-appear around 1600 and has remained relatively common outside of children’s poems and nursery rhymes ever since. You might say that free verse, having no meter of any kind, is a hideous modern invention, and I’d be inclined to agree. Nonetheless there are a few poets who have used it to effect (Elliott, for example, although most of his work is more traditional).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    J, I concur with a good deal of what you say. Note that in the original post of mine I pointed out that Pinker’s ire was directed at some, not all, modernists.

  • What doe Modern art have ot do with the nature vs. nurture argument? Is Pinker saying it is in our nature to create only representational art? I don’t get it.

  • RAB

    J. I have serious doubts about your first three paragraphs, and indeed five.
    But where I would like clarification is the rhyming poetry. In what language were these popular non rhyming poems written, before 1300? English was not even close to our current understanding of it at that time , so it cant be English, unless we’re talking Beowolf or some such .
    Welsh now, being the oldest written language in Europe, used to slap your legs ferociously, not only if you didn’t rhyme, but rhyme in a very particular way, as is apparent to Chair Bards to this day.
    So on that particular point facts please.

  • James Hamilton

    You might enjoy learning what happened to Marc Quinn’s blood head. It went into Nigella Lawson’s freezer (she’s married to Charles Saatchi) which failed while she was away. The head melted…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ivan, Pinker’s insights into human nature lead him to point to certain features of art that go back for thousands of years. In a nutshell, he says it is in our nature to tell stories, represent the world through painting, etc. Therefore, much of modern art (such as abstract art) fails to satisfy our natures, as he defines it. He makes quite a lot of sense.

    Go and buy the book. It is worth every penny.