Yes, But Is It Art?

9 Dec

I won’t say I don’t get ALL modern art, but there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t understand. Is it just a “genre” of modern art that doesn’t appeal to me or are people just deluded because someone told them it was art?

For example, there is a beautiful place in Houston, Texas called the Rothko Chapel. You are surrounded on all sides by paintings by Mark Rothko and it’s kept very, VERY quiet. It is a very interesting place to pray, but the modern art… doesn’t really add to the experience. It’s just giant black paintings with–maybe–a little gradient. That’s it. I was impressed with the oppressive silence of the place than the art.

Piet Mondrian, the guy with the weird squares, made a hell of a lot more sense when I watched a documentary that actually showed him deconstruct a picture of a cathedral. He could actually DRAW a cathedral! Then it showed him drawing it again, revealing the basic lines that appeared from it, then simplified those lines again, and again, until you were left with the finished product.

Gee, I thought, if only I had seen THAT at the gallery instead of a bunch boxes that I could have drawn myself. Then I might appreciate it! Instead, I’m left with boxes on a canvas. If it has to be explained why it’s genius… maybe it’s not genius after all.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean SOMEONE doesn’t get enjoyment out of it. I may not have liked Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment,” but I rather enjoyed his flower picture collection (which also looked suspiciously like phalluses). In that case, the controversy back then (1989) was whether public money should be used to create offensive art. My answer – no, it shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it or display it.

In 1937, the Nazis ran two different art exhibitions – the Great German Art Exhibition and the Degenerate Art Exhibition. Modern art was put in the latter; stuff that did not glorify the state or German ideals. They deliberately showed the modern art in the worst way (hanging it off kilter, putting graffiti on top of it) to emphasize its awfulness.

I accept that not all art is for me, just like all books are not for me. Some fantasy fans can’t get past Tolkien’s 50-page birthday party in The Fellowship of the Ring. I certainly didn’t past the 100-page birthday party in War and Peace, although that might have had more to do with keeping track of a hundred Russian patronymics. But if there’s someone who wants it, then someone can have it… it just won’t be me.

Is there art that you just don’t get? Is there a book that you’re told is genius but can’t get past Page 10? (For me, Fury by Salman Rushdie.) Let me know in the comments below!

7 Responses to “Yes, But Is It Art?”

  1. spwilcen December 9, 2020 at 10:28 am #

    Some “modern” art I do not get. I enjoy Picasso, Pollack and some others. Some, especially the ones that in the end are surpassed by pre-schoolers’ artworks and insane things like a banana hung on a wall and your solid black canvasses, make me wonder as much about the audience as the artists. Good post. Good reading. Thanks.

  2. sooner8728 December 9, 2020 at 10:48 am #

    If everything is art, nothing is art. There really aren’t standards anymore.

  3. Anthony Garner December 9, 2020 at 12:13 pm #

    I am almost inclined these days to consider as art anything which removes my mind from dull mundanity and lets it soar unfettered, considering higher realms. I used to be very narrow minded. Now I am delighted by almost anything which makes me think. Have you ever seen the works of Christo and Jean Claude? I was lucky enough to see the London Mustapha. I was strangely moved.

  4. Anthony Garner December 9, 2020 at 12:16 pm #

    If I don’t “get” the piece of art in question then in a sense it has done its job. Provoking and challenging me. Taking me out if my comfort zone.

  5. Glen Boles December 9, 2020 at 2:37 pm #

    I have arrived at a point in my life where I’m willing to say I like it or I don’t like it or I get it or I don’t get it. In the end however, I will not say something is not art.

  6. Silk Cords December 28, 2020 at 5:42 am #

    If you have to ask if it’s art… it’s not. 🙂


  1. Stupendous or Just Stupid? | Albigensia Press - April 2, 2021

    […] what do you think? Is modern art pointless? Or does it mean something to someone, even if it’s not particularly profound? Let me know in […]

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