Monday, March 10, 2014

On Modern Art

The BBC a few weeks ago reported that a cleaning lady accidentally threw out a very expensive modern art exhibit, and this is not the first time that has happened. I think that points to a problem in art today.

One problem with modern art is its ephemeral nature as seen in the choice of medium, i.e. actual rubbish. How can I tell it's meaningful if it doesn't look special in any way? Pieces one might find outside in a sculpture garden, to be fair, don't look like trash necessarily, but they still don't appeal to me as the statues in public places in Europe do, those statues beautifully and purposefully made by the great masters of the Renaissance, etc. My honors professor argues for what it is worth that public art in America is bland, and I would argue also it's banal or silly nowadays, because it cannot offend anyone. One cannot put up statues of legendary or heroic figures, nor statues of angels or saints, because it might hurt someone who doesn't like them or who is not religious.

Also, art should never primarily address an issue and thus limit itself to a time and place, without any or with a very narrow relevance for the future. It must points towards beauty, goodness, and truth. For example, Caravaggio's art, such in his choice of models, does address societal issues, but only insofar as he points towards the One who is Beautiful, True, and Good, that is to say God, and conforming to Him in the person of Christ. Now his initial motive might not always have been pious, but who really cares? It became more pious, the earthly motives were stripped away. But Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (the urinal piece) makes no sense. I think the only way it's subversive is because it's dumb. On the other hand, I find that more modern styles, what Shawn Tribe calls "Other Modern" on New Liturgical Movement, really responded well, if not always as well as the more traditional Catholic forms we are used to, to the changing times of the interwar years. They direct us towards God, the only truly and eternally certain being in an ocean of instability and fear. (The one danger I find is that churches such as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception can become quite ecclectic: the Shrine has its altars inconsistently placed in relation to the wall, some are oddly shaped even against the wall, and others have weird platforms and gradini.)

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