Why is modern art so bad?

Screen shot of opening of

Screen shot of opening of “Why Is Modern Art So Bad.” Click on link, not here, to see You Tube video.

Malcolm Millais, author of Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture and an upcoming book correcting the record on Le Corbusier, sent me a video of an artist, Robert Florczak, at Prager University, explaining the erosion of standards in the art world over the past century. Little of “Why is Modern Art So Bad?” was new to me but it was expressed with such force and clarity, and raises such obvious, if unstated, parallels with the world of architecture, that I could not resist putting it up on my blog. In the end, Florczak reveals that the white background of the sound studio he was in was not that at all, but a painting by Robert Rauschenberg. Better still was his assignment for students to analyze a Jackson Pollack painting. Priceless!

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Why is modern art so bad?

  1. Robert, I must be brief, but in essence I would reply to the “World Wars Made Us Do It” meme with the suggestion that while the wars and genocide, etc. certainly had an impact on art, the answer to the flaws we saw then and see now in our world surely is not to make art less communicative than it ever has been, and less accessible to a mass audience. There may have been a causal effect in what you cite, but it was the wrong response. It could have been as you say, but it should not have been. Just because it was (which I don’t necessaarily accept) does not mean it should have been. This is as true of art as it has been of architecture. -David

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    • Hello, David

      To be clear (and also brief), the “world wars” claim was made by Matt, not me, and while I think there may be some truth to it, I wouldn’t have included it in my video. Again, my greater concern was the genesis of art’s unfortunate descent, not what later fanned the flames along the way. I hope this clarifies.

      Robert

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  2. Thank you, David, for highlighting my video on your blog, and thank you, Matt for your insightful response. You are correct in concluding that built-in time restraints on Prager University videos limit the possibilities for more involved presentations. However, though your reminders about the two World Wars having a great affect on art’s downward spiral are spot on, my concern in the video was more about pinpointing the genesis of the slide. This aspect is almost never discussed in conversations of art history and it is because of this inattention that I decided to focus on it. There is, as you suggest, much more to be said about the decline of quality in art; if I had more time I might have, for instance, pointed out that it probably is no coincidence that the beginnings of the descent of classical aesthetics coincided with the new philosophy of socialism. In my follow-up video I plan to address some of these things, as well as the myriad misunderstandings of the first video that show up around the internet and on YouTube.

    Robert Florczak

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    • Matt Lawlor says:

      Robert: Thanks for your reply. I appreciate the thoughtful response. My main point was to emphasize the complexity of the extended period over which classical aesthetics were abandoned. As for the coincidence of political philosophies — whether liberal/capitalist, socialist or fascist — with movements in the art world, I would suggest the record is fairly mixed. There have been some strange bedfellows involved on all sides. Best, Matt

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  3. Matt Lawlor says:

    I took the time to watch the video. I found the overall timeline accurate as to the general decline in the concept of standards in the visual arts, but highly reductive, even when taking into account that the video is short and therefore the message has to be compressed. If this was all one knew about what has happened to the visual arts in the last 150 years, it would indeed be inexplicable. That’s because you’d have no idea that during the same period there were two massive wars that started in Europe, spanned the globe and left tens of millions dead and Europe itself an utter wreck, or that the nation that had seemed among the most advanced and civilized had been the one to embark on genocide at a scale that still boggles the mind, or that those wars culminated in the development and use of weapons that could end human life on a global scale. There can be little doubt that both the First and Second World Wars were accelerants for the bonfire that modern art’s makers and purveyors made of the canon. Of course it went too far and indulged in its own excesses. Of course we need to maintain those things from the past that are worth maintaining. But we shouldn’t act like there was no context for modern art when there most assuredly was. These weren’t merely vandals. They were vandals responding to cataclysm and finding a receptive audience precisely because of that cataclysm. I’ll leave to another day the similarities and dissimilarities to architecture and urban design in the same period.

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