Quotulatiousness

May 2, 2015

QotD: The nihilism of modern art

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One of my earliest blog essays (Terror Becomes Bad Art) was about Luke Helder, the pipe-bombing “artist” who created a brief scare back in 2002. Arguably more disturbing than Helder’s “art” was the fact that he genuinely thought it was art, because none of the supposed artists or arts educators he was in contact with had ever taught him any better and his own talent was not sufficient to carry him beyond their limits.

I am not the first to observe that something deeply sick and dysfunctional happened to the relationship between art, popular culture, and technology during the crazy century we’ve just exited. Tom Wolfe made the point in The Painted Word and expanded on it in From Bauhaus To Our House. Frederick Turner expanded the indictment in a Wilson Quarterly essay on neoclassicism which, alas, seems not to be available on line.

If we judge by what the critical establishment promotes as “great art”, most of today’s artists are bad jokes. The road from Andy Warhol’s soup cans to Damien Hirst’s cows in formaldehyde has been neither pretty nor edifying. Most of “fine art” has become a moral, intellectual, and esthetic wasteland in which whatever was originally healthy in the early-modern impulse to break the boundaries of received forms has degraded into a kind of numbed-out nihilism.

[…]

To see these craft objects, unashamedly made for money (that’ll be $40 extra for molecular-surface etching, thank you), is to have your nose rubbed in the desperate poverty of most modern art, to be reminded of the vacuum at its core and the pathetic Luke Helders that the vacuum spawns. It’s a poverty of meaning, a parochialism that insists that the only interesting things in the universe are the artist’s own psychological and political quirks.

Bathsheba Grossman’s art reminds us that exploration of the narrow confines of an artist’s head is a poor substitute for artistic exploration of the universe. It reminds us that what the artist owes his audience is beauty and discovery and a sense of connection, not alienation and ugliness and neurosis and political ax-grinding.

Forgetting this value rotted the core out of the fine arts and literary fiction of the 20th century. We can hope, though, that artists like her and Arthur Ganson will show the way forward to remembering it. Only in that way will the unhealthy chasm between popular and fine art be healed, and fine art be restored to a healthy and organic relationship with culture as a whole.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Art of Science”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-09-21.

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