Saturday, August 9, 2014

Is Modern Art On It's Death Bed?

If you don't, you SHOULD get American Arts Quarterly. Its a free, at most 60-70 page review of art, various shows, trends, history and more. Let me urge you to check out their web site and order your own copy: It is one of those publications that often challenges what you believe or think you believe. Like everything in life, "what is truth?" This issue talks about the return of realism in art and maybe faith as well.

Several articles were arresting but today I want to discuss the one talking about "modernism" in art. For Americans, unless they traveled to Europe in the late 1800's, changes in what was considered art became radical. The Armory Show in 1913 New York, introduced Americans to radical changes in art by then already in its 4th decade in Europe. Color, the looseness of stroke, subject matter shifted from the salon to artists we all revere today: Monet, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh all artists that changed the way we viewed art but even more the world around us. Some felt it was if the blinders came off and the real world was exposed.

Author Donald Kuspit contrasts two modern artists and the differences are stunning. While Roberto Ferri's (image on cover) art harkens back to the great Baroque and Renaissance painters with gorgeous detail and lighting often with Christian or classical myth settings, the art of Martin Creed, as a modernist goes for just about anything (a woman defecates on a floor). Kuspit wonders if we have finally had a good run and its over. Its been about 100 years, that is a long time for a movement to take place.

When my kids were young and I was trying to civilize them, we happened into a show at the MOCA in Los Angeles. I don't remember the artist but it was the most shocking and embarrassing thing I have ever witnessed and had to do it in front of my children. In one room the artist decorated the entire room with bags of her urine. Hanging, sitting on a coffee table there must have been 50 bags of various sizes on view. My daughter couldn't read but my son could and an interesting discussion ensued. Then in another room there was a TV where she danced, back to the camera in various stages of undress for 45 minutes. Even my daughter could understand this and asked why? Why indeed.
Martin Creed and paper towels

"Pure abstraction may be the most aristocratic modern art, populist representation my be the most democratic modern art, but Creed (and others) provocative exhibitionism is modern art at its most narcissistically nihilistic. Without a hierarchy of values, there is only nihilism," notes Kuspit. You have to believe in something and as the wag says, I believe I'll have another drink.

"Ferri's art is a recalling of the past with values we know. It has been pointed out that as faith declined in the west abstract art replaced it. If there wasn't a God then what was there? If we have nothing to believe in we are possibly ready to look again at deeply human issues and existential concerns. Ferri shows that they remain the legitimate concerns of art, however much modern art has made them seem "illegitimate."

When I started painting I too wanted to be an "impressionistic" painter in oils and my first teacher was a student of California Impression well into her 80's. I loved the looseness and contrast of colors. However, unbidden, my art became more and more realistic. People would look at them and ask if they were photographs. I was able to retain looseness in some paintings but others were startling in their realism. Which leads me to the question, is there something in the "air" that artists pick up on unconsciously? Impressionism saw a group of artists get together and change art. Various schools of art drew like minded artists together. Why? And why at that time?

No matter what we read or see and especially what we do, art is illusive. It affects us all differently and pendulums swing in the art world just like everywhere else.

Please visit my craft store at and my fine art store at Thank you for stopping by and reading!

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