Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Modernity Vs. Ancient Art

As I was rushing out the door on the day of my spinal surgery I cast about for a book that would fit in my bag. They called us in early with no shower and such threw some clothes on and headed for the hospital.

I have no idea where the FIVE FACES OF MODERNITY written by Matei Calinescu and first published in 1977 came from but I thought it would put me to sleep the day or two (it stretched to a week) I would be recovering. Once conscious and not in too much pain (they lie-I have never felt such pain) I started in. You can only focus a few minutes at a time at first but despite the author’s penchant for quoting French with no translation, I began to get his concepts. They were and are very different from mine. He states that modernity began in the Middle Ages. I can’t find much of a basis to agree with him. And he seems to ignore that fact the Renaissance did not grow new art forms, if anything the cities would have been a comfort (and cleaner too) for citizens of ancient Greece and Rome. They certainly would have felt comfortable in them.

When we visited Washington, D.C. this summer I couldn’t but help that same feeling. Our most impressive buildings…the Capital, White House, Supreme Court and many more buildings would have fit right in on Capitoline Hill in Ancient Rome.

It was the new structures like the ugly and poorly conceived Native American Museum that make you gasp. In what universe is that acceptable? With kivas and fantastic pueblo designs we get that? A trip to Taos, Santa Fe, the Anasazi ruins would have given the architects fantastic ideas! What we got is ugly inside and out.

Inside is worse. It cries for a curator who would work with the tribes and “help” them create a cohesive story. Show their achievements, histories. Now, we were not the only ones to give up? What tribe? Where? Echoed through the halls.

Once home from my second weeklong stint at the hospital, this a far more serious stay – lets put it this way, its good to be alive, I got my AMERICAN ARTS QUARTERLY. The first article, THE CULTURE WAR REDUX by James F. Cooper laid at the door of liberals and Communists the degration of art. It wasn’t modern, it was narcissistic, or kitsch. Only now are critics taking a look at that art again and trying to decide what is art and does any of that qualify.

The irony was that while the Soviet Union was very strict in what images could be painted (pure kitsch like their Nazi brothers) and shown, liberals in the west felt that anything goes. As Cooper notes in the 25-year since that collapse very little discussion has been devoted to communism and its liberal offshoots. It undermined the quality of the fine arts and deconstructed the last redoubt of American creativity, popular culture and quality of the fine arts. The twenty-foot puppy atop the Met, a plastic Christ submerged in a vial of the artist’s urine, inane poetry, the decline of education and the rejection of timeless standards of aesthetics and beauty, have opened a vast chasm in western civilization. I’m amazed anyone goes to a museum. Soon it will have to create a circus atmosphere just to get us to attend.

I remember taking my kids to MOCA here in Los Angeles to a highly touted show of “modern” art. It was disgusting. One room had bags of the artist’s urine hanging in balloons all over the room. The 10 year old and 6 year old were grossed out. It got even stranger and shortly after we left going to the Central Market instead. THAT they could relate too.

My kids are museum goers, even to this day. My favorite image was taken when my son was about 4 and when told he could touch a stature at the Getty Villa to his hearts content. I got a photo of him, a huge smile on his face rubbing the bottom of the nude Sybil.

There is hope. Art seems to be correcting its own course. Education, after decades of dumbing down is trying, through the Common Core to bring standards back to where they were in the 50’s. Its not a smooth transition anywhere but at least recognition of errors made and the need for change. We as a nation, if we are to survive, cannot afford students and adults unable to handle the complexities of the 21st century.

How do music and the arts fit into this future? Studies have shown for years they affect our critical thinking as much as math or science. They offer a critical problem-solving element that is missing in rigid students. Keep in mind our children will have a least 5-8 careers in their lifetimes, careers not even invented yet.

The arts DO matter and many of man’s greatest achievements are from his ability to dream. Like democracy, the arts too can be messy!

However, I question the need for critics. If anything this book clearly showed the critics were what was left after the animals left the barn! 

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