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Modern art egotistical?

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Here is an essay that will perhaps be interesting to the students in Aesthetics. Relevant quote:

The successful modern artist’s subject is himself, not in any genuinely self-examining way that would tell us something about the human condition, but as an ego to distinguish himself from other egos, as distinctly and noisily as he can. Like Oscar Wilde at the New York customs, he has nothing to declare but his genius: which, if he is lucky, will lead to fame and fortune. Of all the artistic disciplines nowadays, self-advertisement is by far the most important.

I do not agree that all modern art is like this. Many contemporary works explore feelings, attitudes, and events in our experience without feeling the need to tie them to transcendent themes. Some are merely explorations of color and composition. I don’t think you need “transcendent juice” in a work to make it powerful, beautiful, or provocative.

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2 Comments

  1. Kleiner says:

    It is likely unsurprising that I am much more sympathetic with the article than Huenemann. I certainly agree with Huenemann that you don’t need ‘transcendent juice’ to have your art be provocative, though I think too many artists today are concerned with being provocative (something that is, to my mind, highly overrated). But I do think you need, as a general rule, some ‘transcendent juice’ to make art beautiful and moving. Why? Because the tension between the immanent and transcendent runs through the heart of every man, that tension in a certain sense IS human existence. Beauty is the most evident of Plato’s trinity (the Good, the True, the Beautiful), and so it is particularly sad when art fails to speak to the human heart in this way.

    I also thought his analysis of progress and the arts was dead on, as was his critique of originality. All part of a broader view, to which I subscribe, that modernity at bottom tells bad lies about man (that he is radically individual, bifurcated, alone, concerned only with power, etc etc etc).

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  2. Dan says:

    I tend to agree with Kleiner on this one. As interesting as John Cage’s and Mark Rothko’s theories were, for example, the work of neither moves me very deeply. A while back I was at the MOMA in NYC and found myself spending about three hours in a small Van Gogh exhibition while spending maybe two hours in the rest of the museum. Much of it was interesting and provocative, but little of it was moving. Seeing an original Van Gogh, on the other hand, was life-changing! I would rather admit my intellectual and musical inferiority to Chopin and spend my life gratefully being nourished by playing his music than insist on originality and rely on my own relatively scarce resources for artistic nourishment. But I think there are good arguments on both sides, and one of my greatest mentors would take John Cage over Beethoven any day. Different temperaments, I suppose.

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