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(10/26/01 4:28 am)
Modern Art and Architecture
Any thoughts on the state of the modern arts? Can we learn something about a culture by its arts (or lack thereof)? I've always thought so.

I attended to a modern art exhibit here at Okla. State Univ. last week. Frankly, I was shocked by it's overwhelming banality. Three themes kept emerging from the "artists": large gaudy canvases, clashing colors and no attempt to depict anything substantive. My personal favorite was a shoe box painted with multicolored blotches that had a (clay?) knife plunged in top and was pompously entitled _Rage of the People_. Medieval and reneissance art at least pointed to something; they had an intellectual or spiritual thrust in a manner of speaking. Not so with art since @1900. I've always had a difficult time identifying modern subjects (when they bother with painting them at all) in something like _The Korean Massacre_ by Picasso as human. They seem to be lacking some unidentifiable but essential quality so that I don't have a bond with the subjects the same way as I do with an icon, Christmas creche or Roman sculpture.

Modern architecture is even worse. Lots of glass and abstract 3-D geometrical forms, in which I don't feel particularily safe or secure. I have serious doubts about whether they can withstand the test of time. Most of them are an eyesore (the Opera house at Sydney comes to mind.) What ever happened to the Golden Ratio? Most structures that are known for their beauty were built before the 1700s: Notre Dame, St. Peter's Cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, St. Basil's Cathedral, St. Paul's in London. The things constructed nowadays are more famous for being tall, bizarre or what have you.

I suppose I should have a point to this post. It appears to me like most of today's artists and architechs are trying to take humans out of the paintings and buildings leaving us pondering mere abstractions. What does this say about the cultural elites who finance most of this garbage?

(10/28/01 7:19 pm)
Re: Modern Art and Architecture
There does seem to be a problem with modern art. Over at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, in Manhattan) you go the rounds and it looks like there have been a lot of people over the past 100 years trying out new notations or technical maneuvers that might be used in art at some point but no actual art ever came of it. There's a big gallery of post-WWII American art over at the Metropolitan Museum which is actually embarrassing in comparison with the other things there - huge canvases (so you can see how important they are) but no content. And these are supposedly the best examples.

And it seems to have gone downhill. A lot of the problem seems to be a matter of running out of new things worth doing. Still, there is a lot of talent. Just today I went on a studio tour here in Brooklyn, and there was a lot of talent - basically, some women doing things in more-or-less historical styles, fauvist, expressionist or whatever, and a couple of guys who were more adventurous and actually brought things off. I saw a Hans Hoffman exhibition recently that was really very good, and he had a lot of students who I hope learned something from him. He's been dead a while though.

What does it all mean? It seems to me art can't support being put at the center of things, any more than politics or economics can. That's the reason for the emphasis on novelty. It's like the demand for endless economic growth. When you can't get something of absolute value you'll demand that things get bigger or different or whatever - anything but what you're stuck with here and now. If God goes then nothing in a culture is going to work very well.

I've recently felt that from Beethoven on music has lacked a sort of stillness at its center. It may be very good but there's something essential that's not there. Maybe the same is true of other aspects of post-Enlightenment art.

Jim Kalb and

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