Modernist double standards ...

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Modernist double standards ...

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Brian Yoder: Keep in mind that I think nobody should force [modernist artists] to do or not do anything, but the idea of the "freedom to produce garbage" doesn't seem to me to be of any particular value. The "freedom" you are calling for is not the freedom to do things free from legal interference (I support that kind of freedom), but rather the freedom to create garbage and not have people call it that.

Kara Clark: I don't understand why you aren't understanding me. Umm, how about this: more possible types of expression allows more people and cultures to contribute to the great conversation of humanity. This variety creates a more full and rich conversation overall. A conversation where some people are silenced or dismissed because their contributions aren't considered good enough by the others creates a one-sided and one-dimensional conversation that is lacking in fullness and honesty.

I think you have the shoe on entirely the wrong foot here. First of all, an honest and informed understanding of any human endeavor will necessarily result in the observation that some things are far better than others and that some are worthless. The idea that we must suppress any such expressions (which is pretty much your position and certainly that of art in the academy) is in direct contradiction to your professed desire for fullness and honesty. It seems that you want an honest lack of criticism and judgment when in fact honesty requires criticism and judgment.

Second, "more types of expression" is not per se a positive thing. I would rather have the 10 best paintings of all history than a million of the worst, wouldn't you?

Third, by suppressing the idea of quality, you are removing the very engine that spurs people to create excellence. When you condemn as "closed-minded" those who claim that it is real you discourage its recognition. When you set up education curricula around the idea that variety per se is good, you remove all incentive to learn from the past since everything in the past has already been done. When you insist that realism is a dead end, you discourage students from taking on the hard work of learning to create realistic images, and you encourage those who are only interested in producing garbage as long as it is of a kind not seen before. Luckily, we don't have to be bound by these dogmas or the 20th century institutions that inculcated them into people for so long.

Fourth, casting aside judgment inherently leaves an entirely one-sided and one-dimensional "discussion" because it removes the very issue that makes any discussion interesting... the idea of the good and the true. If there's no such thing as truth and no such thing as the good then why should we care about anything at all? What can we really even compare or discuss? If you say X and I say Y and we seek out the truth of the matter that's an interesting discussion. If we start off by saying that there is no truth then who cares? It's a pointless discussion from the beginning.

What this all comes down to is that you think that quality doesn't matter, and that any recognition of it is somehow closed-minded, threatening, and nasty, no? Let me tell you, you have never seen closed-minded and hateful people until you see people who are determined to deny the validity of truth, judgment, and goodness when confronted by people who disagree with them. There can be no tolerance, openness, or honesty for them. There can be no argument even, it's just blind hatred against the very idea that anyone might think one thing is better than another. I fear that you have been infected by this malady to at least some degree, and I would like to show you how unfounded it is. The fact that you can't/won't provide justifications for those views should tell you something about how valid they are. Don't you think so?

B: If you don't think they should throw out their tools then why are you claiming that the modernists are so great? They are "thinking outside the box" by creating paintings with no subject, no design, no paint, no beauty, no meaning, no brushes, no artist... you name it, it has been tried by modernists.

K: Not all modern art is the same and I don't think all of it is great. I like some of it. The stuff I do like has a subject, design, beauty, and meaning. Sometimes it has paint and brushes, but other times pencil, ink, charcoal, stone, metal, photography, fabric, embroidery, etc.

Of course not all modernist works throw away all of the tools, but they do throw out something in each case, whether it's skill, beauty, subject, physicality, or what have you. My question is why such disposal of otherwise good things is in your opinion a good thing. Why not think "outside the box" by coming up with art that is better and not just different? Of course that's harder than just "different", but why not focus on that?

B: Little box? The things that a skilled artist can accomplish are not "little". What is "little" is the set of things you can do once you have swallowed the modernist dogma and abandoned every tool and skill that can be used to make art. That's an incredibly tiny box.

K: The "little box" I'm referring to is the one that says real art is only made with paint and is only a realistic image.

I think that art can be made with all kinds of things other than paint... words (literature), sound (music), marble (sculpture), and any number of other things. When it comes to creating art through painting or drawing though, our visual systems are designed to identify things and not to flounder in a sea of blurry soup. If you are going to express something visually you need to express something in particular. Has 75 years of random smears being pawned off as great art not demonstrated that thoroughly enough?

K: That seems to be the box the GoodArt list is in. I have nothing against learning a lot of techniques and learning them as fully as possible. Surely learning how to do more things and learning them proficiently gives an artist more choice.

So how can you think that someone who never bothers to learn to draw and paint (as is the case with just about every contemporary modernist) is not locked tightly inside his own little box?

B: You still have not answered my question. What is it about their art that you think is so terribly wonderful?

K: What I mean by "wonderful" is that their art has the quality of a sense of wonder, especially Chagall and Rousseau. I enjoy looking at it, it draws me in. The color, the lines, the quality of the brush strokes, the composition, the subject - it's enjoyable and intriguing to me. To go any further with explaining this I would have to focus on a specific work.

That would be great. Pick what you think is a good example or two and explain to us all why you think they are so wonderful.

-- Brian