Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 17 September |
home iconVoices & Views
line break icon

Do you find modern art to be insulting?

Alvesgaspar-cc

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 09/12/16

It certainly has its place, but can it transport us as neatly as does a trip to Gesu church?

A few years ago, a neighbor and I were wending our way through a small gallery featuring the work of local artists, when we were stopped in our tracks by a large canvas, or board, from which hung a dozen one-gallon freezer bags containing colorful liquids purporting to be health and beauty products: shampoo, conditioner, feminine hygiene stuffs. My neighbor, who tends toward the positive—even if she must stretch to do it—cooed, “What a statement that is! We women really are enslaved to all that!” ”Wait,” I said. “How do you know that’s what the artist means? Maybe this is saying that women are just bags of chemicals, and transparent and shallow, to boot!” ”Oh, be serious,” she said, thinking I was not. “This speaks to me! It says we need to love ourselves and accept ourselves as we are! And it says that we are vibrant, like all the colors in the rainbow!” ”No, come on,” I said, “This seems like something an over-praised 14-year-old would show at the junior high. It screams, “Look, Mom, I’m an artist!” The creator, we were informed by a woman who seemed to be a cog in the gallery wheel, was studying at a distinguished art school in Manhattan, and her display was meant to “raise the consciousnesses of women” who were too quick to conform to social norms of beauty. ”Well if that’s all she’s saying,” I said, channeling Flannery O’Connor, “then to hell with it. Women’s consciousnesses have been raised so high for so long that we’re breathing thin air. We could use some oxygen.” My neighbor moaned audibly and began to move away. For her sake, I resisted the urge to suggest the display be renamed “Huffer’s Delight,” with an accompanying warning that whiffing tired feminist tropes could be as brain-deadening as inhaling Reddi-Wip. The gallery lady suggested that art requires an open mind, in order to be fully appreciated. ”What it requires,” I shrugged, “are some parameters defining what constitutes art, and what is merely a silly comment to the passing age.” To me the thing seemed lazy, pretentious, adolescent and unskilled. My neighbor, by this time, had moved into another room. ”Art should not be restricted,” the woman began. “Explorations with non-traditional media help to expand perspectives, which is a process.” ”I grant you that,” I said, “but shouldn’t the expanded perspectives reach for more than, ‘Look what I did. Ain’t I a stinker?’”

That’s the way I opened an exposition at First Things a few years ago. I was writing about how hearing the word “no,” rather than endless affirmation, can leave us feeling challenged to put extraordinary effort into expressing ourselves — and finally transcending ourselves — through art or in other ways. You can read the whole thing, here.

I was put to mind of that piece thanks to this video by pop-historian Nikolas Lloyd, wherein he kvetches about how insulted he feels by modern art:

As I said at First Things,

Art needn’t be eternal, but shouldn’t it speak to more than passing trends? If it is not seeking to transcend shouldn’t it at least transport? I once spent ninety transfixed minutes seated before Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist, quite mesmerized. By comparison, the bags of shampoo said their piece in mere seconds, and the rest was silence. A gimmick short on concept and shorter on craft, the display was unable to say, “Behold, something greater than me. Or you.” That brings us, again, to humility. If you believe in something greater than yourself, however obliquely, you are always a bit of a beggar, which is not a bad thing in creation. It keeps you hungry, and reaching out.

Somehow I just can’t see something as gorgeous as Rome’s Church of the Gesu having been created in an era where a constant application of affirmation mattered more than real skill, in any field of endeavor.

Tags:
Art

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
CELEBRITIES
Cerith Gardiner
Our favorite stories of celebrities who inspire us in daily life
2
communion
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
3
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
4
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
5
As irmãs biológicas que se tornaram freiras no instituto Iesu Communio
Francisco Veneto
The 5 biological sisters who joined the religious life in just tw...
6
CROSS
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
7
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.