Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Prager University On Modern Art

 

In Prager University’s latest video, artist Robert Florczak discusses the decline in standards of beauty and quality in the arts:

[S]omething happened on the way to the 20th Century: the profound, the inspiring, and the beautiful were replaced by the new, the different, and the ugly. Today the silly, pointless, and the purely offense are held up as the best of modern art…With each new generation [that followed the initial break], standards declined until there were no standards. All that was left was personal expression.

Anyone who’s been to a fine arts museum knows what Florczak is talking about, and he showcases some choice examples of absurd and ugly work that is — somehow — highly regarded. Though I think he overstates it — architecture did pretty well for itself in the 20th century and there is some great new stuff out there in the fine arts that makes it into museums (I think we’re past the height of the absurdities) — contemporary fine art seems to default toward the lamer forms of post-modernism. I’ll take the Norton Simon and the MFA over LACMA and the ICA any day.

I take issue, however, with his contention that the decline in the fine arts means we live in a world that’s forgotten how to appreciate beauty. Take a gander through the list of best cinematography and visual effects nominees over the past decade, and you’ll see some simply stunningly beautiful work. As Aaron Miller pointed out a few weeks back, video game designers are producing gorgeous images. Flickr — besides being a handy place to find creative commons-licensed work to illustrate Ricochet posts — is an incredible celebration of beauty in photography. If you look at what kind of artwork young people are actually adorning their living space with, it’s not Jackson Pollock. When it comes to art that the average person is actually consuming, things don’t look quite so dreary.

The fine arts world has a problem. But — given the better standards in the popular arts — perhaps there’s a case to be made for leading from behind.

 

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  1. Mate De Inactive

    I loved this video, as a person who pines to be an artist but has no artistic talent (so therefore I KNOW my art is no good so do not pawn some piece of garbage off as modern art) I have a collection of stories of Sham “artists” who will pass off exhibitionism or bodily functions as art. Take someone like Millie Brown who calls herself a “vomit artist” here is a link to her tumblr. It’s pretty nasty, she vomits brightly colored liquids onto canvases or people, after starving herself for 3 days. Sorry, but that’s just gross not art

    http://milliebrownofficial.tumblr.com/

    • #1
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:04 AM PDT
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  2. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor

    In my lifetime, we have landed on the moon, invented the Internet and the cell phone, and nearly wiped polio off the face of the Earth. We have seen the average human life span rise more sharply than ever before, and today more human beings are emerging from poverty than at any time in world history.

    Oh, yeah — we also won the Cold War.

    Is there any art which celebrates any of this? Any painting? Any piece of music?

    If so, please advise. If not, why not?

    • #2
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:04 AM PDT
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  3. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    I think this is far too harsh on a lot of modern art. (I happen to like Pollock) 

    While there is much that is puerile and offensive in modern art, there is also a lot to appreciate. Take Picasso for example: while he bent and twisted a lot of the forms of art in his later years, a look into his early periods shows us an artist who clearly understands the classical forms and then chose to reinvent them. The same goes for Dali.

    While I understand the point the video is trying to make I think it goes much to far in its criticism of modern art. This is one of my criticisms of the Prager University videos in general – they rarely, if ever, evidence any middle ground. 

    • #3
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:25 AM PDT
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  4. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Herbert E. Meyer: In my lifetime, we have landed on the moon, invented the Internet and the cell phone, and nearly wiped polio off the face of the Earth. We have seen the average human life span rise more sharply than ever before, and today more human beings are emerging from poverty than at any time in world history. Oh, yeah — we also won the Cold War. Is there any art which celebrates any of this? Any painting? Any piece of music? If so, please advise. If not, why not?

     Alan Bean, the pilot of Apollo 12, creates art that celebrates NASA’s greatest achievement.

    http://www.alanbean.com/

    • #4
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:27 AM PDT
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  5. Mate De Inactive

    Jamie Lockett:

    I think this is far too harsh on a lot of modern art. (I happen to like Pollock)

    I don’t think this video was necessarily trashing all modern art but just pointing at that there needs to be imperial standards to art. While there is some good modern art, there is a lot of garbage out there. Such as the exhibition at the MOMA where the Actress Tilda Swinton took a nap in a glass box.

    • #5
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:55 AM PDT
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  6. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    1. We now live in a world where there are NO objective standards for anything. Everything is relative, and you are not supposed to judge anything or anyone. Beauty is now in the eye or the mind of the creator, not the beholder.
    2. We also live in a world where artists (and musical composers) create “art” for and about themselves, not for an audience. If you find a crucifix in a bottle of urine objectionable, well that’s just because you don’t “understand” what the artist was trying to say. If you find that music that positively hurts your ears to listen to, objectionable, well you just don’t understand what the composer was saying.
    I remember reading once that a critic answered, when asked who determines what is “art”, that the Viewer determines what is art, not the artist. I happen to agree with that.

    • #6
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Mike Rapkoch Moderator

    In choosing modern art it’s a good idea to be discerning and to look carefully at the details. I have a friend who is big into fly fishing. He put up a painting of a man fishing in a stream while holding his fly rod crotch high. This makes it look like he is urinating in the stream, a fact about which I often teased my friend. Eventually he realized that the painting was an attack on fishing which implied that fishing was a degradation of the pristine waters. The painting was actually well done, and may even have been a clever form of irony. But only if there are standards proven over time can we hope to insure that art reflects beauty.

    • #7
    • September 8, 2014, at 11:59 AM PDT
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  8. Seawriter Contributor

    The answer to the title question is easy. Modern art is bad because most art is bad. Even most classical art. The masterpieces of classical art we admire today are a thin froth on an ocean of bad art. It was preserved because it was great art.

    That is not unique to art. Theodore Sturgeon once observed 90% of everything is crap. It is pretty well true. Bad is easy. Great is difficult. Of all the athletes that play baseball in High School only a fraction are good enough to play for MLB. Only one percent of all published authors get published by a New York City publisher (and only 1% of them seem to be worth reading).

    The problem with art is not so much of it is banal. It is that it almost seems there is a conspiracy to celebrate banality. I think a large part of the reason for that is expanded public financing of art over the last 150 years. You do not have to be a great artist so much as a great at playing the public finance game. It is another form of rent-seeking.

    Seawriter

    • #8
    • September 8, 2014, at 12:31 PM PDT
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  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Seawriter: The answer to the title question is easy. Modern art is bad because most art is bad. Even most classical art. The masterpieces of classical art we admire today are a thin froth on an ocean of bad art. It was preserved because it was great art. That is not unique to art. Theodore Sturgeon once observed 90% of everything is crap. It is pretty well true. Bad is easy. Great is difficult. Of all the athletes that play baseball in High School only a fraction are good enough to play for MLB. Only one percent of all published authors get published by a New York City publisher (and only 1% of them seem to be worth reading).

    Very true; if we watched all the bad movies from the 30s and 40s, we’d all go blind.

    • #9
    • September 8, 2014, at 12:34 PM PDT
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  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RushBabe49: Everything is relative, and you are not supposed to judge anything or anyone. Beauty is now in the eye or the mind of the creator, not the beholder.

    This is what is taught in public schools and reinforced in popular entertainment. Combine this with Seawriter’s comment about “a conspiracy to celebrate banality” and I think we are near the truth.

    While it’s true that there is a Bell Curve of art quality in any era, our modern era both discourages objective standards of excellence (thereby hindering training and promotion) and encourages non-artists to pretend artistic aptitude. The result is a skewed ratio of noise to beauty amid a much broader pool of participants.

    The greatest change in art markets between now and centuries past is variety. There are now so many buyers that there is less pressure to conform to traditions. Niche markets abound. 

    • #10
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:04 PM PDT
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  11. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Seawriter: The answer to the title question is easy. Modern art is bad because most art is bad. Even most classical art. The masterpieces of classical art we admire today are a thin froth on an ocean of bad art. It was preserved because it was great art.

     I think you might be on to something here. 

    I’d add that another reason modern art is worst than before, is because more people can indulge themselves in the “arts”, as we get a wealthier society which allows for 23 year old “art students” to pretend like they’re changing the world, while financed by their parent’s bank account. 

    So while in the past only those that were truly good survived, we have no natural selection mechanism in the arts anymore. Anyone can “be” an artist, and anyone can keep doing it for long periods of time.

    Herbert E. Meyer: Oh, yeah — we also won the Cold War. Is there any art which celebrates any of this? Any painting?

     Yes, there is this:

    ronald-reagan-dinosaur-hunter

    • #11
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:06 PM PDT
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  12. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Herbert E. Meyer:

    In my lifetime, we have landed on the moon, invented the Internet and the cell phone, and nearly wiped polio off the face of the Earth. We have seen the average human life span rise more sharply than ever before, and today more human beings are emerging from poverty than at any time in world history.

    Oh, yeah — we also won the Cold War.

    Is there any art which celebrates any of this? Any painting? Any piece of music?

    There are probably many works of art which investigate or celebrate these themes, but they are not “the fine arts”. They are movies and pop songs. Are there reasons one might expect different themes to be approached by patronized artists than by commercial artists? 

    • #12
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:11 PM PDT
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  13. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    Aaron Miller: This is what is taught in public schools and reinforced in popular entertainment.

     I’m not so sure about that. I took plenty of art classes in High School. They certainly had objective standards of performance. I’d say the problem is later on, on the sort of people who select into becoming “art” majors. No matter what the school may try to do, the type of people we get as “artists” today isn’t the same, because today most of these kids aren’t exactly worried about anything other than “expressing” themselves. 

    That, and drugs. Quite a bit of this garbage, can be attributed to drugs.

    • #13
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:12 PM PDT
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  14. Jim Beck Member

    In a Lileks Bleat from long ago, Lileks clipped a Bugs Bunny cartoon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX1ljYx3g3k in which Bugs enters the orchestra amid whispers of “Leopold” and Bugs breaks the baton. Lileks commented that the joke about the baton and Leopold’s name would not be lost on much of the audience. Is there any living conductor whose name could land in South Park and be recognized?, no, as Glenn Reynolds says, next question. Can anyone name five living playwrights? Who are the five best living sculptors, I have exhibited sculpture for 48 years and I can not answer that question.
    The video understates the wasteland of much of the traditional arts both in literature and in the traditional visual arts. Not only has the audience walked away from the rubbish that is modern art, our ability to focus on the narrow slice of music or videos we like, means that few of the young folks know who the artists of the recent past are. This atomizing of art, where the best artists will go into gaming, videos, islands of music which only have a few devoted fans, mean that there will cease to be a common artistic experience. Not only will there be no Leopold Stokowski, there will be no Frank Sinatra, no Elvis, no Beatles.

    • #14
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:33 PM PDT
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  15. Hammer, The Member

    Robert Florczak is my favorite person of the day.

    That video was great. Pardon the self indulgence, but we had a very similar discussion (regarding music, making similar points) on the latest flyover country. Much of the same thing has happened in music as well.

    • #15
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:51 PM PDT
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  16. Mitchell Morgan Inactive

    The introduction of Dadaism is where a LOT of stuff took that weird turn. But then art is a reflection of the times and circumstances it’s created in, no? The entire world took a weird turn in the late 19th and early 20th century. and certain things were warped where they’ll never lie straight again. As always, this has effects good and bad. 
    Seawriter is onto a big part of it:

    The masterpieces of classical art we admire today are a thin froth on an ocean of bad art. It was preserved because it was great art.

    Yes, this. Who thinks that 400 years from now anybody will know the names and works of pee and scat “artists”? Or the guy who flung paint everywhere or that other guy who put a single black dot on a canvas? Scholars, sure but few else. In all human endeavors it takes time to separate the good stuff from the dross.

    • #16
    • September 8, 2014, at 1:51 PM PDT
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  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Jim Beck:

    Lileks commented that the joke about the baton and Leopold’s name would not be lost on much of the audience… Who are the five best living sculptors, I have exhibited sculpture for 48 years and I can not answer that question.

    How can we know who the five best sculptors alive today are until, say, 100 years from now?

    And a joke that “would not be lost on much of the audience” could still be lost on most of the audience. Suppose 15% of the audience gets a reference to a classical music star. That’s a considerable amount of the audience – enough to count as “much” under many circumstances – but still far from most.

    • #17
    • September 8, 2014, at 2:33 PM PDT
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  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    AIG:

    Aaron Miller: This is what is taught in public schools and reinforced in popular entertainment.

    I’m not so sure about that. I took plenty of art classes in High School. They certainly had objective standards of performance.

    Huh. My high school art classes didn’t have many objective standards of quality. Grades were typically based on completing projects according to instruction, not the skill shown in execution. And my high school was known for its “world class” fine arts program, producing copious amounts of youngsters with 5-level AP Art portfolios.

    • #18
    • September 8, 2014, at 2:40 PM PDT
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  19. Dave-L Inactive

    The professor’s test of “why this Jackson Pollock painting is good” at 2:55 is brilliant.

    • #19
    • September 8, 2014, at 4:14 PM PDT
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  20. Dave-L Inactive

    I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art a few years ago and asked the pretty young girl at the information counter about their photo policy. She said, “You can take photos anywhere in the museum except the Contemporary exhibit.” I replied, “But why would you want to?” She laughed out loud. The older woman sitting next to her wasn’t pleased.

    • #20
    • September 8, 2014, at 4:18 PM PDT
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  21. Dave-L Inactive

    There’s no greater visual demonstration of the professor’s point than at the Vatican Museum. After walking through miles of beautiful art – Caravaggio, Raphael, ancient artists whose names will never be known – one is forced to suffer through the Modern and Contemporary gallery before entering the Sistine Chapel.

    The threshold is abrupt. After being overwhelmed by the colors, realism, movement and beauty of the good stuff, one finds himself in wide open, white space. The art is thin, literally and figuratively. It’s difficult to physically ground oneself and feels like treading water. There are a number of good pieces of course, but for me, I’ve always left feeling a little embarrassed, although I’m not sure for whom…the artist – do they themselves feel like they pale compared to the masters?, the curators – how do they regard this gallery compared to the Raphael Rooms? , myself – for wanting to rush through as if I were in a hotel lobby?

    • #21
    • September 8, 2014, at 4:40 PM PDT
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  22. Sabrdance Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Very true; if we watched all the bad movies from the 30s and 40s, we’d all go blind.

     Come now, Mae West isn’t that pretty.

    Jamie Lockett:

    I think this is far too harsh on a lot of modern art. (I happen to like Pollock)

     A point of agreement, actually 2, as I rather like Pollock, too.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Jim Beck:

    And a joke that “would not be lost on much of the audience” could still be lost on most of the audience. Suppose 15% of the audience gets a reference to a classical music star. That’s a considerable amount of the audience – enough to count as “much” under many circumstances – but still far from most.

     Perhaps I should turn in my nerd card -what is the joke? I mean about the name, I found the rest of the short humorous enough.

    Dave_L:

    The professor’s test of “why this Jackson Pollock painting is good” at 2:55 is brilliant.

     I don’t know what it says about me or anyone else, but I immediately recognized it wasn’t a Jackson Pollock, in part because it looked too ugly and random.

    • #22
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:06 PM PDT
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  23. James Jones Member
    James Jones Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I enjoyed the video and mostly agree with it. But a petty, snarky side of me has a tough time taking seriously an art critic who can’t pronounce “beaux arts”.

    • #23
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:09 PM PDT
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  24. AIG Inactive
    AIG

    I think we’re still underestimating the impact of drugs here. Most of these people, are hitting the pipe pretty heavily.

    • #24
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:11 PM PDT
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  25. Sabrdance Member

    On a more substantive note, I’ve always liked Arthur Danto’s argument in Transfiguration of the Commonplace that what makes art is that it is simultaneously an object, and also something else. A good novel is simultaneously a story and a vision or a dream. A good painting is simultaneously an image and an icon.

    Good art is good in a context -in that sense it is a bit like a reliquary, but in the reliquary a common piece of bone is housed in a great work of craftsmanship -and that bone become simultaneously base matter and transcendental miracle -in the museum the great craftsmanship is what is transcendent and base, and it is housed in a simple building with enough explanation that you can experience the simultaneous events.

    The greatest insult to Dadaism is that in the Indiana University Art Gallery, a dozen items of Dadaism -including the famous Fountain, though possibly a replica, it wasn’t labeled -were simply grouped in a display like historic artifacts. Nothing transcendent there, at all. (Though that might have been the point Duchamp was making, in which case it was self defeating.)

    The loss of transcendence kills modern art.

    • #25
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:16 PM PDT
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  26. Jim Beck Member

    Evening MFR,
    Concerning this wasteland, not only can’t people name the 5 best living sculptors they can’t name any 5 living sculptors, neither can I, nor can they name any 5 living playwrights. Playwrights have left for TV and write “Breaking Bad”, and their names are know to only a few.
    What makes this time a wasteland and what Lileks suggested was that at one recent time, the depth of cultural knowledge was greater and broader. Cole Porter and others could make jokes concerning cultural icons and expect them to be understood. Jimmy Durante quipped, “you may have expected Jose Iturbi, but Jose make way for Nosay”. Artists once played and created for a larger audience and artists cared about connecting with that audience.

    • #26
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:20 PM PDT
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  27. Jim Beck Member

    Tom,
    The joke was that Stokowski did not use a baton, so breaking the baton was part of what people knew about him. I did not know that part of Stokowski’s style, when Lileks clipped the cartoon.

    • #27
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:27 PM PDT
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  28. Dave-L Inactive

    I love this story…Cleaning Woman Mistakes Contemporary Art for Trash, Throws it Away.

    Here’s more:

    It is not the first time artwork has been accidentally thrown away by a cleaner.

    In 2001 a Damien Hirst installation of beer bottles, coffee cups and overflowing ash trays was accidentally cleared away from London’s Eyestorm Gallery.

    In 2004 a bag of paper and cardboard by German artist Gustav Metzger was chucked out while on display at Tate Britain.

    And in 1999 an over-zealous museum guard tidied up Tracey Emin’s notorious exhibit ‘My Bed’ after believing it had been vandalised.

    The piece featured used condoms, underwear and stained sheets.

    • #28
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:28 PM PDT
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  29. James Jones Member
    James Jones Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dave_L:

    I love this story…Cleaning Woman Mistakes Contemporary Art for Trash, Throws it Away.

    TO be fair, the exact same thing once happened to Rembrandt.

    Oh wait, no it didn’t.

    • #29
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:34 PM PDT
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  30. Jim Beck Member

    The heartache of this era of trash is that not long ago there was a curiosity about high art. From “The Revolt Against The Masses”, “By 1951, there were 2,500 Great Books discussion groups, with roughly 25,ooo members” meeting in places from libraries to prisons. The price of these book collections ranged from $298 to $2,500. In today’s dollars; $2,500 is $9,800. This type of grass roots desire to learn from the best of the past does not exist now. Even Kenneth Clark’s “Civilization” wouldn’t be produced now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElcYjCzj8oA

    • #30
    • September 8, 2014, at 5:57 PM PDT
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