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.