Why Beauty Matters, A.K.A. Why Modern Art Is of The Devil.???
I went to a private religious university. I’m not going to name any names, but it’s initials are BYU. Some believe that because it’s a religious university, artists studying there should learn from their professors how to be the next Carl Bloch, or at least learn the traditions of classical aesthetic and technique. The reality is, the BYU fine art program is geared towards preparing students to go on to graduate programs at Yale and Pratt and other highly-ranked institutions–institutions that hold little regard for traditional art. The primary goals of these universities seem to be innovation or shock, not painting Jesus. For them, art is a visual aide for philosophy–something to prime a secular discussion. A successful artist colleague noted that the art coming out of these institutions is not even anti-art. That has been done–as passe’ as traditional art. The deconstruction has again been deconstructed. What’s left seems to be a no-man’s-land-hodge-podge of aesthetic confusion.
But is it wrong?
Should a religious institution have such a focus–feeding students into post-postmodern elitism? Or should its faculty go back to the classical ideals of Bouguereau and the French Academy?
In a world of drug trafficking, sex trade, and a million other serious problems, is it even worth discussing the morality behind various art movements? I can tell you as an art student interested in painting Jesus, it was not fun for me to be at the center of this discussion–or rather, at times, this contentious argument.
I had teachers tell me, “It doesn’t matter what you paint, as long as you do your home teaching and take care of your family.” And to an extent I agree with that.
I also had a teacher say, “You can’t make art that changes someone’s life. Art doesn’t affect people that way. Don’t try to make a difference in the lives of others with your art.” I don’t agree with this at all–particularly after having had so many experiences over the last twelve years of my professional career.
If you are hoping for me to come to some conclusion with this post, you may be disappointed. The truth is, I love traditional art. I love modern art. I like a lot of post-modern art. I think universities have become myopic on one side of the spectrum, and traditional art ateliers have become myopic on the opposite side of the spectrum. It seems art teachers, who ought to exemplify open-mindedness, often miss the mark at the expense of their students’ careers, hopes, and dreams. (As an aside, I write this last sentence with some trepidation, not wanting my own professors to think I’m pointing the finger at them. I will always be grateful for the education I received from my BYU professors, and I believe their hearts were and are in the right place.)
Here’s a super-simplistic sentence, and I feel like an idiot even writing it, but I’m going to anyway: Can’t we all just get along?
Okay. Watch this and make up your own mind. It’s a video posted to an artist friend’s facebook page. The text that follows is a reposting of the comment thread on my friend’s facebook wall. The names have been eliminated to protect the innocent–all except mine, because you already know I’m guilty.
Friend 1: “All art is absolutely useless. Put usefulness first and you lose it. Put beauty first and what you do will be useful forever.” Awesome.
Friend 2: Where, but in art do you have the opportunity to challenge beauty?
Friend 3: Ten minutes into the film and I have mixed feelings…must continue watching…
Friend 3: Okay, 20 minute in. The comments on the fine arts I think are well thought out, but Duchamp also did some beautiful work which isn’t being shown, but I still get his point. He currently is losing me on the comments on architecture as I think he is over simplifying. Comments about modern abandon buildings being in that state because they are ugly is too boiled down. Environments change with time. My mom had an apartment in Chicago in the ’80 that was a dangerous area even during the day. Now in 2012 it’s a garden spot and the yuppies have bought up the area. Am still watching….
Friend 3: I love his discussion on Rembrant finding/showing the beauty in his paintings. Not simply a youth based/sexual content…
Friend 3: 40 minutes in… love the thought of how beauty connects us with the experience of being… it makes more sense when he says is and it feels very true. Iwill be watching the rest tomorrow but I thank you for posting this and hope this is something you will be using in your art history classes, it’s very interesting (and yes, I will bore everyone with more comments tomorrow!). 🙂
Friend 2: I agree with you on most of those points. This whole thesis has an equal amount of contradictions as it does condemnations. But it definitely gets you to think!
Friend 4: After watching this I can agree with a lot of what he says about the removal of beauty from a lot of modern art. While it seems to me the bulk of the artwork he is against is very crass he seems to be be against advancement too. Most of the examples he uses for beauty are only based on realist subjects. He seems to gloss over the surreal and abstract, which I think can achieve just as much beauty as a portrait or scenery painting. As for love/lust argument I believe over time beauty somehow became distorted into vanity. Because of this modern life is overly sexual in general, and more sex equated to more beauty. The idea of art being, useless therefore necessary is cool and makes sense. I think the problem with people now, especially with young people, is a lot of the things in are lives are not only useless, but fast paced and addicting. To get to these moments of beauty requires us to slow down and shut these other things off to experience them. These beautiful moments are not as overbearing as every day life, so the tendency to let them quickly pass is high. In the end I think it is easier for most people to stick to there daily routines then search for the beautiful moments in between. This is part of the addictive nature of people. Wake up, go to work, talk about the game from Sunday, eat your lunch, more work, go home, watch t.v., sleep, repeat. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but the little moments in between become a blur. Even though it’s these moments which make the world beautiful. And art and many, not all, aspects should be able to take these beautiful moments and condense and extend them. Giving us a visual reminder of who we are as humans. (Sorry about the rant. I hope this makes sense.)
Friend 5:Why/where does beauty need to be challenged? Please explain more. I do feel that the sweeping comment about modern architecture was too general. However I do feel there is truth here to his point that much of modern architecture does fit his description of what is lacking in considering even the idea of beauty.
Me: I think many contemporary academics (in the atelier sense of the term) dismiss Modernism too quickly. Many Modernists attained what I would consider to be beauty at its best: Modigliani, Rothko, and sometimes Picasso, just to name a few. And yet I have artists friends who won’t step foot into a museum of modern art. I don’t get it. It’s that kind of attitude that makes me want to put a urinal in an art show too.
Me: That said, I am similarly frustrated that craft, design, and aesthetic harmony are generally dismissed as passe’ in university art programs. You’d think artists would be some of the most open-minded people on the planet, and yet it seems to in reality be the opposite.
Me: I don’t like making art the venue for a holy war, which Roger Scruton wants to do. It not only creates a rift between artists of faith and agnostic artists, but also alienates faithful people who make secular art. And it can be argued by people of faith that all things are spiritual, so a non-objective painting can be just as spiritual as a scriptural narrative.
Friend 6: I have a theory. I believe we exist in a disposable society. The majority of what we do is meant for the short here and now. We as a whole have lost values and have thrown out the idea that there are things that are sacred in this world. I believe that because nothing is sacred to the majority that there can’t be beauty. Love is just something that is used up and then we move on to the next. Sex is something to satisfy our brief carnal needs and there is no emotional connection. There is no dedication, no craftsmanship, no risk. The bland majority is meant to be used up briefly and then tossed aside so that we can move on to the next thrill. There are the occasional exceptions but for some reason complacency is the accepted idea.
Me: I love what you just said about risk. I think representational art, and particularly attempts at beautiful representation art, are very risky. So many things can go wrong in representational work. That’s one reason it is less understood and less mastered in today’s world than in the past. People don’t want to take the risk.
Me:One last thing. It’s true that modern art movements waged war against God and religion. So should artists of faith wage war back? I think turning the other cheek comes into play here. Make the best art you can, learn what you can from traditionalists, modernists, and post modernists, taking the best from their aesthetics and from their moral motives. I would say Georges Ruoualt had purer motives than Bouguereau. So we take good where we can find it, and attribute it to God, whether or not that artist would give God any credit.