Saturday, April 10, 2010

Modern art is BULLSHIT

That's not accurate, actually this modern art is human shit: tinned human excrement produced in 1961 by artist Piero Manzoni. A single can was sold in 2007 for 120,000 Euro. By the mid-20th century not all art was shit, but shit had become art.

The 20th century started off so well, not least here in Ireland with John Lavery's many paintings of his beautiful wife:

Or the fantastical frenzy of Harry Clarke's illustrations:

Clarke's images betray an obsession with story-telling; each image is bubbling with tension and motion. Things happen in Clarke's works, stories unfold.

In the early 20th century artists were pushing the envelope, testing the limits of art by expanding into new styles. We end up with gorgeous architecture like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. The French fashion magazine La Gazette du Bon Ton published exquisite images of modern fashions, heavily influenced by classical styles.

Classical composers began feeling for the edges too, creating challenging works like Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin from 1944 or this menacing piece from Shostakovich's Eight Symphony, written in the height of World War II's carnage - Russia 1943.

Something happened later, as artists began to run out of new spaces to expand into. By the end of the century extremely experimental works had challenged the definition and purpose of art. Criteria for judging art were whittled away: it no longer needed to be beautiful, moving or entertaining. It need not even be recognisable. This piece, for example...

...Gustav Metzger's Recreation of the First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art, featured a bag of rubbish which a cleaner at the Tate Britain assumed really was rubbish, and dumped.

For many people, this new art was alienating and ugly. Some of it is deliberately alienating, though, deliberately pushing to arouse disgust or annoyance in the viewers. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ is a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine.

Anything could be art in this new age, but when so much tried to shock and disturb it grew wearying, because repeated shocks simply desensitise the viewer. Art involving corpses, faeces, urine and blood can only shock for a few years - and with more people growing up on violent action and horror films the strength of that shock is ever-decreasing, rendering offensive art ever more boring and worthless.

So throughout the 20th century high art pushed away from beauty and excitement, seceding this ground as it drifted into absurd, boring irrelevance. But the demand for beauty and purpose had not disappeared. The late 20th century saw it being satisfied, but not by the great high brow artists. Instead low brow genres became ever more ambitious, expanding into the territory abandoned by the elites.

Rock music
It started as dance music, rocking around the Christmas tree in blue swede shoes. By the 1970s Pink Floyd were taking rock incredibly seriously, using rock to look deeply at human life. Like the high artists, Floyd dealt with alienation and madness, but Floyd's music was beautiful, moving, exciting - they offered narrative instead of noise and in the roared chant 'TEAR DOWN THE WALL', a solution.

With much classical music drifting off into untouchable academic dullness, bands like Pink Floyd filled the space by creating intelligent, ambitious music that was still accessible to millions of ordinary people. Populist film composers like John Williams also satisfied, by creating memorable and thrilling themes to Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and so on.

Superhero Comics
Derided for their childish appeal to bright colours and simplistic plots, superhero comics had by the 21st century drifted into much deeper territory. Alan Moore's 1986-87 Watchmen explored fascism, Cold War paranoia and moral relativism - yet he used gorgeous, compelling artwork and a driving plot to do this. Watchmen is fascinating, entertaining and serious. Works like this in the 1980s led to the rebirth of Batman in the 2000s as a serious character in two ambitious, exciting but also thoughtful films.

In Japan astonishing animated films by directors like Hayoa Miyazaki (creator of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro) united beauty and narrative with deeper themes of environmentalism, religion and feminism. Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 film Akira gave a dark, sumptuous depiction of a futuristic, corrupted Tokyo.

The Matrix Trilogy
pushed a new kind of superhero. These films made viewers question their assumptions about reality, while entertaining them with stunning action, a mind-bending plot and flawless cinematography. This, apparently, is "low art", while crapping into a can is "high art".

Computer Games
Always growing more realistic and more fantastic, a single game can give hundreds of hours of pleasure, while Piss Christ gives a few seconds of bored disgust. But the game - right at the cutting edge of technology and human innovation - is low art, remember, while a photo of a crucifix in urine is high art...

The growth of great popular arts over the last few decades undoes a lot of the damage done by the decline of high art. If the elites wish to continue pissing people off, they may. The better popular artists will fill their place with accessible, meaningful and beautiful music, cinema, literature and illustration. Art is not lost; only the artists are.

This post has attracted far and away the greatest number of page views on The Harvest blog. So it might be useful to point out that this aggressive and dismissive style was a bit of an experiment. Read here for an explanation!


  1. Bravo man. Hat off to you for this piece. K

  2. Haha, thanks! Though I have already withdrawn my statements here, explaining on a later blog post that they are largely bullshit :P

    This is a poorly-researched opinion piece, but I wanted to experiment with using very confident language to put forward a fairly ignorant opinion!

    I still think "Piss Christ" is rubbish, mind ;)

  3. I will never forget the 60 Minutes piece on modern art. It showed two bricks with a blue light bulb resting next to them. It was selling for thousands of dollars. Complete bullshit.

  4. Interesting, Gary! I was going to write that it would be interesting if someone tested the art world by submitting some worthless art they had created with no effort at all... and then I discovered that several people already have:

  5. I was just given a B Minus on a Modern art piece, after i WAS TOLD by my professor that art is both subjective upgradeable.

    I specifically made my art, to cater to his mindset despite my opposition to modernist "cubism art". However his Bias allowed him to Ironically grade and judge my "art".

    This proves my point that Modernist art is all about being on a private talentless groups list. My bring right wont improve my grade, but it will justify and and prove my point.

    Art is the ability to portray intent, emotion, feeling, or visual perspective onto a medium. It doesn't come with plaques, descriptions, nor titles.

    If a Piss puddle represents atheists, then it shouldn't require an explanation. Shock value isn't fucking art. I could stab someone in the face and (depending on the person) it be considered art, it really shouldn't.

    If art is upgradable, then why do I have a grade?

    This only proves that they lie that modernist art is a hoax, is real.


  6. How bizarre. I know someone who entered an art competition as a teenager but made a mistake and got so frustrated he gave up and simply scribbled all over the work.

    ...And then he WON the competition.

  7. Modern Art protects itself by putting on the fronts of artistic freedom. But It is most detrimental to artistic freedom! In university art program, the abstract art professor has the dictatorial authority on which abstract bullshit gets good grade. So every student has to kiss up in one way or the other.
    I don't mind if you want to do it by yourself. But teaching it? It is completely unteachable.
    Let me summarize Abstract this art, first guy who did it is genius, and the SECOND guy that follows it is an IDIOT. That is it, after shock value is gone, there is no more need to do anymore of this bullshit!

  8. Fantastic. Finally I don't feel as though I'm the only one on the planet that fucking hates modern art in all forms and permutations. don't even get me started on the whore's still birth avant garde modern fashion, and indie art house fantasy films. FUCK!

  9. Finally, someone who has the courage and conviction to call a spade a spade … Thank you for your clarity and presence of mind !.

    If what has happened to modern art happened to music then the sounds produced by slaming your hands on the piano would be considered a master piece.

    Modern art depends on the greater fool theory for it to survive. A theory that states it is possible to make money by buying art, whether overvalued or not, and later selling it at a profit because there will always be someone (a bigger or greater fool) who is willing to pay the higher price.

    Similar to the Keynesian Beauty Contest – where a number of people were asked to choose from a set of six photographs of women that were the “most beautiful.” Those who picked the most popular face would be eligible for a prize.

    The simplest strategy would be to choose the face that looked the most beautiful to the contestant. A more sophisticated contest contestant would think about what the majority perception of beauty was in order to maximize the chances of winning a prize. This process would be extended to the next order and so on, so that other entrants would each have their own opinion of what public perceptions were, at each level attempting to predict the eventual outcome of the process based on the reasoning of others.

    “It is not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.” (Keynes, General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, 1936).


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