In defence of modern art


Modern Art is one of life’s great mysteries. It’s a nebulous term for anything from a spatter of paint on a canvas to a 60 foot tall phallic sculpture; although one probably has more significance than the other. It’s often grossly overstated, a bizarre form of communication open to interpretation – and very little else causes controversy like it in the artistic world.

How often do you hear the statement ‘that isn’t real art’? It’s a mantra for the socially conservative, who prefer to look at icy white statues and ponder the great mysteries of the world, such as why Greek statues have such small wangs. There is, apparently, art and not art, a dichotomous divide in a world where everything can be perceived as aesthetical in some way.

This train of thought comes from the Turner Prize being awarded to Helen Marten, a worthy winner in terms of strange sculptures. There was, and always is, a reaction to the giving of the Turner prize, for example from the great intellectual Michael Gove, who decried it as ‘modish crap’.

Modern art is apparently symptomatic the ‘tragic emptiness of now’, a statement as weird as it is wrong. This is the same line of thought as people who object to social media, most forms of communication and electricity, and would much prefer we go back to the good old days of overwhelming bigotry and dysentery.

Now, I’ll get this out of the way: I don’t like most modern art. My mind works on such ways that I prefer ‘logical’, real world pieces. I want my art strong and simple; my favourite work, in the National Gallery in Edinburgh, is simply a painting of a cup of tea. I could hang it up and not think about it ever. I prefer my ideas to be challenged by books.

And I am open to new ideas. New ideas keep the world fresh, different things give life different perspectives and, because of this difference, enjoyment. Who am I to tell people that they shouldn’t like something, that it shouldn’t exist, purely because I like a painting of a cup of tea? And in reality, which is weirder? A hoard of coins in a pile, or that simple cup of tea on canvas, which is almost certainly exceptionally expensive.

Art is idea, communicated through visual means. It’s no more, no less – and everyone thinks differently, everyone has different ideas. And if you accept that, you have to accept that modern art can’t be ‘modish crap’ any more so than the Romans may have thought of developing Greek sculpture 2500 years ago.

The only thing that represents the ‘tragic emptiness of now’ is the vapid belief that only one set of ideas is possible. To have a full life is to accept plurality – and to do that, you must accept that sometimes, the things you don’t like can and should exist.

Photo credit: Flickr

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