The Wasteland that is (much of) Contemporary Art

I’ve been thinking about contemporary art after my nephew said that I was making fun of something I didn’t understand when I sent out a tweet that said:  “Much (not all, but much) of contemporary art is a steaming pile of manure.  Exhibit A: #catellan “All” at the #guggenheim.”  This is my effort to explain my attempts to understand contemporary art, and then explain why so much of it is a wasteland of imitation, and a modern example of the old story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

I wanted to like contemporary art.  I really did.  I realized some time ago that I did not have a good grasp of what contemporary art was all about, so I set out to remedy my lack of knowledge.  I began to read art history books (My favorite so far is called The Shock of the New, by Robert Hughes, an art critic whom I respect).  I visited SFMOMA  MOMA  The Getty Museum and the Detroit Institute of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum with a main goal being to look at contemporary art and try and understand it.

Some of it is very good.  I love Modigliani (He’s probably pre-contemporary) and Edward Hopper.  I’m also a huge fan of Andrew Wyeth, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O’Keeffe. I even like Makoto Fujimura (Did an illuminated Bible.  Very cool.)  My sister-in-law, Joyce, pointed out the Chinese artist Zao Wou Ki, he is an abstract painter, but I like his work, so I don’t hate on contemporary art solely because it is abstract.

My disillusion came when I began to investigate the paintings of Jackson Pollock.  He is best known for his works where he dripped paint onto canvas, and his paintings look pretty much like he…dripped paint on canvas. Here is an example:  It’s called “Lavender Mist.”

I went looking for an art critic to explain this Jackson Pollock masterpiece to me and found a couple who were talking about it on YouTube.  They were going on and on saying truly inane things about it, which made no sense at all (think of the people commenting on the emperor’s non-existent clothing and you’ll get the picture), and one of them said, “If you flip the painting over, the whole thing falls apart.”  I happened to have Pollock’s painting on my iPad, so I flipped it over and…you guessed it, you couldn’t tell which side was supposed to be up.  It suddenly occurred to me that these “critics” weren’t saying anything meaningful, but they felt like they had to appear to understand Pollock so as not to look stupid to the art world.  And here you come upon much of the commentary that masquerades as art critique.  It is people saying inane things about incomprehensible “masterpieces” because they don’t want to say, “This thing makes zero sense.”  They are afraid to say that.
In an effort to try and find someone who could explain Pollock to me, I talked with my nephew Tim, who is a cultural expert.  Music, art, or literature, if you have a question, he can probably answer it.  I asked him if he could explain Jackson Pollock to me.  His response was:  “I wish someone could explain a Pollock painting to me with words that meant something.”  Which I felt got right to the heart of so much of contemporary art.  There are a lot of words said about it; a lot of commentary made; but the words don’t mean anything.  
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One Response to The Wasteland that is (much of) Contemporary Art

  1. Brandon says:

    "If you turn it over the whole thing falls apart." – HAHAHAHAHA

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