God in the Gallery: Part 2

Chapter two in the excellent little book God in the Gallery is a quick history of modern art.  Perhaps the funniest thing that Siedell writes in this chapter is one art critic’s reaction to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.  He said it looked “like an explosion in a shingle factory,” which is at once brilliantly funny and  perhaps a little too close to the truth (although I kind of like that particular painting).

Siedell defines what he means by “modern art” and then discusses its founding and what cultural and philosophical forces are driving modern art.  The most illuminating part of this chapter to me was the author’s rejection of the secularization theory of modern art.  Put simply it is the theory that modern art totally rejected any foundation in the spiritual and is devoted only to the secular.  He quotes one art historian who espoused the secularization theory only to change his mind:  The world today is massively religious, is anything but the secularized world that had been predicted (either joyfully or despondently) by so many analysts of modernity.  This was new to me, but I think Mr. Siedell does an able job of arguing that this is exactly the case in contemporary art.  It never did detach itself from its spiritual moorings even when it wanted to!
Mr. Siedell writes in his conclusion to the chapter.  The history of modern art is not simply the history of sexual liberation and licentiousness…and attacking traditional values and mores.  It is the utopian projection of a new world, a better world, a perfect world, redeeemed, perhaps saved.  These asperations presuppose a relationship between the aesthetic and the spiritual.
Yes, it would seem; they do.
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