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What Has Art Become?

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How can a trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) inspire a person? Suddenly bustling New York City can become a place of wonder and majesty, a place of solace. And a time to marvel at extraordinary paintings. The disheartened are reassured that there is still true handcrafted beauty left in the world. Or one would hope so, right? Yet, is true human expression left on the walls? Regrettably, it is questionable. Although MoMA presents art from 1880 to the present, the works are being consumed by the far-reaching Contemporary art movement. To clarify, Modernism thrived from the 1860s to the 1970s whereas the era of Contemporary art began in the mid-1900s and continues today. Contemporary art, though post-modernist, can be referred to as modern art. As per this movement the creation of fine arts is on the decline; although, some contemporary artists may still make art in the style of the classics. Popular culture—film and technology—are beginning to have a greater influence on the creation of what once was true art. Thus, modern art is not truly art.
Because it underscores a regression from classical standards, modern art cannot be considered true art. One ideal of the classics lost in modern art is creativity. Most children stop making art upon reaching a certain age—once it is no longer convenient or socially acceptable to do so. Consequently, great artists are not relentlessly trained from youth as they once were. Obtaining creativity is sacrificed for other activities and studies. What could be more important than pursuing personal expression? Henry Sayre who received his Bachelor of Arts from Stanford agrees in his overview of the arts, bringing up Charles Batteux, a renowned French philosopher who grouped the fine arts under imagination as one of the major components of knowledge. Creativity is the highest form of human intelligence and is easiest to exercise naturally in youth. Thus, modern artists should begin sooner, and with greater vigor. Similarly, another classical ideal lost in modern art is motivation. In modern society, people have digressed from the handcrafted arts, as technology allows for the development of graphic arts. Who can be bothered to create if a computer can do it with greater ease? Or, it takes too long to paint—so why even try? Besides, it seems as though everything has already been done, right? Wrong. Despite the belief that artists are only recognized after their deaths, the effort of art-making is not all for nothing. Rather, art frees the imprisoned and imprisons the free. Such imprisonment is not harmful, but entails a healthy and indispensable passion for creating art. Additionally, as emphasized by the Italian word for art, arte, meaning guild, artists were once known as a group of workers. Since modern artists have lost such unified motivation, they rely on luck to survive and progress on their own. Artists then had to produce to live, whereas today well-off artists haphazardly become acclaimed. Iranian Artist Shirazeh Houshiary’s work Presence, simply a white canvas done in 2000 and now hanging in the MoMA is a perfect example of discovery by chance. Meanwhile, the lesser aspiring artists of today once had other job options, but turn to art, no more than a hobby, when all else fails. When nothing else is of interest, modern artists rely on luck with no formal background. Hence through lack of skill, motivation and chance, the principles of art established by the classics are soiled.
Similar to its regression from the classics, its simplicity prevents modern art from truly becoming art. Before an artist’s work was separated from the work of others, the Latin ars was a general term for many—flute players, magicians, cobblers and painters alike; however, as professed by Stanford Dr. Henry Sayre, all of their “endeavors were executed with a certain degree of skill.” Surely a canvas today—no matter where it hangs—decorated only by an abrupt black line like that of Barnett Newman’s Onement does not relay any such degree of skill. Anyone can try to create art, but simply not everyone should. Further, as Sayre writes, those who do create need to earn their title as artists and gain “considerable expressive dimension.” Technical mastery and aesthetics were also established as important components of contemporary art after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Although art-making is a complex process, and can take on different forms, Philosophy Professor Thomas Adajian of Stanford University writes that objects produced merely for practical means “are not artworks.” Therefore, art must have expression, not functionality. Thirdly, one should not think after viewing the artwork, “this looks as easy as pie.” Real art requires hard work, just like anything else. Also, parents should not be left wondering how their children’s doodles got into the museum. Instead, when people view art, they should be overwhelmed by the skill, expression, and complexity evident.
Like modern art's simplicity, its random designs also stall its acceptance as a true art form. Such designs are not memorable; or if they are, it is not for the right reason. Art is meant to leave an impression, change the way people think, and shake the world through vision and finesse. Art should always have a greater meaning behind it; but, a spatula and soup ladle display in the MoMA simply does not have great artistic value. Such ordinary household items are by no means art to be seen in a museum. In the same way bland items should not crowd the art world, a circuit of only recognized artists and the rich should not be determining what art is. Art is found in the struggle and mystery of the undiscovered artist. After one attains fame he should not just continue to churn out the same old works. Modern art has been taken over by these overrated “experts.” In a similar way, art has been affected too much by the influences of the public and popular culture. For instance, the MoMA’s recent exhibit “Talk to Me” features a collection of talking robots performing tasks such as putting together a table. Clearly, popular culture and technology have significantly altered the idea of what art is. The film industry, as well, has a big impact on art as motion pictures and movie stills presented in the MoMA now amount to 22,000 and 4 million, respectively.
Some may argue that any art—even modern art—hanging in a museum is worthy of recognition and acclaim. They think that rationally there must be a reason the art is there. These people are, however, misled. Often, it is the rich supporters of the acclaimed who call the shots on what gets hung. Large corporations—such as the Bank of America and the Overbrook Foundation, a few of MoMA’s supporters—donate works for allotted amounts of time. However, this is not to say that everything chosen to be hung in a museum is unworthy, or that everything is chosen in this way. Undoubtedly, museum directors acquire valued art such as that of the classics and some contemporary artists through other more acceptable means. Another person who defends modern art as valid may say that each new era brings a new form of art different from that of the past, and thus modern art is naturally different from classical. Art originated in the classics, and, yes, of course change is good, but modern art is just too different and simply not pleasing. Some valuable aspects of the classical should be retained in art. Most can agree that art is made to express, in some form, life’s beauty, but incongruously most modern art does not.
What can the enlightened art enthusiast now do? Upon venturing to an art museum, actively avoid the modern art section. Random, simple artworks on the decline from classical standards do not deserve your attention. Also, refrain from purchasing any modern art unless you are willing to fund the corruption of true art. Most importantly art represents an impression of the sacred beauty, imagination and movement of this world. Art, above all else, is meant to be an expression of the human soul, despite the way modern art is changing things—so, art lovers—hold true to these values.



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