I love art. Monet’s Water Lilies make my heart beat faster, my insides somersault, and my mind swirl with words and colors. Few experiences compare.
I don’t love the things that get exhibited in contemporary art galleries. If you prefer: I don’t love contemporary art. It makes me feel empty and bored, sometimes a little annoyed, at best slightly amused.
I’m far from alone in my preferences; among amateurs, they’re the rule rather than the exception. Like many people, I love color, beauty, representational illusion, emotional expression, painterly texture — and these are things contemporary art doesn’t typically give its viewers. Modern artists are just interested in very different things than I am.
By itself, this state of affairs would hardly be worth mentioning. I have my preferences; the art world has its. I would be happy to leave it at that — if it weren’t for two claims fans of the contemporary insist on repeating.
(1) A dislike of modern art is a symptom of insufficient education. Given enough art-historical and philosophical background, anyone should appreciate modern art. Furthermore, such background is worth acquiring.
(2) Modern art is preferable to representational painting in some objective sense: modern art is serious and cutting-edge; representational painting is shallow and outmoded. It’s fine to create and appreciate art which is merely beautiful, but in this day and age we ought to aim for something more.
These are the claims I’d like to question in this post. The first section tackles modern art directly; the second discusses the features of representational painting which allegedly make it inferior to modern art. The final section compares the two varieties of art.
My aims are relatively modest. I’ll argue that going to contemporary art galleries simply isn’t worth my effort. Acquiring the historical and philosophical background necessary to begin to appreciate contemporary art is a huge time investment — and even after this investment, I value the appreciative experiences I end up with much less than I value the experiences I have of, say, Monet. Furthermore, the claim that art has somehow “progressed” beyond representation, or that contemporary art is more relevant to our times than, say…