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Modern art: Selling a sham?

Updated on May 6, 2014

Modern Art, or untalented art work?

In 1961, Piero Manzoni produced his famous piece: Merda d'artista, or Artist's shit. The art piece consisted of 90 tin cans, all containing the artist's feces. Manzoni's feces was just as expensive as gold back in the 60's. His asking price for each can was $37, but records shows that at least one of his cans was sold at £97,250 (2008).

You may be asking yourself, are we going mad? How could someone convince another person to pay this much for fecal matter? Most importantly, how could someone consider something so grotesque a piece of art? Well, it is. In the academic world of Art history, the "Artist's shit," is in fact considered Modern Art.

To help you understand the world of Art today, I explore in this article, the origins of Modern art, what it is, and what it stands for.

Are new artists taking us for fools or are they truly selling us expressions of our present culture and our now? You decide!

Where does Modern art come from?


To understand what Modern Art is, one has to examine first, its origins.

Art historians start to see the development, but not the true birth of Modern Art, back in 1860's. The famous art piece of Monet: "The luncheon on the grass," 1863, challenged social and political values by depicting a naked woman casually having lunch with two fully dressed gentlemen.

Immanuel Kant however, is considered by many art historians, the true advocate of Modern art. There were many art movements that rose from Kant's philosophy of enlightenment. This philosophy encouraged free thinking and freedom from external authority. The romantics, impressionists, and realists were by-products of a society that wanted, let's face it: freedom. They wanted to get rid of traditional boundaries and express themselves freely. Symbolism, surrealism, expressionism, abstract, pop art, minimal art, etc, were movements that arrived in the 20th century.

The 21st century becomes the era of "Post-Modernism." In post-modernism, you often see artists destroying the rules of Modern Art by copying masterworks of the past and converting them into new expressive ways. Contemporary art, or the art that we see today, may or may not have elements of art (shapes, colors, texture, etc). The traditional elements are now being replaced by new ones such as appropriation (incorporation of pre-existing images in new materials), time, performance (art activities or visual art), space, and hybridity (use of nontraditional art tools, such as chairs, ladders, etc). These new elements, according to the academics and artists alike, tend to aid better at understanding the true meaning of art.

What is Modern Art?


"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

With this quotation in mind, I move on to this question: What is Modern Art? Modern art, as we see through history, is, has been, and will always be, the movement by which artists create meaningful art. They achieve it by using nontraditional art tools and materials. According to some Art academics, the use of materials isn't even important now-a-days. The meaning or content of Art is what matters, not the materials.

What does Modern Art stand for?

Reasoning behind Modern Art:

With a better understanding on Modern art, I go back to writing a bit more about the "Artist's shit."

Not every work of Piero Manzoni's was "shit," of course. Throughout his artistic career, he tried so very hard to depict the concept of purity. In fact, he first tries to depict purity through his collection of pure white canvases. Later on, he produces his most shocking piece: his pure, preservative free cans of poo.

No matter the contrast between pure and poo, the concept of purity is the reasoning and value behind Manzoni's work. Undeniably too, he expresses his concept using nontraditional art materials.

In present time, Modern art seems to be used to represent political, social, psychological, and cultural issues. Some may be inclined to saying that Modern Art isn't art anymore, but a way to communicate our present views on existing issues. Modern Art exists only to prove a point. It has be loud to stand out. It has to be absurd in order to make sense.

"History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies." (Alexis de Tocqueville).

I am of the opinion that among us there are (and have been) various leaders, great thinkers, and artists, who constantly change the course of human history. Many artists such as Manet, Van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci, (etc), have influenced what is now considered Modern Art. Not everything that shines is gold, however, and not every piece of Contemporary Art is Art. We must ask ourselves, before buying or contemplating an art subject: Is this really Modern art? Is there a profound meaning behind it? What is the artist trying to tell us? Does the piece represent my views or opinions? Or simply, does it make my mind wonder? Can I escape my reality when I see this image?

To sum up, there is a lot one can learn from modern artists with their modern tools, and modern materials. There are some that use the concept of Modern Art to create plain "old" beauty. Others use Modern Art to express their political or social views. Lastly, but most importantly, there are artists too, that in the name of Modern Art, make art to simply make fool of ourselves. It is up to you to discover the reasoning behind "Modern Art."

What I consider Modern Art: - My webpage:

I am an impressionist. I paint time and movement through the use of light. Although I consider myself modernistic, I stick to the same old materials and tools: oil on canvas and clay for sculpting. My passion is to experiment with concepts more than materials. Please visit my site for more information.

Wisdom is power: books about contemporary art and its history - My list of books:

Art today is not only simple and beautiful, but it is also one complicated mess on a canvas! These are some books that can help you become an educated consumer.

Your opinion matters! Please post your opinion here:

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